Every year, at least one indie film actress delivers such a staggeringly poignant performance that she is immediately pulled from the ranks of obscurity and flung into the spotlight. Carey Mulligan in “An Education.” Freida Pinto in “Slumdog Millionaire.” Ellen Page in “Juno”—OK, Pinto was mostly a pretty face in “Slumdog,” but she’s since landed prominent roles in upcoming films by Woody Allen and Julian Schnabel, so… you get the picture.
This is Jennifer Lawrence’s year.
The 19-year-old Kentucky native’s breakout year was supposed to be 2008 when, after a series of TV stints including a regular role on the TBS comedy “The Bill Engvall Show,” she was cast as Kim Basinger’s troubled daughter, Mariana, in writer-director Guillermo Arriaga’s non-linear drama, “The Burning Plain.” Though receiving a rave review in the Los Angeles Times, the Charlize Theron-starring film received an overall lackluster critical reception and floundered at the box office. Despite the poor reviews, which were mostly focused on Arriaga’s cliché-ridden screenplay, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as the lovesick Mariana – who gets her jollies killing birds with slingshots and burning scars into her boyfriend’s arm – was well-received, earning her the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best first time young actor/actress at the Venice Film Festival.
Lawrence’s performance also caught the eye of indie filmmaker Debra Granik (“Down to the Bone”), who cast her as Ree Dolly, the anchor of her movie, WINTER’S BONE. In the film, based on a 2006 novel by Daniel Woodrell, Lawrence, appearing in every scene, plays a 17-year-old girl who is forced to track her father through the Ozark Mountains after he places their home up as his bail bond and flees. She is forced to navigate the dark meth underworld, only aided by her reluctant, violent Uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes).
Critics are gaga over Lawrence’s performance as Ree, with New York Times critic A.O. Scott calling her, “as memorable and vivid a heroine as you are likely to see on screen this season” in his glowingly positive review of the film. “Winter’s Bone” is currently the highest-rated film of the year on Metacritic, it won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and everyone is talking about Lawrence as a potential nominee come awards season.
Yes, Hollywood is truly her oyster. She’s costarring alongside Mel Gibson in the Jodie Foster-directed film “The Beaver,” and is currently eyeing a reimagining of “Psycho” called “House at the End of the Street.” In order to shed her image as the troubled tomboy in dark dramas, she recently posed for a sexy photoshoot in Esquire in order to broaden her appeal.
MMM sat down with the up-and-coming star Jennifer Lawrence to chat about the making of “Winter’s Bone,” why she posed for Esquire, how she’s managing her career and the most important meal of the day.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: How were you cast in “Winter’s Bone?” I heard you had to fight pretty hard for the role.
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: Yeah. I auditioned twice in L.A. and then they said I was too pretty, and I flew to New York that night and just showed up. I basically wouldn’t go away until they hired me.
MMM: Did the audition process include you chopping wood or running through a forest?
LAWRENCE: [Laughs] Of course! No. The first two [auditions] were pretty traditional. I had sides and I’d just go in and do them. But the third one was different. We talked for a really, really long time. I did a lot of improv. That was the first time we started talking as if I’d be doing the movie. They said, “We’d want you to go to Kentucky first.” “Sure, anything.” “We’d want you to come up a few weeks before filming and live in Missouri.” “Sure, whatever!” Maybe I was the only one that was so not even phased by it. I literally would have done anything.
MMM: Did you go through an outdoorsy boot camp where you shot guns, etc.?
LAWRENCE: I went through a Jennifer boot camp – which is where I think what I’m doing is really strenuous and I’m spending like an hour doing it, maybe, and I get bored and go on to something else. I learned how to chop wood. I did learn how to handle a gun, I think. Learning how to cut open a squirrel… that’s just something you gotta just freakin’… do it. I wasn’t going to practice that.
MMM: And that was a real squirrel?
LAWRENCE: Yeah. [Shivers] I can’t watch that scene. I get really grossed out!
MMM: In what ways do you relate to the heroine of this film? Would you characterize yourself as an independent person?
LAWRENCE: I am, but not that much. The stubbornness, the competitiveness, not thinking of failure as an option – a lot of that comes from me.
MMM: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
LAWRENCE: I have two older brothers. I’m the baby.
MMM: That’s quite the opposite from Ree who’s the “matriarch” of this broken home.
LAWRENCE: I’ve always been a babysitter and a nanny, so every time there was kids that’s where I’d be – already throwing them up in the air before you even blink. So, that part came naturally.
LAWRENCE: I didn’t. I only did it through ‘action’ and ‘cut.’ I was there, but it wasn’t a sad set by any means. We had a blast and I had fun. For me, there’s never a time I need to be depressed to do a better job.
MMM: How long was the shoot?
LAWRENCE: Six weeks. We shot for 25 ½ days.
MMM: And you’re in every scene.
LAWRENCE: I know. I think I slept for a month after I wrapped!
MMM: What was it like shooting those intense scenes with John Hawkes [Teardrop]?
LAWRENCE: He’s incredible. He’s a true chameleon. You don’t know it’s John Hawkes until you read the credits. And he’s the sweetest man. He’s such a badass in the movie. It’s awesome.
MMM: Did you research the meth underworld at all?
LAWRENCE: No. Cause Ree isn’t interested in that world, so I wasn’t.
MMM: So you didn’t watch “Intervention” or anything?
LAWRENCE: [Laughs] I watch “Intervention” obsessively anyway, on a marathon. You naturally learn more about meth because it really is a huge part of the culture down there, so I naturally learned more. But I didn’t seek it out.
MMM: Since you followed up “The Burning Plain” with “Winter’s Bone,” are you worried about – since your career is just taking off – being typecast as the troubled girl in dark, wilderness-set dramas?
LAWRENCE: No. Because my first three movies were dark and grimy but the truth is that’s why we decided to do Esquire. That was so people would see me as something else. No, I don’t think it’s a problem. I’m happy that these are the movies I’m breaking out in. It’s the same reason I don’t wear low cut shirts and short shorts. I don’t want to be remembered as the girl with great boobs. I have a brain, I believe I have talent and that’s what I want to break me out. So, now that those were my first three movies, I feel like I can move on.
MMM: Speaking of Esquire, I’ve only seen you in two films – “The Burning Plain” and “Winter’s Bone – and in those films you’re running around all covered in dirt. In person, you clearly look much more glamorous. So the decision to do Esquire was so people wouldn’t see you as the girl in the knit cap caked in dirt?
LAWRENCE: Yeah, with a hat over my eyebrows. It’s so easy to get typecast and men are idiots, so once they see a girl with a wool hat over her eyebrows they think, “Ugly!” and they move on. They’ll never think of Jennifer Lawrence as being pretty or sexy or funny or anything else. The concept of acting is just hard for people to understand. Yes, I’m dark in “Winter’s Bone,” but I’m the least dramatic person in the entire world. I’m ACTING in this movie. I also live in a condo, not a cabin. I have a publicity group and agents that I really trust, and I did trust them when they thought [Esquire] would be a good idea.
MMM: Since you’re so young and you have all these handlers in your ear, how in control of your own career are you?
LAWRENCE: I was pickiest when I picked my people. My publicity people know that if I’m being interviewed, if I’m on TV, if I’m in a magazine, I’m talking about work. I’m not talking about me and how I lost 10 pounds in two weeks. And then with movies, my agents know that I’m not going to do something that’s stupid and if I don’t love it. And they’re OK with that. On the other hand, I do have a stylist and she’s a professional and I don’t really argue with her. If she tells me to wear big pants I’m going to wear them because she’s a professional and not me. And if my publicity people tell me to not do this magazine, that’s why I hired them – because I trust them. So, I won’t do that magazine. If they had told me not to do “Winter’s Bone,” I would have said, “Screw you. I’m doing it.” But there are other movies where they’ll say, “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” and I won’t do it.
MMM: I heard you were a huge fan of the “Twilight” novels and films. Did you audition?
LAWRENCE: Of course! I auditioned for Bella and Rosalie. No such luck!
MMM: You, however, have some fascinating upcoming projects including “The Beaver,” which you just wrapped shooting on. What was it like being directed by Jodie Foster in that?
LAWRENCE: She’s brilliant. She has the mind of five men and she’s the most normal person I’ve met since I’ve been doing this. It’s as if someone forget to tell her she’s famous; she has no idea. She’s just a mom. She’s nice, smart and has a calming presence on set. She never got too excited or too upset about something. She’s very level.
MMM: And you also worked with Mel Gibson on “The Beaver.” The perception of Mel as of late is as, well, a crazy person. What was it like working with him?
LAWRENCE: He’s a really nice guy. I mean… he listens to Jodie and he doesn’t have any of that, “Oh, I’m a director too. Don’t tell me what to do!” She tells him to do something and he doesn’t even question her.
MMM: So he’s not this diva marching around set going, “We’re on Mel Gibson time!”
LAWRENCE: [Laughs] No. He’s not a diva at all. We only had a couple of passing scenes together. It was mostly me and Anton [Yelchin]. Mel and I saw each other on set a lot and I don’t have any problems with him.
MMM: And what’s going on with this upcoming film you’ve reportedly been cast in, “House at the End of the Street?” The trades are saying it is to “Psycho” what “Disturbia” was to “Rear Window.”
LAWRENCE: I’m in this place right now where I’ve got a lot of decisions to make, so it’s not guaranteed if I’m going to do that movie.
MMM: Yeah. There seems to be this formula for young actresses nowadays: I’m going to do the horror film, then get locked into a franchise, etc. Are you worried about falling into that trap?
LAWRENCE: Yeah, I am worried about that. That’s why I’m being hesitant right now in this interview! [Laughs] I’ve really got to start thinking through… I’ve never done a movie that I’m not proud of. It’ s hard because I love a lot of people to make movies with, but I just happen to be very, very picky because I have a career in mind. I’ve been working since I was 14 to not be typecast. I turned down a series with Disney and I told the president of Disney that I didn’t think I was very Disney. I’ve always been careful about it and it’s intensified now. I’ve been known for this and this, and now I feel like I have to do something opposite. I’m not really sure what I want to do next. Could I do “House at the End of the Street?” Yes. But I also might not. I don’t know what the best decision to make is right now.
MMM: So are you waiting for “Winter’s Bone” to be released and see what the general reception is like before deciding on your next role?
LAWRENCE: No, I’m not waiting on that. It’s more of a gut feeling of, “If this feels right, I’ll do it. If it doesn’t, I won’t.” I’m not really waiting to see if I’m going to get famous before I do something.
MMM: I know you have your handlers, but what’s your process of picking a role?
LAWRENCE: It’s kind of like picking a best friend. You never know when it’s going to happen and then you meet. I don’t know. I can read a synopsis on a script and I can see if it’s stupid. If it’s stupid, I don’t really read it. Sometimes if it sounds good I read it, love the role, love the movie and that’s when I audition for it and want it. A lot of times they’re really, really different. Because that’s boring. I don’t want to be Ree again or Mariana in “The Burning Plain” again. I want to do something different.
MMM: Speaking of “The Burning Plain,” Charlize Theron’s seems like a nice career to emulate for a young actress like yourself. Did she give you any pointers?
LAWRENCE: She never told me what do because that’s my life and this is her life. She more showed me. She’s an amazing person. She’s so nice. I appreciate her and Jodie. They showed me that you could be normal and be famous. You can be an actress and not be crazy. I really, really appreciate that.
MMM: What’s “normal?”
LAWRENCE: Um… I don’t know if you can really identify what normal is but you can definitely identify what “crazy” is.
MMM: What’s “crazy?”
LAWRENCE: Oh god. [Laughs] There are a lot of different breeds!
LAWRENCE: Yes. And I’m going to buy an apartment here and do both.
MMM: What’s it like living in New York versus living in L.A. for a young movie actress?
LAWRENCE: It’s different because living in New York was first so its always felt like home to me. You could be born and raised from birth to being 13, but you grow up from 14 and on, and at 14 I came here. So this has always been my place and I love it. And then, I moved to L.A. and I hated it until I got my life there. Now I made my life there and they both feel like home, equally. If I’m in New York too much I want to go back to L.A. with the good weather and the beach, and if I’m in L.A. too much – like now – I feel like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to get back to New York.”
MMM: What do you like best about New York?
LAWRENCE: Transportation? That’s pretty tough in L.A.
MMM: Do you have any favorite NYC haunts?
LAWRENCE: Um… I don’t know… All I’m thinking about are bars… I don’t know. I guess not.
MMM: Favorite restaurants?
LAWRENCE: I’m usually not a restaurant repeater. I’m very weird about that. Except for breakfast. For breakfast, I go to the same restaurant in Santa Monica almost every day. But I never go alone, I only go if someone will go with me. I’m so weird about breakfast. [Laughs]
MMM: Why are you weird about breakfast? Did your mother serve you these massive feasts for breakfast growing up?
LAWRENCE: No, I never had it as a kid. It’s only recently. I just love breakfast! I think it’s when I started getting addicted to coffee. Breakfast was like the coffee treat. Like if I get to Snug Harbor I could get my coffee and I could get my breakfast.
MMM: Do you do different things in L.A. versus New York? For instance, L.A. is for business and New York is for fun?
LAWRENCE: Well, L.A. is where I do my business. I did learn to surf in L.A. And my friends are different in L.A. They’re more musicians and hippies who kind of live on the beach. In New York, they’re more hippies that are into fashion.
WINTER’S BONE opens on June 11th in select theaters.