Jennifer Lawrence, comfortable in her skin
Jennifer Lawrence slides into a booth at the casually elegant Culina restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel. She’s on a lunch break from the daylong grind of promoting the international release of “Silver Linings Playbook,” but she’s not eating because she just shared a “brick” of homemade lasagna that a journalist gave her during her last interview. Lawrence does accept the focaccia bread and olive oil a waiter offers and politely declines another offering once she’s finished.
“If I’m going to wear this skirt,” Lawrence says, laughing, pointing to the mid-length white number she’s sporting, “I can’t fit another thing into my gut.” When the waiter touts the lightness of the bread, Lawrence interjects. “It’s not a weight issue. Trust me. I’m barely fitting into my outfit!”
She then turns to her lunch companion. “So, I’ve had the lasagna,” she says playfully. “What did you bring me?”
There’s a refreshing lack of pretense with Lawrence, evident from the moment you meet her and she confesses that her iPhone bullies her, its Siri app calling her “Meredith” whenever she asks it a question. But that’s trivial compared to the disdain that the 22-year-old Kentucky native, who just received her second lead actress Oscar nomination with her turn in “Silver Linings,” feels toward the sense of entitlement that runs rampant in the movie industry. She’s also acutely aware of the influence she has on young women, particularly now that she’s playing the strong, self-possessed heroine Katniss Everdeen in the movies adapted from Suzanne Collins’ young adult trilogy that began with “The Hunger Games.”
“I was a teenager too — hard to believe, right? — and remember reading magazines and tabloids,” Lawrence says. “I don’t think the media realizes how much they glorify anorexia. You have an actress who loses a bunch of weight for a role and she’s explaining how she lost it. ‘I ate one grape a day and I lost 25 pounds and I was dangerously underweight and now I get awards.’
“With Katniss, I never meant to make a big deal about it. It was just important she was strong and a warrior instead of being wasted away, especially when, without a doubt, she’s going to be a role model for a lot of young girls. I thought it would be better for them to say, ‘I could look like Katniss’ rather than ‘I’ll never be able to look like that if I keep eating.’”
Soon after signing to play Tiffany, the bullheaded young widow in “Silver Linings Playbook” who falls for a man fresh out of a mental care facility, Lawrence discovered she’d found a kindred soul in the movie’s writer and director, David O. Russell, whose blunt honesty delighted her at every turn. She’d be in the middle of a scene, hurtling through a monologue, and hear Russell groaning at the monitor, offering a running commentary along the lines of “Oooooh. That’s so bad. Oh, God. Uuuuuuuh.” Lawrence would finish and ask, “Do you want me to do it again?” And Russell would answer, “Oh, God, yes!”
“It’s so hilarious to me, especially after working in Hollywood where everyone tiptoes around actors and their feelings,” Lawrence says. “We’re all doing the same thing. We’re all making a film. Let’s just cut the … . Don’t tell me what I’m doing right. Tell me what I’m doing wrong, so I can fix it. I came from a sports family, so I respond better to that approach.”
It would seem the whole team responded well to the vibe on set. The film received a total of eight Oscar nominations, including nods for picture, Russell for writing and for directing, one each for costars Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, and one for editing.
Russell, when asked about Lawrence, who auditioned for him via a Skype call from her parents’ Louisville home, responds, interestingly, with a sports analogy, likening Lawrence’s effortlessness to New York Yankees great Joe DiMaggio.
“She’s a great natural athlete,” Russell says. “She’s not neurotic. She’s very comfortable in her own skin and has such a presence about her. Harvey [Weinstein, whose company financed the film] was very uncertain of her because of her age. But she seems ageless to me.”
Cooper also picks up on the age thing.
“She’s like 10 and 40 at the same time,” Cooper says. “She would be sort of goofing around, and you think she’s not really paying attention. And then she would turn on this instant laser focus and do something magical.”
Tiffany is, like Katniss, a powerful young woman, but she’s also flawed and damaged. She’s made mistakes — and continues to make mistakes. But she’s made peace with her imperfections and tries to persuade Cooper’s bipolar protagonist to do the same.
“Tiffany’s learned that there’s always going to be parts of her that are off, that aren’t normal, that aren’t like everyone else, but you have to accept and forgive yourself,” Lawrence says. “That’s the most important thing she could have learned and, hopefully, our audience could learn too.”
Lawrence calls her collaboration with Russell “the best experience” of her life, an assessment supported by the way her parents reacted to the movie when they saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Lawrence found them after the movie ended and immediately noticed that her dad, a man she has never seen cry, was “covered in tears.” So, according to her father, at least, Lawrence proceded to yell in front of everyone, “Dad, you’re crying!” — a “betrayal” he still gives her grief for.
“Seeing that, especially knowing how much my parents gave up for me, meant so much,” Lawrence says. “They gave up their friends, their assets so I could act. So their loving what I do takes away some of the guilt, I guess. As much as it’s nice to be acknowledged by your peers, your parents’ approval means the most. It’ll probably always be that way.”
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