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MAR
22
3 YEARS

Jennifer Lawrence's Career Journey, From 'Bill Engvall' to 'Hunger Games' (Video)

The 21-year old actress is more Kentucky than Hollywood, but she's been earning rave reviews for years.

Jennifer Lawrence Green Frock - P 2012
Getty Images

At midnight tonight, Jennifer Lawrence will officially become a mega-star, thanks to her lead role in The Hunger Games. It can be a dangerous thing, taking on the role of an iconic book hero, but Lawrence has handled it with aplomb, showing a poise that is built over years of experience. That's no lucky strike; while many are getting to know the actress for the first time, Lawrence has been at this game for nearly a decade. Here's a quick guide to her career, for the uninitiated.

Lawrence got her start when she was 14-years-old and convinced her mother to take her from their horse farm in Kentucky to New York City so that she could audition and meet agents (an audition for Twilight did not work out).

PHOTOS: Behind the Scenes of THR's 'Hunger Games' Cover Shoot

Soon, she got small roles -- a part in the TV movie Company Town and an episode of Monk in 2006, episodes of Cold Case and Medium in 2007 and 2008 -- and eventually, her efforts earned her a spot on the TBS sitcom The Bill Engvall Show, in which she played the comedian's teenage daughter, Lauren Pearson. That series ran for three seasons, 30 episodes overall, and launched her star.

"The Bill Engvall Show, I'm so grateful for it," Lawrence recently told Under the Radar Magazine. "I had so much fun on that show, and we all became like family. It funded my indie career, so I could do the movies that I want."

Engvall knew from the star that she'd be a star.

“Of my favorite scenes that I did on that show, one of them was with Jennifer. I go back and watch it every once in a while," he told Kentucky's MetroMix last year. "We had a scene where she was mad at me and I had to go in and apologize to her. We had that nice dad-daughter moment. I remember (thinking), ‘This girl's good.' She's got it; she's got what it takes. I think she'll be holding that statuette before she's done.”

While still working on Engvall, Lawrence landed her first film lead, in 2008's The Poker House, as a teenager growing up in a troubled household in poor, 1970s Iowa. She won Best Performance at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

"I was young. I hadn’t done anything else and so everything that I read I wanted to do," she said about the film in a 2009 interview. "But now that I’m older and actually have a point of view and I can see what an amazing, brilliant script it is and how it grabs you and it has teeth and it’s real and it’s ugly and all the things that aren’t usually appealing really appeal to me."

She starred in another lauded domestic drama that year, The Burning Plain, playing a troubled teenager who accidentally murders her mother and her mother's boyfriend, then moves to Mexico. Charlize Theron played the older version of her character. Lawrence won the Marcello Mastroianni award for emerging actors at the Venice Film Festival.

The prizes, of course, would only get bigger. She wowed in her role in Winter's Bone, playing Ree Dolly, a tough-as-nails teenager fighting for survival in the mountain towns of West Virginia. It was a harrowing role and an impressive lead for someone that was just 19-years-old when it shot. It was a small independent movie, but its rise at Sundance -- The Hollywood Reporter featured Lawrence on its cover ahead of the festival -- helped her net an Oscar nomination.

That truly put her on the map, and led to roles in X-Men: First Class, as blue mutant Mystique (and a franchise conflict, a very good problem to have) and Like Crazy, as Anton Yelchin's spurned LA girlfriend. 

And so here she is, set to star in what could be a record box office draw, already amassing millions of new fans -- but some have known about her for years.