"People do kind of fall in love with this idea," says Jennifer Lawrence, in reference to her public image as a relatable 21st century everywoman, as we sit down in her suite at The Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. While her beloved Chihuahua Pippi inspects the various rooms, Lawrence continues, "But I’m an actor. I have to push myself. I have to try as hard as I can to transform. There are certain worlds and certain characters that people just aren’t gonna want to see me in, but I’m not gonna stop doing them."
Over the past decade, "J-Law" became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood through her work in a steady stream of acclaimed indies (including Debra Granik's Winter's Bone and David O. Russell's Silver Lining's Playbook, American Hustle and Joy) and giant blockbusters (like those that comprise the X-Men and Hunger Games franchises), as well as her amiable manner of promoting them. But this fall, she starred in a movie that threw her fanbase for a loop: Darren Aronofsky's Mother!, a dark parable about "the abuse of Mother Nature," according to the actress. The film, which centers on Lawrence's reserved housewife whose home is rocked by a series of increasingly shocking events, so confounded those who saw it that it received a dreaded F CinemaScore rating, which, in turn, kept others from checking it out.
"I kind of made it and broke it," Lawrence submits. On the one hand, it's almost impossible to imagine that such an extreme film would ever have gotten made at a major studio like Paramount in 2017 without her participation. On the other hand, she realizes, her performance, which so conflicts with her previously established screen persona, might have made it harder for audiences to digest the movie. "I think people saw me being soft-spoken and meek and they hated it," she says with characteristic frankness, adding with a laugh, "They were like, 'I like her better when she’s Katniss!'"
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 21:13], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Sid Ganis, the former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, about the organization's expulsion of Harvey Weinstein, the Disney-Los Angeles Times standoff, Ganis' favorite movies of 2017 and the new music doc he executive produced, BANG! The Bert Berns Story.
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Lawrence was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, the youngest of three kids. She acted in church plays, but never contemplated acting as a career possibility until the age of 14, when she was "discovered" during a trip to New York City. A photographer from an acting and modeling agency approached her and her mother on the street and asked to take her photo, which led to an offer for a modeling contract, which she, in turn, only agreed to sign after being assured that the agency would also help her to pursue acting opportunities. The agency agreed and, by the end of that summer, without having ever had any formal training, she had landed her first job, on the TBS sitcom The Bill Engvall Show, which led to her relocation to Los Angeles. "It went on for three years," Lawrence says of the show, "and it was actually the most amazing gift because [during it] I could afford to say no to things. I had a steady paycheck — which, as an actor, you never have — so I was able to do movies that I really cared about on the hiatus."
Her earliest film roles were all in dark indies: The Poker House, in which her character is the daughter of a strung-out prostitute; The Burning Plain, in which she plays a girl who accidentally murders her mother; and Winter’s Bone, in which she wowed many as a girl in the Ozarks who is forced to raise her younger siblings when their father jumps bail, abandoning their mentally ill mother. Winter's Bone won the grand jury prize at Sundance; led to Lawrence becoming the second-youngest person ever nominated for the best actress Oscar, at just 20; and opened up a world of possibilities for the rising star. Most immediately, she appeared in Jodie Foster's The Beaver and Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class, both released in 2011, but shortly thereafter she starred in two other movies, both released in 2012, that catapulted her onto Hollywood's A-list: Gary Ross' The Hunger Games and Russell's Silver Linings Playbook.
Lawrence knew that signing on to do The Hunger Games, a series of movies adapted from Suzanne Collins' best-selling YA novels, was a major decision. "I really knew that my life was going to change," she says, "because Twilight [for which Lawrence had auditioned] had already come out and we had already seen how famous Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson had become." And, sure enough, Lawrence went through something very similar, starting shortly after she was announced as Katniss, and before she had even shot a frame of film as the character. "My entire life changed overnight," she says, noting that flocks of paparazzi began camping outside of her home and following her everywhere. "My entire world flipped upside-down." Though this was emotionally jarring, at first, she says making the Hunger Games films was "the most amazing experience of my life," and adds: "Even now, when I have days where I’m being followed and I don’t want to be followed, or I see a picture where everybody’s dissecting what I’m wearing and I’m like, ‘I was going to Whole Foods, I don’t want your opinion on what I’m wearing,’ I always ask myself, 'Do you regret [doing them]?' Never. I've never regretted doing Hunger Games once."
Lawrence says her attitude about celebrity was forever changed by a visit to the set of The Hunger Games that was coordinated by the Make-a-Wish Foundation. "I had, up until this point, only thought about myself," she admits. "'How is my life going to change when I become famous?' 'I wonder how many clothes I'm going to get for free?' And then I met a girl who had been burned all over her body. She said — this will still make me cry (Lawrence breaks down) — she said that when she read these books, she finally felt proud to be 'the girl on fire.' She owned it and she was proud of it and she didn’t feel embarrassed anymore and it changed the way that she looked at herself.' And that was the first time that I realized that — it's so simple and it's something I love doing, but — [celebrity] can actually help people, important people. When I go to the hospital at Christmas to sign posters and visit the children who can't be home for Christmas, it's, like, you know, three hours out of my day, and it's just such a gift that I get to do what I love, and with it, people who really, really matter, you can make them feel better, you know? You can sign something for them and make them feel better, or say hello to them and make them feel better. So that was the first time that I realized that."
In-between the four Hunger Games films, which were released one-a-year between 2012 and 2015, Lawrence teamed up with Russell, her artistic soulmate. "David, still to this day, is the most important relationship in my life, I think," she says. "We can be so deeply, deeply honest with each other, in a way that creates amazing art." Even though she felt she was miscast in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and Joy — "I'm obviously too young for all three," she volunteers — her work was embraced by critics, audiences and Academy members, who accorded her Oscar noms for each, and a best actress Oscar win for Silver Linings, which made her, at 22, the category's second-youngest winner ever. (Lawrence says she still feels embarrassed that, en route to the podium to claim her trophy, she "fell on my face.")
As high as Lawrence's highs were, her lows were just as low — and none more so than the nightmare that began on Aug. 31, 2014, when a massive breach of Apple's iCloud service allowed hackers to steal and publicly post nude images of hundreds of celebrities, including Lawrence. "When the hacking thing happened, it was so unbelievably violating that you can't even put it into words," she says. "I think that I'm still actually processing it. When I first found out it was happening, my security reached out to me. It was happening minute-to-minute — it was almost like a ransom situation where they were releasing new ones every hour or so. And, I don't know, I feel like I got gang-banged by the fucking planet — like, there's not one person in the world that is not capable of seeing these intimate photos of me. You can just be at a barbecue and somebody can just pull them up on their phone. That was a really impossible thing to process." Making matters worse, there was virtually no recourse for her or the other victims. "A lot of women were affected, and a lot of them reached out to me about suing Apple or suing [others] — and none of that was gonna really bring me peace, none of that was gonna bring my nude body back to me and Nic [Lawrence's former boyfriend Nicholas Hoult], the person that they were intended for. It wasn't gonna bring any of that back. So I wasn't interested in suing everybody; I was just interested in healing." She adds, "I think, like, a year and a half ago, somebody said something to me about how I was 'a good role model for girls,' and I had to go into the bathroom and sob because I felt like an imposter — I felt like, 'I can't believe somebody still feels that way after what happened.' It's so many different things to process when you've been violated like that."
Lawrence says that Red Sparrow, a recently wrapped thriller that reunites her with Francis Lawrence, who directed three of the four Hunger Games films, was sort of a response to the hacking trauma. "[The film] was really sexual, which has always scared me. I've always been like, 'Absolutely no way' — especially after what happened [with the nude hack] — 'no way am I ever gonna do anything sexual.' So, for me, doing Red Sparrow — I felt like I was getting something back that had been taken from me."
Unfortunately, the scandal involving the hacking of iPhones was not the only one to affect Lawrence. Less than three months later, on Nov. 24, 2014, hackers, presumed to be from North Korea who had been angered by Sony's The Interview, released mountains of Sony employees' emails and data. Among the items were documents that showed that Lawrence had been paid less to perform in American Hustle than all three of her male co-stars, which later prompted her to speak out about gender discrimination inside and outside of Hollywood. And then, last month, the first public accusations of sexual misconduct on the part of Harvey Weinstein, whose company had distributed Silver Linings Playbook, sparked a wave of similar claims from other women. "I had heard that he was a dog," Lawrence says. "But he was always almost paternal to me. He was never inappropriate with me. I thought that we had a nice relationship where, when he acted like an asshole, I called him an asshole — I actually think the word I used was 'a sadistic monster' — but it was just never of that nature, so that was really shocking."
Adds Lawrence, "I had been objectified, I had been, you know, obviously, not paid equally, I had been violated by a hacker, but I have never had a man use his power to sexually abuse me." A female, however, once told her that she had to lose 15 pounds in two weeks, she discloses. "I was like, 'Look, I’m gonna be naked. I don’t want to be skinny-skinny. Like, I'm a woman — I can't not look like a woman.' And she was like, 'Well, you need to be skinny-skinny for this film.' They talked about having a 'fat-sitter' — somebody who was gonna live in my apartment and watch everything that I ate — and it was just crazy and it was bullshit." Lawrence declines to name the project on which this occurred, but she emphasizes, "I took care of everything personally on my own — and trust me, they were handled."
These days, Lawrence can pretty much do as she pleases professionally, so good is her track record with audiences. Indeed, she has been a part of remarkably few flops — Susanne Bier's Serena (2014) and Morten Tyldum's Passengers (2016) being rare exceptions. That's why many were surprised that she decided to do Mother!, for which Aronofsky insisted on three months of rehearsal in Brooklyn and then a grueling shoot in Montreal. But Lawrence says she has wanted to work with the filmmaker for years, and loved his pitch to her, which he traveled to Atlanta (where she was shooting Passengers) to deliver in-person, and the script he subsequently sent her. "I found it utterly and completely disturbing, but it was a masterpiece," the actress says. "I didn’t give it to anybody to read because I knew that they would tell me not to do it. I didn’t even tell my agent what the movie was about until we were filming. I actually don’t even think anybody on my team really knew until they saw it." She adds with a chuckle, "It’s kind of like when you’re dating that guy that you know is bad for you and you just don’t want to tell your friends.”
For Lawrence, the making of the film was unlike anything she had done before — not only because of its extensive rehearsal period (she says she normally learns her lines while sitting in the makeup chair), or the fact that her face is shot in close-up for 66 of 121 minutes, but also because of the vulnerability of her character. In fact, the filming of Mother!'s frenetic final 25 minutes — in the house, surrounded by 200 extras, after her character makes a traumatic discovery — was more than she was physically able to handle. "I've never demanded something like that from my nervous system," she says, noting, "After Darren called 'Cut,' one time I blacked out, and another time I just couldn't get it together — I hyperventilated so hard I popped a rib, tore my diaphragm and had to go on oxygen. I could not stop sobbing."
One thing that proved a consolation for the actress was her close working — and, later, personal — relationship with Aronofsky. "I had a crush on him when he pitched to me," she reveals, "and that was like a year before we started rehearsing, but he was a professional, which only made it worse for me. So we just kind of formed a friendship. He knew how I felt, he never told me how he felt — I mean, I assumed — but we just formed a friendship, and then the friendship turned into a partnership for the movie once we started working, and then, when the movie was done, I was like, 'Alright, you're my boyfriend!' And he was like, 'Alright, I'm your boyfriend.'" Even so, like most couples, they have occasional disagreements — although, unlike most couples, their most frequent one seems to be about how to sell their movie. "I don’t think any audience member should go in blindly," Lawrence asserts. "Darren and I disagree on that constantly."