Jennifer Lawrence: I Planned to Try Acting for 5 Years and Then Become a Nurse

Frank W. Ockenfels

The world's highest-paid actress (as much as $25 million a film) and THR Actress Roundtable participant reveals her now not-needed backup plan.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Just how un-famous was Jennifer Lawrence in early 2011? When she sat for a lunch interview with THR that January — eating bacon and eggs at the Snug Harbor diner in Santa Monica — not one person in the restaurant was hyperventilating. In fact, nobody gave her a second glance.

At the time, Lawrence, then 20, already had built a promising résumé. The Kentucky native had played young Sylvia in The Burning Plain and before that spent three seasons as a family counselor's teenage daughter on TBS' The Bill Engvall Show. True, she'd been turned down for the role of Bella in Twilight, but she'd petitioned hard for the lead in Winter's Bone, a tiny indie about an Ozarks girl struggling to keep her family together, and the film became the darling of the 2010 festival circuit, winning the drama grand jury prize at Sundance. In hindsight, that modest movie would prove the launchpad for Lawrence's superstardom, landing her nominations for a Spirit Award, a Golden Globe and — only a few days after lunch with THR and her appearance on the magazine's Sundance Issue cover — her first Oscar nom.

Still, there was nothing about the young actress nibbling bacon at Snug Harbor that hinted at the astonishing transformation to come. Between bites, she professed admiration for the careers of James Franco and Cate Blanchett (with whom she appears on this issue's cover), spoke excitedly about her upcoming role as Mel Gibson's daughter in The Beaver and described, with obvious trepidation, her first gentle brushes with fame. "I got recognized on the street," she timidly told THR. "Someone said, 'I loved Winter's Bone,' and I was like, 'You saw Winter's Bone?' "

Today, she is the world's highest-paid actress, earning as much as $25 million a film (for tentpoles like The Hunger Games; the fourth installment, Mockingjay — Part 2, is set to open Nov. 20). During the past five years, she has added two more Oscar nominations to her list of triumphs — in 2014 for American Hustle (which earned her a Globe) and in 2013 for Silver Linings Playbook (for which she won an Oscar and a Globe) — and there is talk of another round of noms for her turn in David O. Russell's dynastic drama Joy (set to open Dec. 25).

Meanwhile, she has her hands full shooting Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game follow-up Passengers, a big-budget space drama co-starring Chris Pratt that is scheduled for release in December 2016, possibly around the time of Lawrence's next appearance as the blue-skinned Mystique in X-Men: Apocalypse. There also are her sidelines as a fashion icon (signing a reported $20 million contract with Dior), pay-equity activist (penning a widely read essay for Lena Dunham's arts newsletter Lenny that declared, "I'm over trying to find the 'adorable' way to state my opinion") and Hollywood's most brutally honest interview (telling The New York Times she Googled "Jennifer Lawrence ugly").

It's impossible to think of another actor during the past five years whose career has taken off with such head-spinning velocity. Back then, THR saw only a glimmer of her potential. "Lawrence's name is now part of an impressive honor roll that Sundance has nurtured: Carey Mulligan in An Education in 2009 and Melissa Leo in Frozen River," noted the magazine in its cover story, underestimating the stunning turn of events that would make Lawrence the planet's biggest female star.

Turns out, though, she had her path figured out the whole time, as far back as that lunch. "I had a five-year plan," she tells THR. "I was going to give [acting] five years, and if that didn't work out, I was going to go back to Kentucky and become a nurse."

"I had a five-year plan. If it didn't work out, I was going to go back to Kentucky and become a nurse."