'Hunger Games' star Jennifer Lawrence talks filming and mall tours(Read article summary)
'Hunger Games' star Jennifer Lawrence discusses the pressure of playing a well-known character and working with director Gary Ross
Jennifer Lawrence has already enjoyed a remarkably unique career path. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Lawrence had the nearly unheard of good fortune to be discovered on a visit to New York City when she was just fourteen years old. After a good deal of goading on the part of agents (who saw a rare talent in Lawrence), her parents agreed to allow her to stay in NYC and begin auditioning.
After a few commercial and guest star roles, she was cast in the TBS television series The Bill Engvall Show. Lawrence went directly from the short-lived sitcom to the role that would secure her a Best Actress Oscar nomination at the tender age of twenty: playing Ree Dolly in Debra Granikâs Winterâs Bone. Shortly thereafter, Lawrence humanized Mystique, one of Marvelâs most beloved villainessâ, in X-Men: First Class.
Lawrence is now taking on her biggest challenge: the lead role in a film that is poised to (potentially) be a worldwide phenomenon, The Hunger Games. In the film, Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl from a dystopic future in which a fascistic Capital selects one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts of the nation of Panem to fight to the death in an annual tournament called The Hunger Games. Katniss is forced to volunteer to fight when her much younger, much smaller sister is selected in that yearâs lottery.
We had the chance to participate in a roundtable discussion with the Jennifer Lawrence at the Los Angeles press event for The Hunger Games, where we discussed (among other things) her propensity toward roles that involve hunting and the woods, the pressure that surrounds taking on a much-beloved character, learning how to act backwards from Woody Harrelson and the surreal experience of participating in a mall tour.
Screen Rant: What is it about these downtrodden, strong women who take care of children? What is this pattern that weâre seeing here in your career?Â
Jennifer Lawrence: âI donât know, before I get the script I ask âDoes she like the forest, does she have younger siblings? (Laughing) Jodie Foster told me Iâd look back at my career twenty years from now and see a pattern, and what it has to do with my life. But now Iâm just like âI donât know.ââ
You do you see a through-line between this and Winterâs Bone?
JL: âYeah, theyâre similar. Ree is much more of a walker at Katniss is more of a runner.â (Laughs)
What was the most challenging aspect of this film as an adaptation?
JL: âThat she was already in the minds of so many different people. When youâre coming out with a movie where nobodyâs really seen the character before you can say âhere it is.â Iâm playing a character that most people have already seen in their mind. Thatâs scary.â
Did you have preconceived notions?
JL: âYeah, but thatâs just what I did. I understood her in a certain way and my understanding informed my performance.â
Speaking of scary, I hear you guys are doing mall tours, howâs that been?
JL: âYesterday was our first one and I felt like Justin Timberlake from âN Sync. It was nuts. One girl almost fainted. But itâs never over me. I sit in between the guys, and they start with Liam (Hemsworth) and they say âSay something! Say something!â And he speaks in his Australian accent and someone passes out, and I barely get a chance to put my name on the poster weâre signing before itâs slid over to Josh (Hutcherson). And itâs, âOh my god so I loved you inâŚâ and then crying. And Iâm like âItâs okay. I practiced my signature for so long and I didnât get to use it.ââ
Is there a star in the middle of it?
JL: âThere was a heart, but I took the heart out.â
What kind of physical training did you do to play Katniss?
JL: âFree running for agility, archery, climbing, combat and yogaâŚBut thatâs all.â
Howâs your archery now?
JL: âGood. I had an Olympian train me, so if I couldnât say âgoodâ itâs my fault.â
How are your tree climbing skills?
JL: âAlso good if I have a harness.â (Laughs)
Knowing that this is a franchise is fitness something you have to keep up?
JL: âWhen youâre in a movie called âThe Hunger Gamesâ when youâre not working you eat. But as far as exercise goes I like to stay in relatively good shape anyway, running and so on. And itâs also so that when training comes along I donât have to start from square one. There is relative maintenance. Just being able to withstand cardio.â
In the book, everything is conveyed from Katnissâ perspective. And the film is primarily from Katnissâ point-of-view as well. How many days off did you have during shooting?
JL: âNone. For a while I had Saturdays and Sundays, and then I had Sundays.â
How useful was it to have the book and all those first person thoughts?
JL: âFor an actor itâs an amazing thing to have my characterâs inner dialogue. It never happens.â
At some point do you have to let go of the book?
JL: âYeah, when youâre making a film, the book is a good tool, but once you have the script and youâre making a movie, you have to let go of the book. I held onto the inner dialogue, but yes, you do have to let go.â
Â JL: âHe doesnât have one. He can communicate with every single actor. He can make anything work. Iâm better with technical stuff, just tell me what you donât like and Iâll fix it. Donât tell me about whatâs happening internally â that doesnât work for me. Just tell me whatâs right and whatâs wrong, and he was very technical with me. With others he might give more emotional guidance, he could do that. He can work with any actor, he can communicate with the lighting director. He had a very specific vision and he never once gave that up. Which is hard when youâre doing a film, but to his credit he did it and the studio was amazing. Heâs strong and heâs brilliant, but he listens to everybody. Heâs artistically free.â
You said that you like technical direction, is that something you consider when you take on projects now?
JL: âItâs something Iâve always looked at when I look at scripts. You can love a script but if it doesnât have a good director it wonât be that.â
And do you hope that they can adapt to your way of working?
JL: âNo, I like to adapt to their way of working. I love doing that. Each directorâs so different and you have to adapt to a new way of doing something. Thatâs amazing to me; I love that. I donât want a director to have to work around me, I think itâs more fun to come in on their thing.â
Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
JL: âYeah, the scene when Stanley Tucci (who plays talk-show hostÂ Caesar Flickerman in the film) interviews me before I go to the games. One because itâs just hilarious to see that, but also thatâs the moment that Katniss realizes itâs a game, and if she wants to win she has to play along.â
There is a sense that Katniss is playing to the camera. Do you have to be conscious of the moments where she is playing to the cameras and the audience that is observing the game and when she is being herself?
JL: âI think it was important to her to not look weak when she was on the run. Some of that would be too complicated to think about. When she does find the camera, then yes, but otherwise it wasâŚ running.â
Thereâs an interesting stylistic choice where the camera is all around you. Sometimes itâs from behind, which you normally donât see. Does that change your performance? Or do you have to ignore the camera?
JL: âYou canât ever let yourself be thrown by a camera. Thatâs never good for an actor. So, no, thatâs also trusting your director. When youâre reading the script, you want to work with someone you trust so thereâs nothing to worry about.â
Youâre working with veterans like Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland here. Is there anything you have to be cognizant of, or is there anything you learn from going toe to toe with them?
JL: âI always try to be a sponge and soak up as much as possible when Iâm working with them.â
What did your sponge soak up from Woody?
JL: (Laughs) (Does Beavis laugh) âWoody is the nicest person in the entire world, and you know heâd be the exact same person no matter what his job was. Heâs just that guy from Texas, he can strike up a conversation with anybody. Itâs just odd to see him on a movie set. Heâs just one of the most incredible actors in the world, and he almost doesnât fit onto a set. Heâs just too relaxed â heâs got no airs about him. You see him hanging out, like someone brought their really nice cousin from Texas and then all of a sudden he does backwards acting. One time we were doing this scene where I stab a knife through his fingers and to do that you have to do everything backwards and they put it forwards in post. And so we would start and everything would go backwards and Woody said âIâm even doing backwards acting cause when Iâm here I start to feel my desire for the jam.â (Laughs) So he would go back and then heâd see the jam and want in. Heâs full of gems like that.â
When we were talking to Liam and Josh, it was brought up that twenty years ago we probably would have seen Katniss be a guy and the love interests be women. Iâm just curious from your perspective how you feel about that shift, being the strong female character at the end of this story?
Â JL: âItâs great because I feel like weâve gotten to the place where we have strong female leads. Weâve got Lara Croft as the female James Bond and we have someone whoâs not even the female James Bond. We have a young girl being thrown in to this situation and not knowing if sheâs going to survive it. It says a lot.â
Well, to be fair, Lara Croft is very sexualized, while you canât say your character is objectified in the same way a lot of women are in these movies.
JL: âIt is great.â
How did you steal yourself up emotionally for your scenes with Rue (seen above), especially your final scenes with her?
JL: âThat was awful. Reading it in the book, and reading the script it was terrible, and then meeting Amandla Stenberg (the actress who plays Rue). The scene was hard because I knew that it meant that she would wrap. And then working with her â you meet her â sheâs the funniest, sweetest little girlâŚsheâs amazing.â
She kept telling us you were the one making jokes in between takes during the death scene.
JL: âYeah, thatâs true. I had to do something. Thereâs a funny picture of us in her grave laughing. But we were all thinking that people would leave the theater during that sceneâŚbut then, there were some hilarious moments for us. (Laughs)â
Roth Cornet blogs at Screen Rant.