Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook
Director David O. Russell initially thought that Jennifer Lawrence, then 21, was too young to be the lead in his film, Silver Linings Playbook.
The role of an unstable young widow was one that more established and older stars, including Angelina Jolie, were vying for at the time.
But Russell was sold after he saw the younger actress’ Skype audition for the movie, now showing in Singapore.
“She kind of has an ageless quality,” he has said. “She could be 20, she could be 40.”
Now 22, Lawrence herself seems acutely aware of how young she is to be experiencing such success in the business. She draws attention to this fact repeatedly in interviews, including a chat with Life! and a group of other reporters at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills this week, one day before Silver Linings Playbook earned her a Best Actress nomination at this year’s Academy Awards.
It is her second Oscar nod. As a 20-year-old virtual unknown, she scored her first for the wrenching drama Winter’s Bone (2010), playing a 17-year-old girl who has to keep her destitute family from breaking apart.
In person, the actress at first appears rather mature for her age, looking self-possessed and sumptuous in a fitted black shift, with flawless make-up and freshly cut chestnut waves framing her face.
But as she speaks, she becomes increasingly animated and childlike, revealing – with her own cartoon-worthy sound effects – that she often has to rein in her adolescent side.
“Because I started this very young and I’m still very young, it’s hard for me to be serious sometimes and really focus.
“I’m like, ‘Rah rah rah rah! I don’t want to! I’m bored!'” she says, waving her hands in the air and tossing her hair maniacally from side to side.
“Especially when (Silver Linings director) David and I are in the same room, it’s almost impossible (to focus). We’re like ‘Raarrggh!’ together. We’re both very hyper.”
Jennifer Lawrence at the Critics’ Choice Awards 2013
Admitting that she never finished reading the book Silver Linings Playbook is based on, and did not watch the films the director assigned to her as homework, she tells Life! that her co-star Bradley Cooper’s example shamed her into taking things more seriously.
When she saw how hard he worked on set, “it taught me to focus and be grounded”, says Lawrence, who is teaming with him on another movie, the period drama Serena, later this year.
It is almost as if she is trying to manage expectations as the buzz about her reaches fever pitch, especially with the release of the new movie, which has enjoyed almost universal acclaim. The film has also earned her a Best Actress nomination for the Golden Globes, which will be given out tomorrow.
The accolades for Silver Linings Playbook are Lawrence’s latest triumphs in a brief but thrilling career that has seen her playing a string of plucky protagonists on screen, including in the science-fiction blockbuster The Hunger Games (2012).
She knew she had to give up some of her privacy when The Hunger Games became a hit.
“I feel so bad for Emma Stone,” she says of The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Gangster Squad actress, whose star has risen recently. Gangster Squad is showing in cinemas now.
“Because she is where I was a few months ago, and when it first happens, it’s horrible, your entire life flips upside down, the entire planet starts treating you differently and it’s hard to get used to.
“But people told me it would come in waves and they are right. I texted Emma yesterday saying, ‘I’m walking down Rodeo Drive – nothing!’ And she was like, ‘The audacity!’ So, yeah, there are bad days and good days, but overall it’s good.”
Cooper, 38, also gave her some valuable advice on the fame game. “He’s the one who told me I can’t go to Whole Foods,” she says, referring to a high-end supermarket chain.
“I tested it and he was totally right. (The paparazzi) are, like, at every Whole Foods. It’s insane,” she says, adding that she now has to rely on friends to buy groceries for her because “I don’t want Whole Foods to have to call the police again”.
The actress, who grew up far from Hollywood, in mid-western Kentucky, tells Life! that she does not take the adulation too seriously.
“You have to do that with fame, you know, separate somebody screaming at you and asking for a picture of you. That’s your stigma, that’s the character that you’ve put out. You can’t go home and think it’s all about you. There has to be a real separation where you go, ‘Yes, this would be great for my job, but if it doesn’t happen, I’m going to be fine.'”
At the same time, Lawrence is starting to enjoy some of the trappings of being a comely Hollywood star. She is dating another hot young thing, the 23-year-old British actor Nicholas Hoult – her co-star in the 2011 superhero film X-Men: First Class – and says she has begun to take an interest in fashion.
“I’ve been able to find a way to get excited about it – as I used to hate clothes and shopping and fittings. I don’t know if it’s because I’m growing up or being beaten down, but I’m finally starting to really appreciate clothes.”
Still, although she often looks marvellous in those clothes, she betrays a diffidence you would not expect in someone smouldering on the cover of the current issue of Vanity Fair, next to a headline proclaiming that “1 million men say she is the world’s most desirable woman”.
An Oscar nomination gives her butterflies in her stomach, she says – not because of the nomination itself, which she says is “like getting a promotion at work”, but because of the social obligations that come with it.
“I get anxiety over parties. And that’s what that means, essentially, to me. Being surrounded by lots of people… it makes me anxious just to think about it,” says the actress, who stars in the second instalment of The Hunger Games due out at the end of the year.
For all her bravado about being able to handle the pressure of the business, she drops hints that things have not always gone smoothly.
“I remember doing a movie that was emotional and hard for me, and praying that I didn’t have a daughter some day who wanted to be an actress. Because it’s hard.”
Whereas other film stars have said they are grateful success came later in life, when they were mature enough to handle it, she believes it is better to have it come early.
Her “quick success was helpful, because I never had time to feel insecure”, she says, adding that “having to deal with years of rejection at such a young age… could definitely be damaging”.
The young actress appears suddenly flustered by the thought, however, and apologises if she is “talking around in circles and not making sense”.
But she repeats that she feels blessed to have had things go so well so quickly. “I could still bloom into a person who has her feet on the ground and a solid view of her life and who she is.”
Silver Linings Playbook is out in cinemas.
The 70th Golden Globe Awards airs live on January 14, 2013 at 9am with an encore telecast at 7pm on Fox Movies Premium (StarHub Channel 622 and SingTel mio TV Channel414). The 85th Annual Academy Awards airs live on February 25 at 9.30am on Fox Movies Premium.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on January 12, 2013. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.