Hunger Games: Why Our Appetite for Jennifer Lawrence Keeps Growing
By Ariel Nishli
Every once in a while, through a magical combination of raw talent, business savvy, fantastic marketing, sheer luck, and a pinch of zeitgeist, we experience the extraordinary phenomenon of an actor breaking into a movie star. It’s a layered expression, “to break,” on one hand denoting an evolution – the relatively unknown person with a profession in the arts becoming this iconic, almost inhuman image.
On the other hand, “break” is an unfortunately apt description of the effect a sudden dose of fame can have on an actor, especially when they’re young – transforming them into an attention-seeking puppy, destroying their essence.
Today, the wonderfully talented and beautiful Jennifer Lawrence is poised to become the most famous young actress in the world, on the heels of her much-ballyhooed film, The Hunger Games, our generation’s definitive young-adult dystopian adventure movie, adapted from Suzanne Collins’ enormously popular book trilogy.
If the movie is as successful as industry forecasters predict, it could mean more meaty roles for women. It’s not often strong-willed heroines are so prominently displayed in the Hollywood limelight. The progressive slate at KoldCast TV has been built, in large part, with shows driven by strong female leads. One of the latest truly breaks the mold. In Emma Stahl, the titular star is a sexy, assertive, lesbian special agent who fights terrorism and organized crime. She is addicted to the adventures of her trade, but also suffers a weakness for beautiful women.
Click to play the American Teaser for Emma Stahl
In Hunger Games, Jennifer stars as Katniss Everdeen, a hardened teenage girl who, like Emma Stahl, gets in over her head thanks to a brazen attitude. Katniss volunteers to participate in “The Hunger Games” in order to save her sister who was initially picked by a lottery. The games are a televised, ritualized fight to the death staged by the fascist government of Panem, a twisted, post-apocalyptic version of North America. They are held as a means for citizens to make amends for a 75-year-old rebellion. Think The Running Man meets The Giver with a sprinkle of The Island.
In preparation for her debut as an international superstar, Ms. Lawrence has been making her rounds on the press circuit this week, playing basketball on late night television, sitting down with journalists, calling in to radio shows, and of course, posing for the camera at one red carpet premiere after another. The chatter has officially begun, and will undoubtedly raise a funhouse mirror to the young actress, threatening to skew her true personality forever.
We took an interest in what the real Jennifer has been saying through her steady rise and right up until she, too, “breaks.” We found, that like the organic, farm fresh eggs grown in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, Jennifer Lawrence isn’t going to crack under the pressure – this girl is as real as it gets.
“Thanks for raising me, but I’m going to take it from here.”
Jennifer’s nickname growing up was “Nitro”, a nod to her position as the quickest member of her basketball team – an all boys team. After succeeding at various endeavors, including gymnastics, cheerleading, field hockey, and modeling, Jennifer set her mind to being a successful actor. After starring in a local church play, it was the one extracurricular she found she actually had a passion for. As Jennifer explained to Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail in 2010, her parents weren’t too keen on the idea, but she had already made up her mind, so they made her a deal: When she graduated, they’d take her to New York to explore acting. Jennifer accepted and graduated from high school two years early – with a 3.9 grade point average.
“I never did theatre or took classes, which I think has helped me. I just had instincts and they were right.”
Jennifer saw success almost immediately. Her trip to New York turned into a summer stay, and landed her gigs in an MTV commercial and the indie film Devil You Know. As producers began to recognize the raw talent, she continued to get work. In 2007, Jennifer began a recurring role on TBS sitcom The Bill Engvall Show, and went on to star in two directorial debuts, costarring with Selma Blair in The Poker House and Charlize Theron in The Burning Plain. It was clear that Lawrence, who was not yet old enough to legally drink, possessed a lifetime’s worth of emotion in innate acting ability.
From The Burning Plain
“I never have given value to myself or viewed myself differently through my work, through my job.”
This attitude, expressed in a 2010 interview with Black Book, carried Jennifer through that life-altering year of stardom, when her haunting film Winter’s Bone won the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize and captivated critics across the country. In it, she plays Ree Dolly, a teenage girl trying to stave off eviction in the poverty-stricken, meth-addled Nebraska Ozarks. Her character was mesmerizing for being at once vulnerable and awfully pained, while displaying an uncanny strength and resolve.
Regarding the accolades and attention, Jennifer remarked, “It doesn’t give me a big head or anything, it just means I worked hard, and it paid off. I’m grateful that people love the movie. But there were hundreds of people that went into making the movie. I’m just a tiny party of it.” Nonetheless, the searing performance garnered Lawrence an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, the second youngest person ever bestowed the honor.
Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly
“I don’t get emotionally drained, because I don’t invest any of my real emotions.”
Though the public’s perception of Jennifer was morphing into a dark and brooding portrait thanks to Winter’s Bone, she insisted none of the work came home with her, “not even to craft services.” Throughout Jennifer’s first wave of fame, what stood out most in her interviews was an unabashed levelheadedness. “I just use my imagination,” she continued to tell The Globe and Mail. “If it ever came down to the point where, to make a part better, I had to lose a little bit of my sanity, I wouldn’t do it. I would just do comedies.” It’s as if she was declaring upfront that no matter how successful she may become, she refuses to suffer for it. A disappointing message for a public all too eager to rip down the stars it builds up.
“I’m open to being told I’m wrong but by the time I say something, it’s already gone through nine levels in my head, and is probably right. So I might as well say it.”
In addition to being matter-of-fact, Jennifer displayed an unabashed confidence in her talent and aspirations. Drawing comparisons to herself and Jodie Foster, whom she costarred with in last year’s Mel Gibson movie The Beaver, she expressed disdain for “b.s.” directing while declaring an interest in becoming a director herself. Her Facebook page already claims her as one, but there are no credits to date.
“I’m excited to be seen as sexy, but not slutty.”"
Jennifer was eager to move away from Ree’s rustic image. Her steady confidence coalesced nicely with the growing status as a sex symbol. Ask Men named her the 47th most desirable woman in the country, after a revealing photo shoot with Esquire Magazine. The sultry photos left little doubt as to whether Jennifer was destined to be typecast as rough around the edges. On the contrary, she was soon cast as the sexy Mystique in X-Men: First Class, and even sexier (Mystique’s skin is blue, and scaly!) Sam in Like Crazy, opposite Anton Yelchin. She will also star opposite Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in the upcoming David O. Russell movie The Silver Lining Playbook.
“Suddenly it was right in my face — and the size of the decision was terrifying.”
As Jennifer’s talent went from well-kept secret to sought-after commodity in the halls of Hollywood studios this past year – Steven Spielberg once stopped her at DreamWorks to personally introduce himself – she was inevitably offered the lead role in The Hunger Games. Director Gary Ross explained his choice to The Hollywood Reporter, saying “There was such a power and intensity and command to her acting. I was floored… She has absolute, total control over what she’s doing. I’ve never worked with anyone more talented than her – ever. A talent like this comes once in a generation.” That’s high praise coming from a veteran. Her fame was solidified, yet surprisingly, Jennifer began to display real humility – a perfect counterbalance to her usual confidence.
“I’m not as famous as I think I am.”
What makes Jennifer so relatable is that, like all of us, she’s contradictory because she’s grown as a person. The nonchalant confidence has given way to a healthy humbleness. Earlier this week on Late Night with David Letterman, Jennifer quipped, “I’m not as famous as I think I am” recalling seeing a parked car and hiding, thinking it was the paparazzi. The nonstop press gauntlet has accustomed her to being photographed everywhere she goes. Jennifer also displayed some genuine insecurity, later joking, “No, I am a troll. I hate myself… I think the movie is great but their biggest mistake was me,” prompting Letterman to take out a pad and paper and suggest she come by the show for therapy at least twice a week.
“I’m still going about my life as if everything is totally normal. I’m just ignoring all of it. I’m excited and nervous, but mostly excited now.”
Jennifer’s response to Ryan Seacrest’s question on how she’s handling the attention makes it clear she’s still in the dark about out how to navigate the oncoming stardom, and that’s exactly what attracts us to her. Her newfound fears and denial are out in the open for all of us to hear. Lawrence isn’t spitting off lines from the armies of publicists at her disposal, she’s too smart for that. Instead, she’s opting to do what most starlets would never dare – to be herself. Asked how she felt about her performance in Hunger Games, Jennifer remarked, “I genuinely watch myself and hate everything… It’s genuine! It’s real!”
And so are you.
Ariel Nishli is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sixth Wall. He’s got a big apple in his heart but moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2007, he worked in the motion picture literary department at ICM, then moved on to feature film development at Parkes MacDonald Productions. Ariel’s wardrobe has steadily devolved from designer suits to worn out slippers, as he now focuses on screenwriting and journalism when he’s not obsessing over this blog.