Just like Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence is about to step into an arena where all eyes are going to be on her.
When Lawrence agreed to take on the central role in “The Hunger Games,” the big screen adaptation of the first book in Suzanne Collins’ thoughtful, bestselling trilogy, she knew that she’d be just as scrutinized by the novels’ die-hard fans as the fictional Katniss was when she entered into the Reaping.
Like Katniss, Lawrence is a young woman from rural America who at a young age found herself in the spotlight--though the actress' time on "The Bill Engvall Show" was hardly a life-or-death affair.
But after an Oscar-nominated turn in “Winter’s Bone” and a literally stripped-down follow-up in a big-budget studio film “X-Men: First Class,” the 21-year-old actress was certainly prepared to win the favor of the fans – even while knowing she was sacrificing her anonymity in the process. The role of Katniss, a young woman who finds herself among 24 teens trapped in an arena and forced to fight to the death was too big an opportunity to pass up.
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PopcornBiz chatted with Lawrence and found an actress on the brink of becoming an icon – and very prepared for it.
After about 10 years of female action hero characters like Lara Croft in films - sort of James Bond-as-women – this character feels like a real woman. How hard did you work to make sure that she stayed a relatable person, and not become just a collection of karate chops, kicks and punches?
That's the beautiful thing about her in the books and in the script. It was important to keep her vulnerable. I didn't want anybody, at any point in time, watching her in the arena and thinking that she couldn't die, because I don't think that there was one moment while she was in the arena where she thought that she wasn't going to die. So I think that keeping vulnerability and keeping her scared, she's a young girl that's in this position. She's not a Lara Croft or a James Bond, who's done this a million times and knows he's going to survive. She doesn't.
There's very much a celebrity and showbiz allegory going in with the story, and you've been in the ultimate Hollywood version of that having been nominated for an Oscar. What's your experience been going beyond just delivering a performance to then being a personality out in the public eye and things coming down to how people perceive you? How did that hit you since you have been in an Oscar race?
Well, it's just weird because my job is normally reading scripts, talking to directors, showing up on set – and then all of a sudden my job was wearing the right designers and getting people to like you. It's odd...It's a weird thing to get used to. It's understandable. I get why it's a part of the job, but it's just odd.
Did you use some of that for Katniss?
Yeah, there were definitely parts of the books where I was reading that and going, 'I know how that feels.' I know what it feels like to feel like you're a doll and people are shoving dresses onto you that you would never wear, and all this makeup and just not really feeling like yourself – cameras and questions. It's just a weird thing to not feel like yourself and have a camera in your face.
Such a big deal was made about your hair. What was your thought process while people were fussing about that?
Well, I never saw it – I heard it from reporters, like, 'So many people were upset because you were blonde…' and I was like, 'Really? That's what they get upset about?' There would be a million other things that I'd get upset about if I were a fan and saw me get cast other than my hair. That can be dyed so easily. I thought that it was funny because I thought maybe they thought I'd go through the whole movie with blonde hair, and just be like, 'Yeah, Katniss is blonde. She wears lipstick and she fights in high heels.'
Did being the centerpiece of 'The Hunger Games' give you any pause, and did you talk to any fellow actors who have had this kind of attention in a franchise?
No. It did give me pause because it was scary. It was kind of a terrifying thing, but there was nobody that I could really talk to because it was kind of like one of those things that nobody really knows what you want other than you. So there was nothing that anybody could really say. It was just something that I had to work out with myself. That was the three days that I gave myself before I said yes, just thinking through every single thing, combing through every doubt so that when I was here and people were taking my picture and people were screaming and following me or whatever was going to happen, I knew that I thought it through and I said yes without a doubt in my mind. I signed on and I haven't doubted or second-guessed myself since.
Where did you reflect on that, those three days?
I was in England and I was walking around London, going into coffee shops and going in everywhere and I just kept thinking, 'A year from now I'll be in here and people will be taking pictures of me with their phones and that'll suck.' But I've just spent the last months kind of enjoying every last thing of being semi-normal. I went to Times Square in New York and I've left the house in sweatpants and I've been like, 'Crap. It's too late.' They've already got pictures of that.
Are you at all excited about all the little side items that spin out of this part, like action figures? Will you have a room in your house with all of these things?
It's cool. I'd by lying if I was, like, 'Oh, I think it's stupid.' It is bizarre that someone is going to have a doll with my face on it. You don't ever think that way when you're an actor. It's weird. Lionsgate texted me a picture of the action figure and the only thing I could think to reply was, 'I'm a choking hazard?' I saw it on the box and I was like, 'Oh, I don't want to do that.' It's a weird thing to process, because you look at it and it's the same thing as looking at a movie poster. I can look at it as much as I want, but it doesn't look like me, because when I look in the mirror I'm not going like this.
How different was it to play the story that was laid out in a book from playing a comic book character in a new story about her?
There was a lot more pressure, because with 'The X-Men' I could just watch Rebecca Romijn and be like, 'Oh, okay, that's how she walks.' There was something to base it off, and then with this it was just that a lot of people have read these books. A lot of people have an idea of what she looks like and how she would be. I've got my own idea of that and now I just have to do it. So it was different in that sense.
Was action hero and major franchise a goal when you embarked on your acting career?
No. 'The X-Men' thing happened. I was doing indies and I wasn't really looking for a studio movie to do, and then I read the script and it was great. It was really cool, and I think that Matthew Vaughn is an incredible filmmaker. Then it was one of those things where you can do indies and then you can't do the studios that you want to do, or you can do a couple of studios and then you can do all of the indies that you want to do…It just kind of opens your career up more, which is kind of a wise thing. Then after doing it, it's a cool thing. It wasn't until later where I was like, 'I'm Mystique!' That's cool. She's kind of a historic superhero and that's really important to a lot of people and the comic has been around for so long. It's a cool thing to be a part of.