IF a Hollywood publicist were to make a list of conversational taboos for a young star, it might include the following: personal shortcomings, money, group sex and death. All of these were subjects that the actress Jennifer Lawrence breezed right into over breakfast recently. It was like a Louis C. K. bit in a much comelier frame.
?The whole time we were like orgy, orgy, who?s going to see the orgy, what are we going to do in the event of an orgy, we need to break up so we can be assured that one of us gets to see the orgy,? she said of a family outing to ?Sleep No More,? the interactive, often racy take on ?Macbeth? playing in Chelsea. (They saw no orgies, which the Lawrence clan considered a bummer.)
Ms. Lawrence, 22, has also been thinking about her own demise. Her lawyers are having her draft a will because, she explained, ?I?m rich now.? Not that you?d know it; in the next breath she called herself a redneck and described going to Walmart to shop for Rob Schneider movies. ?I like making movies, but that doesn?t mean I want to watch a black-and-white, freaking boring? ? here she amped up the sarcasm with an unprintable word ? ?silent movie,? she said.
Her on-screen characters are often marked by their flinty resolution, not their volubility, but in person Ms. Lawrence is just the opposite, an unfiltered sass who happens to look like a 1970s California prom queen and talk like a SoCal skater boy. In just two years she has made an unusual leap, from indie character actress to action heroine, nimbly repeating the cycle while retaining her real-girl charm.
Minted as an Oscar nominee for playing a stoic Ozarks teenager in ?Winter?s Bone? (2010) and as a box office star with ?The Hunger Games? this year, she will next appear in her mouthiest role yet, in David O. Russell?s ?Silver Linings Playbook.?
The film, opening on Friday, stars Bradley Cooper as a Philadelphia high school teacher who suffers a breakdown after discovering his wife?s affair. Ms. Lawrence is the unstable, sex-crazed widow he meets after he leaves the mental institution. Add Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver (?Animal Kingdom?) as his Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed parents and Chris Tucker as his inpatient friend, and the whole affair has the makings of a zany comedy. But Mr. Russell, who adapted the script from the 2008 novel by Matthew Quick, adds sharpness and pathos, drawing early praise for depicting romance, psychiatric illness and family dysfunction with humor and risk.
The film won the audience prize at the Toronto International Film Festival, a harbinger of awards-season success. (The Oscar juggernauts ?Slumdog Millionaire? and ?The King?s Speech? also earned that kudos.) Shot before she became a household name playing Katniss Everdeen, the arrow-slinging champ of ?The Hunger Games? (but after she worked on that picture), ?Silver Linings Playbook? is again bringing statuette talk for Ms. Lawrence.
Mr. Russell, riding high after his success with the Oscar-winning boxing movie ?The Fighter,? had his pick of leading ladies, though they had to pass muster with Harvey Weinstein, a producer of the film. (The Weinstein Company bought the book rights before publication and had scheduled Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella to produce, passing the idea to Mr. Russell after their deaths; he adapted it even before ?The Fighter.?) Initially worried that Ms. Lawrence was too young to play the romantic interest ? Mr. Cooper is 37 ? Mr. Russell said he was won over by her audition, conducted partly via Skype. ?There?s an expressiveness in her eyes and in her face, that many stars have to work for, that?s ageless,? he said.
The character, Tiffany, underwent some transformations, though. She was first meant to be Goth, so Ms. Lawrence dyed her hair black. ?We shot camera tests with her in heavy Goth makeup and those plaid punk dresses they wear, and Harvey just freaked out,? Mr. Russell said. Ms. Lawrence kept the dark hair and some other touches. ?The way she carries herself, the Gothic cross ? all these things permeated into her character, which is maybe the most messed-up girl on the block but also the most confident,? Mr. Russell said.
?Jennifer,? he added, ?is one of the least neurotic people I know,? and that confidence, coupled with glimpses of vulnerability, is a trait she shares with her character. ?She always offers her opinion. She?s not afraid to talk to anybody about anything, and yet she can also turn around and have an 18-year-old?s ?nevermind.? That?s their version of being vulnerable.?
On a rare weekend break from shooting the second ?Hunger Games? installment in Atlanta, Ms. Lawrence was holed up in a SoHo hotel room with an expansive view of Lower Manhattan. In black jeans and a white top she sat cross-legged or sprawled on a bench at the foot of the bed, still unmade, eating breakfast and talking openly about her life, with many segues for dark humor. Honing her sarcasm to be understandable, ?that?s, like, my No. 1 thing that I have to work on,? she said.
She credited Mr. Russell with helping her find herself in Tiffany?s fluctuating persona. ?David is inside every one of these characters,? she said. He even persuaded her to speak in a lower register ? a feat because she doesn?t like her naturally deep voice. ?I think I sound like a hermit,? she said, ?a deep, chain-smoking hermit.?
Ms. Lawrence has no qualms about discussing her 5-foot-9 physicality. ?Silver Linings Playbook? involves a heavily choreographed dance number, which made her nervous. ?When I dance, I look like I?m a dad at a prom,? she said. ?I never grasped my limbs. Ever since puberty I?ve just kind of felt like we don?t understand each other.? After shooting the first ?Hunger Games? she was asked by Mr. Russell to gain weight for the part. ?I was like, ?Hell, yeah!? ? she said. ?That never happens in a movie.? But Tiffany spends much of her time in workout wear, with many close-ups of her figure. ?For a second I just thought it was the camera guy,? she said. ?And then I realized: obviously, David.? (?One of the things I love about her is her womanliness, both in her personality and in her form,? Mr. Russell said.)
Then there was what she called ?the boob day,? in March, when she showed up for a ?Hunger Games? book signing at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square wearing an emerald dress with deep, deep d?colletage. ?That dress looked so good on,? she said. ?And then when I was sitting at this table the only thing you could see were children cheering and just? her breasts ?about six inches above the table.?
Her life changed profoundly and suddenly with ?Hunger Games,? the adaptation of the first in the best-selling Suzanne Collins trilogy of young-adult novels, about a dystopic society where children are sacrificed in yearly reapings. Fans and critics alike debated whether Ms. Lawrence was suited for the part, carping online about her physique and relative newcomer status. But the film, directed by Gary Ross, earned over $400 million and made Ms. Lawrence one of the top-grossing action heroines of all time. It also made her, overnight, a paparazzi target. ?It gets overwhelming, where I?ll cry in my car, but not to the point where I don?t want to do what I?m doing,? she said.
Three more ?Hunger Games? films are due: ?Catching Fire? and ?Mockingjay? Parts 1 and 2, all to be directed by Francis Lawrence (?I Am Legend?). His style, Ms. Lawrence said, is more fantastical than Mr. Ross?s, but both remain true to the books, a must with such a devoted fan base. ?It?s also something that I?m proud of,? she said. ?Like, I don?t get annoyed when the guy at the bar says, ?May the odds be ever in your favor.? ?
She grew up the baby of the family, working on her parents? horse farm and children?s camp in the suburbs of Louisville, Ky. Still tomboy-close with her two brothers ? they wrestle ? she is equally silly on set. She sported a bite mark on her hand that she said came from her ?Catching Fire? co-star Woody Harrelson in a finger-mustache game she invented and dubbed the Sanchez. ?He actually didn?t bite me; I ran into his teeth,? she explained, as if that made it better. Preparing for an emotionally heavy moment involving dead children, ?I put a rubber band on my nose to make me look like a pig and walked out and did the scene,? she said.
Approximating adulthood, Ms. Lawrence now lives in a condo in Los Angeles and has a mostly long-distance relationship with her boyfriend of two years, the British actor Nicholas Hoult, her co-star in ?X-Men: First Class.? (She will soon reprise her role as the blue-skinned Mystique.) But blockbuster money or no, she is still paying for a leased Volkswagen. ?I?m building up my credit,? she said proudly.
Her father, Gary, dropped by the room to make sure she was up, delivering an extra cup of coffee. Her mother, Karen, serves as a sounding board; it was she who advised her daughter to read ?Winter?s Bone,? ?The Hunger Games? and ?The Glass Castle,? the Jeannette Walls memoir in which Ms. Lawrence hopes to star.
She began acting as a teenager, appearing as the snarky daughter on the TBS sitcom ?The Bill Engvall Show.? But it was her first major screen role ? as Ree, the hardscrabble girl trying to hold her family together in Debra Granik?s ?Winter?s Bone? ? that was her breakthrough. ?In Ms. Lawrence?s watchful, precise and quietly heroic performance, Ree is like a modern-day Antigone, making ethical demands that are at once entirely coherent and potentially fatal,? A. O. Scott wrote in his review in The New York Times.
Ms. Lawrence has never had an acting coach or teacher. ?That?s how I can go about life free as an idiot: because I have no idea what I?m doing,? she said, deadpan. But Mr. Ross, who cast her as Katniss, said she needed little training. ?She doesn?t make it too complicated for herself,? he said. ?She doesn?t have anything approaching a self-indulgent process. She?s very relaxed, she?s chatty, she?s almost part of the crew in some ways because she?s so confident in what she?s doing. She doesn?t have a lot to be nervous about.?
She was thrown for a loop, though, by her best actress Oscar nomination, at the age of 20. ?It was so much, so fast,? she said, starting with the 12 hours of interviews that follow the nomination announcement. ?I was like: I just want to feel like it happened. I feel like I?m busy. I feel like I?m tired, and tired of talking about myself, which is very odd,? she said. ?It?s such a PMS type of feeling, when something is so good that you?re sad that you can?t fully take it in and enjoy it.? She lost to Natalie Portman, for ?Black Swan.?
But after the ceremony, ?I could enjoy it,? she said, ?absorb it and sign my name ?Academy Award Nominee Jennifer Lawrence? on everything.?
And she did get her share of mementos, like M&M?s with her photo on them. ?That literally was probably the coolest thing that I saw,? she said. ?I was like: ?You know what? It?s all worth it? after I saw those M&M?s.?
If she is, as most actors diplomatically say, just lucky enough to be nominated again, Ms. Lawrence has a better understanding of the process. This time, she said, ?I want a pizza with my face on it.?
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