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Jennifer Lawrence is 23, and she’s two things that can be hard to combine: As the reigning Oscar winner for Best Actress, she’s officially been certified as one of the finest actresses of her generation. As the star of The Hunger Games (2012) and the sequel that opened nationwide on Friday, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she’s one of that generation’s biggest movie stars.
Being an actress and being a movie star isn’t always a comfortable fit, however.
The glamour of stardom can get in the way of the ability to submerge oneself in a role, while the actor’s hunger for new and different roles can mess with the chemistry of celebrity. Some men and women never quite solve that puzzle.
If the effort to do so is wearing on Lawrence, though, it isn’t apparent. As she arrives at a Los Angeles hotel to promote Catching Fire, she seems upbeat, even buoyant as she stops to kid with co-stars Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson before settling down to talk about her fans’ two favorite subjects, herself and Katniss Everdeen, her character in the Hunger Games movies.
The original Hunger Games, made for $78 million, grossed more than $680 million worldwide. Lawrence already was seen as a rising star in Hollywood, thanks to her Oscar nomination as Best Actress for Winter’s Bone (2010), but her performance as Katniss, the resourceful young woman who, in a dystopian future, enters and wins a kill-or-be-killed tournament for young people, made her a household name. Her next film, Silver Linings Playbook (2012), earned her an Oscar as Best Actress, and since then it’s been about balancing the two aspects of her career.
Lawrence herself insists that there’s no problem there, because The Hunger Games continues to offer her substantial challenges as an actress. They’re simply more physical than those that come with most of her other roles.
In the sequel, like the original based on a best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins, Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) don’t get long to celebrate their victory in the 74th Hunger Games.
The evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) decides to pit past winners of the games against each other for a special 75th-anniversary game called the Quarter Quell.
Despite having been promised that she never would have to fight again, Katniss now finds herself stranded in a jungle landscape where the dangers include flesh-eating fog and birds that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud. Soon she and other games veterans are plotting the overthrow of the totalitarian government.
“This story is important,” Lawrence says. “It’s a wonderful message to show how important one voice can be. You can follow the feet in front of you, or be that one voice. It definitively shows young people how important they are in shaping our society, which is important during a time when young people might feel as if they have no voice.
“I think as a society, unfortunately, people feel entitled to certain things,” she says. “We’ve been desensitized when it comes to our shock value too. I think these movies and the books are about what happens when you desensitize a society that feels entitled.”
In the first movie Katniss and her friends are helplessly forced into a game in which most of them will be killed. In Catching Fire the shoe is on the other foot.
“These teenagers are beginning to say, ‘We don’t need to play this game. We won’t play this game. We don’t have to follow the rules,’” Lawrence says. “Even if a few people say those words, it’s progress.
“What we see here is Katniss growing and changing with each film,” she says. “She’s really finding her voice, and she becomes the voice of the people who have been forced to send their children off to die.”
With the role of Katniss, of course, Lawrence also accepted the risk of being typecast in that part. She did so knowingly.
“I knew the deal,” she says. “When I signed on to do Hunger Games, we already had Harry Potter and Twilight. I knew what to expect to a certain extent.
“And, if I’m going to be identified with a character for the rest of my life, it’s fine,” she adds. “I love this character.”
That said, Lawrence doesn’t plan a career in action/adventure.
“It’s crucial for me to mix it up,” she says. “I want audiences to see that I can still do smaller roles. I started out doing indies, I’ll end this career doing indies.”
Next up for her is a reunion with David O. Russell, the writer/director who steered her to her Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook.
American Hustle,opening in limited release on Dec. 18, is about a con man named Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) who is working with the FBI to infiltrate the New Jersey mob. Lawrence plays Rosenfeld’s loose-cannon wife, and fellow Russell veterans Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams co-star.
A native of Louisville, Lawrence always knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“There wasn’t a question if I would act,” she says. “It was when.”
Her first break came with the TBS sitcom The Bill Engvall Show (2007), and she made her big-screen debut in Garden Party (2008). Then she was cast as Ree, an Ozark Mountains teenager struggling to hold her family together, in Winter’s Bone (2010), which led directly to her being cast as Katniss. The rest is Hollywood history.
“Winning the Oscar was a wonderful gift,” Lawrence says.
“It’s a huge honor. The truth is, I’m still pinching myself. I still haven’t fully digested it, and maybe I shouldn’t ever digest it.”