Jennifer Lawrence is ready for fame. For starters, when asked how she manages to talk about herself interview after interview with such zeal, the 19-year-old blue-eyed beauty deadpans, “Are you kidding? It’s like my favorite thing to do.” It’s a good thing, too, given that after her gargantuan breakout performance in Winter’s Bone, this is likely only the beginning. And to think, producers initially thought she was too beautiful to play such a stark character. In the gritty, bleak new drama, Lawrence (whose previous credits include The Burning Plain with Charlize Theron—another luminous blonde with a penchant for hardscrabble roles—and a stint on TBS’s short-lived sitcom The Bill Engvall Show) plays Ree Dolly—a steely, strong-willed teenager from Missouri’s Ozark Mountains struggling to keep her family fed and functioning. That means taking care of her mute, invalid mother, acting as a surrogate parent to her two younger siblings, and even skinning a dead squirrel for supper. When her drug-dealer father puts up their home as bail bond before vanishing shortly thereafter, Ree embarks on a tortuous odyssey through the backwoods of the Ozark drug circuit to find him and keep her family together.
The film, the second directed by writer-director Debra Granik (2004’s Down to the Bone), has been met with near-universal praise, and even snagged the top Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. And, it seems, it’s marked the arrival of a new star in Lawrence. BlackBook caught up with her recently at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel to talk about how she bonded with her character, Ree, her “actress-moment” when she heard about the Sundance win, and what her parents think of her racy Esquire photo shoot.
What do you remember thinking when you first came across the script for Winter’s Bone? I loved it right away. I thought it was the best female role I’d ever read. I was fascinated with Ree, and the story. And once I saw Down to the Bone, I realized exactly how Debra [Granik] wanted to shoot it, how real it was going to be, and how kind of…unrelenting. I knew it would be incredible.
Ree is outspoken, stubborn, and tough, but she’s also caring and protective over her family in an almost maternal way. Are you like her at all? Well, she would totally kick my ass. She’d hate me. [Laughs] But I did relate to her in those ways you mentioned. I remember knowing I was the only one really stubborn enough to pull it off. I’m incredibly stubborn, very competitive, but I am very maternal too. All of those things about her came easily to me.
The film won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance. Was that experience surreal? Some really prestigious movies have taken home that prize. I just started bawling. I had such an ‘actress’ moment. I was there for the premiere of the movie, but then I went home. My mom was looking at it online, and then I started hearing Parker Posey describing the movie, and I just bawled. And then Lauren Sweetser, who plays Gail in the movie—we became real-life best friends on the set and have been ever since—we called each other and just started screaming.
The movie’s been getting a lot of positive attention, and so have you. People have been falling over themselves to call you a “breakout star” and “the next big thing.” How does it feel to start getting that kind of attention? I don’t know if there’s any way you can be ready for it. Fame hits people differently when it happens suddenly. This movie could come out and I could have a nervous breakdown for all I know. [Laughs] But when people say that, I’m happy, it’s a compliment. I never have given value to myself or viewed myself differently through my work, through my job. 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.
What do your parents think when they see you on the big screen or in your photo shoot for Esquire? How are they reacting to all of this? Seeing me on the big screen, or seeing the photo shoot? Because those are different reactions. [Laughs]
Both. They’re really proud of me, and they know I’m doing what I was made to do. Growing up, I was always like, look at me! I was definitely was an actress in-the-making. So they’re very supportive of me. And they’re actually very supportive of the Esquire shoot, too, because they knew why I was doing it.
Which was? Which was to avoid being typecast as the girl from Winter’s Bone. To come out with something to counteract the total non-sexual, woolen-cap-pulled-over-my-eyes look of the movie and open myself up to do more things. You know when you’ve been watching a lot of dark, heavy movies and then all of a sudden you’re like, ugh, I just need some crap! I just want to do something fun. I mean, nothing that’s stupid. But I would like to move on to do something different. Have a bigger trailer. Maybe wear makeup in a movie. I mean, that’d just crazy, right? Me wearing makeup in a movie? Imagine the possibilities! [Laughs]
You’re in The Beaver later this year with Mel Gibson and directed by Jodie Foster. What was that experience like? That was a blast. It’s hilarious, but really dark. I love movies that make you emotionally confused. It’s like, should I laugh, even though this is really sad? I’m really excited about it. It’s a movie I would see like eight times in the movie theater.