Since her Oscar-nominated turn leading Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence has made a name for herself as one of Hollywood’s rapidly rising talents. With The Hunger Games, she takes on one of the biggest roles of the year, bringing Suzanne Collins’ “Girl on Fire” to life on the big screen.
Katniss Everdeen, a young girl from one of the poorer Districts of what was once North America, takes center stage in the new nation of Panem when she volunteers to take her sister’s place at the annual “Hunger Games,” a bloody winner-take-all competition in which 24 teens fight to the death for the amusement of the evil Capitol.
ComingSoon.net had the chance to speak with Lawrence in the first of several conversations with the cast and crew that we’ll be featuring between now and the film’s release on March 23rd. Here, Lawrence talks about the bringing to life the much-loved character, acting under the guidance of director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) and sharing the screen with talent like Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Lenny Kravitz.
Q: There are elements of Katniss that were very prevalent in your character, Ree, in “Winter’s Bone.” Is that intentional on your part?
Jennifer Lawrence: I dont know, before I get the script I ask, Does she like the forest? Does she have younger siblings? White trash? I dont know. Jodie Foster told me Id look back twenty years from now at my career and see a pattern and what it has to do with my life, but now Im just like I dont know. Yeah, theyre similar. Ree is much more of a walker at Katniss is more of a runner. (laughs). Theres nothing I can really say.
Q: What did you find the most challenging aspect adapting so popular a novel?
Lawrence: That she was already in the mind of so many different people. When youre coming out with a movie nobodys really seen the character before you can say here it is. Im playing a character that most people have already seen in their mind and heard them speak. Thats scary.
Q: Did you have your own preconceived notions?
Lawrence: Yeah, but thats just what I did, how I understood, and my understanding informed my performance.
Q: The cast has been involved in fan mall tours. How has the experience of that been so far?
Lawrence: Yesterday was our first one and I felt like Justin Timberlake from N Sync. It was nuts. One girl almost fainted. But its never over me. I sit in between the guys, and they start with Liam [Hemsworth] and they say, Say something! Say something! and he speaks in his Australian accent and someone passes out, and I barely get a chance to put my name on it before its slid over to Josh [Hutcherson]. Oh my god so I loved you in and then crying. And Im like, Its okay. I practiced my signature for so long and I didnt get to use it.
Q: Does it have a star in it?
Lawrence: There was a heart, but I took the heart out.
Q: What kind of physical training did you have to through for the role?
Lawrence: Free running for agility, archery, climbing, combat and yoga. But thats all.
Q: Hows your archery now?
Lawrence: Good, I had an Olympian train me, so if I couldnt say good its my fault.
Q: What about your tree climbing skills?
Lawrence: Also good if I have a harness (laughs)
Q: Knowing that its a franchise, is that fitness something you have to keep up?
Lawrence: When youre in a movie called ‘The Hunger Games,’ when youre not working, you eat. As far as exercise goes, I like to stay in relatively good shape anyway, running and doing something. And it’s also so, when training comes along, I dont have to start from square one. There is relative maintenance. Just being able to withstand cardio.
Q: With the book, everythings from Katniss’ perspective. How many days did you have off during shooting?
Lawrence: None. For a while I had Saturdays and Sundays, and then I had Sundays.
Q: How useful was the book? Do you have all those first person thoughts going through your head?
Lawrence: For an actor, its an amazing thing to have my characters inner dialogue. It never happens.
Q: At some point do you have to let go of the book?
Lawrence: Yeah, when youre making a film, the book is a good tool, but once you have the script and youre making a movie, you have to let go of the book. I held onto the inner dialogue, but yes, you do have to let go.
Q: You have had a chance to work with some strong female directors like Debra Granik and Jodie Foster and, of course, many male directors as well. How does Gary Ross stack up? Whats his style?
Lawrence: He doesnt have one. He can communicate with every single actor. He can make anything work. Im better with technical stuff. Just tell me what you dont like and Ill fix it. Dont tell me about how Im twenty — that doesnt work for me. Just tell me whats right and whats wrong, and he was very technical with me. With others he might give more emotional guidance. He could do that. He can work with any actor. He can communicate with the lighting director. He had a very specific vision and he never once gave that up. Which is hard when youre doing a film. But to his credit, the studio was amazing. Hes strong and hes brilliant, but he listens to everybody. Hes artistically free.
Q: You said that you like technical direction. Is that something you consider when you take on projects now?
Lawrence: Its something Ive always looked at when I look at scripts. You can love a script, but if it doesnt have a good director, it wont be that.
Q: And they can adapt to your way of working?
Lawrence: No, I like to adapt to their way of working. I love doing that. Each directors so different and you have to adapt to a new way of doing something. Thats amazing to me. I love that. I dont want a director to have to work around me. I think its more fun to come in on their thing.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
Lawrence: Yeah, the scene with Stanley Tucci before I go to the games. One, because its just hilarious to see that, but also thats the moment that Katniss realizes its a game, and if she wants to win she has to play along.
Q: Is it a challenge to give a performance while giving a performance in the sense that Katniss is, at times, playing to the camera.
Lawrence: I think it was important for her to not look weak when she was on the run, or doing something. That was never a challenge in my mind. It was too complicated to think about. When she does find the camera, then yes, but otherwise it was running.
Q: Theres an interesting stylistic choice where the camera is all around you. Does that change your performance? Or do you have to ignore the camera at all times?
Lawrence: You cant ever let yourself be thrown by a camera. Thats never good for an actor. So, no, thats also trusting your director. When youre reading the script, you want to work with someone you trust so theres nothing to worry about.
Q: Youre working with veterans like Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland here. Is there anything you have to be cognizant of, or is there anything you learn from going toe to toe with them?
Lawrence: I always try to be a sponge and soak up as much as possible when Im working with them.
Q: Can I ask what your sponge soaked up from Woody Harrelson?
Lawrence: (laughs) Woody is the nicest person in the entire world, and you know hed be the exact same person no matter what his job was. Hes just that guy from Texas. He can strike up a conversation with anybody. Its just odd to see him on a movie set. Hes just one of the most incredible actors in the world and he almost doesnt fit onto a set. Hes just too relaxed. Hes got no airs about him. You see him hanging out, like someone brought their really nice cousin from Texas and then all of a sudden he does backwards acting. One time we were doing this scene where I stab a knife through his fingers and, to do that, you have to do everything backwards and they put it forwards in post. And so we would start and everything would go backwards and Woody said, Im even doing backwards acting ’cause when Im here, I start to feel my desire for the jam. (laughs) So he would go back and then hed see the jam and want in. Hes full of gems like that.
Q: Twenty years ago, we probably would have seen Katniss be a guy and the love interests women. Im curious about your perspective on that shift, being the strong female character at the end of this story.
Lawrence: Its great, because I feel like weve gotten to the place where we have a strong female lead. Weve got Lara Croft as the female James Bond. We have someone whos not even the female James Bond. We have a young girl being thrown in to this situation and not knowing if shes going to survive it. It says a lot.
WARNING: THE FINAL TWO QUESTIONS CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THOSE NOT FAMILIAR WITH THE ORIGINAL NOVEL
Q: How did you steal yourself up emotionally for your scenes with Rue?
Lawrence: That was awful. Reading it in the book, and reading the script it was terrible, and then meeting Amandla [Stenberg]. The scene was hard because I knew that it meant that she would wrap. And then working with her you met her shes the funniest, sweetest. Shes amazing.
Q: She kept telling us you were the one making jokes.
Lawrence: Yeah, thats true. I had to do something. Theres a funny picture of us in her grave laughing, but were all thinking that people would leave the theater during that scene, but then there were some hilarious parts for us.