IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Jennifer Lawrence is ahead of the game

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 20, 2013

You typically hear Jennifer Lawrence before you see her, her arrival often heralded by a burst of raucous laughter or unscripted flash of goofiness that the ear can pick up from 20 paces away.

The eruption of noise outside a room where Life! and other reporters are waiting to speak to the 23-year-old about her new film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, is therefore unmistakable.

Also distinctive is the unusual energy - youthfulness coupled with a composure beyond her years - with which she handles the spotlight.

And what a spotlight it is, especially in the wake of Lawrence's Best Actress Oscar win this year for her role in the comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook.

Combined with the bankability of The Hunger Games franchise - the first instalment of which earned more than US$690 million (S$860 million)) worldwide last year - the acclaim makes her practically a unicorn among Hollywood's younger set. Few actors can claim to have both critical and commercial credibility on this scale.

But accompanying all that is an intense scrutiny of everything from her love life to her appearance - something that she has grown weary of, just three years after bursting onto the scene with a precocious Oscar-nominated performance in the gritty indie Winter's Bone (2010).

She tells reporters that she cannot believe, for instance, the amount of media coverage devoted to her new pixie-cut hairstyle.

"I didn't read any of it. Even just hearing about it is just so stupid. I don't think I could take the stupidity of actually reading it. I can't handle that much stupid in one day," she says.

Her personal life is also the subject of endless tabloid speculation, particularly her on-off dalliance with her X-Men: First Class (2011) co-star Nicholas Hoult, and rumoured off-screen chemistry with Bradley Cooper, her leading man in Silver Linings Playbook and two other upcoming films, American Hustle and Serena.

In The Hunger Games films and the best-selling Suzanne Collins science-fiction books they are based on, her character, Katniss Everdeen, is also thrust into the spotlight.

She is a plucky girl who volunteers for a gladiator-style fight to the death that the totalitarian government forces young citizens to participate in.

When she and Peeta, a boy from her district (played by Josh Hutcherson), win the games, the government parades them around as celebrities and stirs public interest in their love life so as to distract the populace from the injustices and poverty that blight most of the country.

Asked if this commentary on modern celebrity and entertainment culture resonates with her personally, and if she has ever felt manipulated or exploited by the culture, Lawrence tells Life!: "I think we definitely know what it feels like to have to deal with a society that feels entitled to things that they just aren't.

"We as a society do this thing where we enslave or feel like we have this type of ownership over a certain class of people."

It seems like a pretty heartfelt answer, but Lawrence, who for all her spontaneity seems to have a well-tuned filter when it comes to speaking to the press, appears to quickly think better of it and hastens to clarify that she is not saying that celebrities are enslaved.

Punctuating the statement with a jokey high-five to Hutcherson who is sitting next to her, she says: "I'm going to leave it at society feeling entitled to things that they are not. Nailed it! Boom!"

To fans of Lawrence's work in serious dramatic films such as Winter's Bone or Silver Linings Playbook, the flagrant commerciality of The Hunger Games franchise - its third and fourth instalments are already in the works - can appear rather jarring.

The actress' upcoming projects - the drama American Hustle with Silver Linings director David O. Russell and co-star Cooper due out this year, and an adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel East Of Eden - also seem to indicate that her interests lie in smaller, more dramatically complex roles.

But she says that she appreciates the young-adult themes explored by The Hunger Games, and how Katniss' strength is an inspiration to teenage girls.

"It was something that I really loved about the books, because I think that the younger generation really love the trilogy, they love franchises, so to give them something that actually means something and that can teach you something about the world or yourself or society, I am thrilled about that."

This role also serves as a counterpoint to her indie work.

"I love indies - they are where I started and will stay forever. But I remember being 20 and signing on to X-Men because I had only done indies and I was curious about that side of the world," she says of her role as the shapeshifting villain Mystique in X-Men: First Class (2011) and the upcoming X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014).

"And I like being able to go back and forth."

Indeed, Lawrence went straight from her Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook in February this year to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, flying out to the latter's Hawaii set the day after the ceremony.

She tells Life! that not much that matters has changed since she collected that statuette.

"Really nothing. I have a wonderful career and obviously my career has definitely benefited from the Academy Award and I am so grateful for it, but I am pleased to say that nothing in my personal life has changed at all."

Lawrence is also a bit sick of talking about her Oscar - "It's like my hair, they both just need a break and for us to not talk about them" - but she admits that it has opened doors professionally.

"When people you admire even just know your name and film-makers that I love, like, know who I am, even that is just like, wow, that's incredible."

She is aware, however, of the need to keep a mega-franchise such as The Hunger Games, which will be seen by many more people than her beloved indies, from dominating her career in the way that the Twilight vampire movies have overshadowed actress Kristen Stewart, whose career is often compared with hers.

"It took a lot of exhaustion and ended up in an ulcer," she says, perhaps halfseriously, of how she has so far managed to stop this from happening.

It was something she thought about "before I signed on to these movies, because I knew that this was a character and a story that would follow me for the rest of my life and so I knew this is a character and a story that I would be proud to be known for.

"That being said, it is very dominating, very big, and every time we would wrap, in between I would do as many passion projects and characters as different as I could think of."

Still, she says she has no grand strategy or career master plan when it comes to picking scripts.

"I haven't really changed the way that I choose projects, I just read stuff and if it's a story that I feel like telling or a character that I connect with in some way, then I still want to do it. I haven't really changed the way I go about that."

And there is no way the Kentucky native, who often brings her close-knit family with her to glitzy Hollywood events, is going to let the industry or its fawning accolades change who she is.

It "really hasn't" been difficult to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground.

Says the self-professed homebody, who is the youngest of three children: "I enjoy my life and I have never found anything about Hollywood enticing.

"Nothing makes me happier than my couch. So no, I am very happy with my life the way it is. I am too stubborn to change."

stlife@sph.com.sg

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opened in Singapore on Thursday, Nov 21, 2013.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 20, 2013

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