Reprising the role of Katniss Everdeen this month in the Hunger Games franchise, Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence talks about what it’s like to be the girl on fire right now.
Meeting Jennifer Lawrence in Los Angeles, Time Out messes up right out of the gate by saying she seems older than when we last saw her, as a wide-eyed girl amazed by all the attention when promoting X-Men: First Class. Of course, we enthuse, we meant wiser, more assured, with the designer threads and head-held-high movie star walk. She smirks and says: ‘I am older. Thank you for reminding me. Just like what every actor wants to hear.’
And that's the 23-year-old in a nutshell. She’s more jaded about the spotlight but she hasn’t lost her sense of humour. And at the next question (Is Hollywood making you grow up faster?), a new sense of self-assurance comes out too. ‘I don't think Hollywood is making me do anything,’ she purrs.
Her trajectory has been steep indeed. A modelling agency took her picture while she was on holiday in New York at 14. While agencies were calling her mother Karen offering work, she decided she wanted to be an actress instead. Two sitcoms later she was offered the lead role in searing drama Winter's Bone, which led to her first Oscar nomination at only 19.
The Oscar heat led to some small indie roles (Mel Gibson's The Beaver, Like Crazy); X-Men introduced her to multiplex audiences; and then came the Hunger Games juggernaut, based on Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular dystopian young-adult novel series about teens forced into an annual fight to the death. At the same time David O Russell recognised her comedic clout and cast her opposite Bradley Cooper as the damaged Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook, and before we knew it Lawrence was tripping up the steps to accept her Best Actress Oscar, Jack Nicholson sidling up to her backstage like an obsessed fan (which you can see on YouTube).
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens in Dubai this week, and the third instalment (Mockingjay) has already been split in two, Twilight/Harry Potter-style instalments to arrive in 2014 and 2015. What is it about returning to Katniss that appeals to her?
‘She’s changed,’ Lawrence says. ‘She’s suffering from post-traumatic stress and has a completely different life where she doesn't have to hunt for food, so she feels useless. She’s living in this big mansion where she doesn't have to work and her life doesn’t really have a purpose anymore. And she's not as connected to Gale [Liam Hemsworth] because there's an entire part of her life now that only Peeta [Josh Hutcherson] understands because they lived through it together.
‘When it comes to the hair and make-up and clothes, I related to it because I was reading the first book around the time I'd been nominated for Winter's Bone and we were both going through that. You don't feel like yourself.’
The day after her Oscar win, Lawrence was on set for Catching Fire and she says she hasn't really stopped working since. The sky's usually the limit for actors this young and talented, but having received the ultimate Hollywood honour, it seems she surpassed the sky long ago. Where else can she possibly go?
‘Well, you don't decide when to win an Oscar,’ she says. ‘So I couldn't say “no guys, I'm not ready and I'm not sure”.
It's not really up to you. So whether I was ready or not it happened and I'm grateful for it. It was never part of my plan; I'm just doing my job. I don't have plans for future Oscars. It happened, it was lovely and now it's over.’
Of more concern to her is Katniss as a role model. Last year she told Elle Magazine she didn't want little girls to tell themselves ‘I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner.’ The story at the time was that the studio asked Lawrence to lose weight for her role in Catching Fire and she refused.
‘It's a responsibility,’ she says. ‘It's easy for me to say: ‘I'm not responsible for how anyone raises their own kids.’ But 13-year-old girls are watching and this industry is the starting point. We start the trends. We're what kids and teenagers are looking at, so whether you want it or not, you do have a voice.’
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is in cinemas across Dubai from Thursday November 21