Given her meteoric rise in Hollywood, it’s easy to forget that Jennifer Lawrence was born and raised more than 3,000 kilometres away, in the southern border state of Kentucky, an area best known for its down-home farming communities.
Yet Lawrence, just last year, became the second-youngest actress ever to be Oscar nominated, for her break-out turn in the indie hit Winter’s Bone. Eighteen months later, the US$600million-plus (Dh2.2 billion) box-office success of The Hunger Games was largely down to her exemplary turn as Katniss Everdeen.
Rolling Stone magazine was quick to hail her as “the most talented young actress in America”. Today, the 22-year-old is pushing the envelope still further, starring opposite the man-of-the-moment Bradley Cooper in the awards-tipped romantic dramedy Silver Linings Playbook.
In David O Russell’s likeably eccentric film, she plays a troubled young widow named Tiffany, prone to popping pills and exhibiting eyebrow-raising nocturnal habits, who forms an unlikely bond with Cooper’s bipolar former teacher, Pat, who forgets to take his medication. Lawrence’s wild turn is so strong, in fact, pundits are already pitching her as a Best Actress front-runner for next year’s Academy Awards.
When we meet, at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival – where the film took the coveted Audience Award, a reliable early Oscar pointer – Lawrence appears radically different from her former self. Her hair is dyed dark brown, as in the new film, offset by a bright lime-green designer dress. Yet it soon becomes clear that celebrity doesn’t sit comfortably with her, that she can’t quite comprehend what’s unfolded, some three years on since the auspicious debut of Winter’s Bone at Sundance.
“My personal life hasn’t really changed at all,” she says, when I point to the stream of shots that regularly appear of her in gossip magazines. “My life in LA, that’s different. There’s paparazzi. That sucks. It kind of dictates where I go.”
Despite these frustrations and the limitations they bring, she remains bubbly, open and level-headed about her fast-rising star. She also readily admits to being terrified of working with the movie legend Robert De Niro, who plays Cooper’s on-screen father in their new film.
“Robert is the most amazing, incredible, nice, sweet guy. He makes it so easy,” she explains, matter-of-factly. “But you still can’t get over in your head that you’re talking to Bob De Niro. I was too scared to talk to him. I would kind of sit in the corner and creepily stare at him, then try to talk to him, get nervous and stutter, then get embarrassed and walk away.”
One imagines Lawrence will come to terms with such crippling star-struck behaviour, which has so far no doubt helped keep her grounded. As for her reasons for taking on the role of Tiffany – a lost soul, if ever there was one – it’s quite simple, she says.
“David O Russell,” she declares. “I’ve been a huge fan of his for years, been in love with his movies and him. I jumped at the opportunity of working with him.”
The writer and director, though, initially had his eye on other actresses, but Lawrence proved persistent. She auditioned via Skype for the role, despite fearing she was “too young” for the part. Russell – whose most recent film, the family drama The Fighter, was the toast of last year’s Oscars – was bowled over by her performance, impressed by her ability to exude a wisdom far beyond her 22 years. Such was the chemistry on set between Lawrence and her co-star Cooper, the pair went and shot another film, the Depression-era drama Serena, immediately after. Evidently, the 15-year age gap wasn’t a problem.
“He’s incredible, when you meet him,” she says of her 37-year-old co-star. “He’s the nicest, funniest, down-to-earth guy to be around. And then, you see him act and he’s got the most amazing instincts, with every aspect of filmmaking. He’s an incredible filmmaker.”
Silver Linings Playbook opens across the UAE today