It’s a shock to see Jennifer Lawrence with dark hair. Earlier this spring, when Lionsgate
announced that the actress would anchor The Hunger Games, the first in a series of films based on
Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular dystopian trilogy, there was a predictable outcry from some
They feared that Lawrence, the 20-year-old who earned an Oscar nomination for her
performance in last year’s harshly beautiful indie Winter’s Bone, was too old, too blond, too tall,
too pale, too pretty to play the part of a teenager fighting to the death in a brutal government-
ordered competition. And yet here she is in early May at a Los Angeles archery range, with one
intense week of training left before she’s due on the North Carolina set.
And she looks every bit as fierce as fans would demand of their Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence’s
dark tresses are scraped back into a ponytail, her skin tawny from long mornings in the sun. “I
think I just have to stay tan,” she tells me of adjusting to her new hair. “Or I’ll look like the girl
from The Ring.”
For over a month, Lawrence has been enduring a grueling training program consisting of
archery, track work, stunt drills, and yoga. She says that her archery coach, a four-time
Olympian from Eastern Europe, spent weeks bemoaning her lack of skills.
Apparently, it was only after the woman declared her “helpless!” that Lawrence gritted her teeth
and hit the bull’s-eye. “What happened?” her coach cried in surprise. Lawrence turned to her
and growled, her Southern accent making a rare appearance, “You pissed me off!”
Today, Lawrence holds a large bow aloft as her eyes narrow on the target. When her arrow
thwacks into the
bull’s-eye, she smiles and – as she would do when she scored a basket for her childhood
basketball team in Louisville, KY – launches into cartwheels.
Lawrence needs to be in peak condition to embody Katniss, the 16-year-old girl plucked from
her district to battle other unlucky children in a reality TV death match.
Gary Ross, who’s directing The Hunger Games (in theaters March 23, 2012), stressed to her trainer
that while he by no means wants her gaunt when shooting begins on the PG-13 film later this
month, she does have to portray a girl desperate for food.
(Meanwhile, costars Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, who’ll play Katniss’ staunch
District 12 allies Peeta and Gale, are busy bulking themselves up in a weight-training regimen.
“Apparently, I’m the only one in the district who’s starving,” jokes Lawrence.)
When Lawrence officially signed on to play Katniss, some fans may have complained, but the
revered author of The Hunger Games series (nearly 10 million copies and counting) was elated
enough to call and offer her congratulations.
“I feel like when you said yes, the world got lifted off of my shoulders,” Collins told the actress.
That weight has now been shifted onto Lawrence, who must personify the grit and private
vulnerability of a most beloved heroine.
“Don’t worry about Jen,” says Ross with an admiring laugh. “She’s a very, very powerful
After archery, Lawrence is due across town at the Santa Monica College track for an hour of
speed drills. Before getting into her white Volkswagen, she turns back with a girlish grin. “Let’s
race there!” she says.
It was Lawrence’s mother who introduced her to the Hunger Games books last Christmas. “She
did the same thing with Winter’s Bone,” the actress recalls.
Her role in that movie involved hunting, taking punches, caring for younger siblings, and even
skinning and cooking a squirrel, making it a bona fide audition tape for the part of Katniss.
Her performance certainly caught Gray Ross’ eye. “I just thought she was phenomenally
talented and riveting,” he says. It was during the height of her Oscar campaign that the two met
for the first time. Ross asked the young actress how she was handling the marathon that is an
awards season. “And I just opened up and said, ‘I feel like a rag doll,’ Lawrence recalls.
“'I have hair and makeup people coming to my house every day and putting me in new,
uncomfortable, weird dresses and expensive shoes, and I just shutdown and raise my arms up
for them to get the dress on, and pout my lips when they need to put the lipstick on.’ And we
both started laughing, because that’s exactly what it’s like for Katniss in the Capitol. She was a
girl who’s all of a sudden being introduced to fame. I know what that feels like to have all this
flurry around you and feel like, ‘Oh, no, I don’t belong here.’”
From there, the two dug into rich discussions about Collins’ young-adult trilogy and the tough
and damaged Katniss.
From the way Lawrence speaks about The Hunger Games, it’s as if she too is one of those
suspicious fans who don’t want to see their favorite book cheapened in its transition to the
screen: “I told Gary, ‘I totally understand if you don’t hire me, but please remember that after
Katniss shoots a bow and kills someone, her face cannot be badass. It has to be broken.’ It’s so
tempting, especially with a cool, big-budget franchise movie, but we have to remember that
she’s a 16-year-old girl.”
Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) and producer and former Disney executive, Nina Jacobson, had
similar concerns. “I felt very protective of the book,” Jacobson says, “and felt there was a
version of the movie that could be made that would in fact be sort of guilty of all of the sins of
Moved by Lawrence’s passion, and killer audition, Ross offered her the role.
And yet she hesitated. “Professionally, the answer was obviously yes,” Lawrence remembers.
But she spent the day in a state of paralysis. A few years ago, she had gone on a routine
audition, for Bella in Twilight.
The role went to Kristen Stewart, who ever since has had an
almost feral look of discomfort about her, appearing trapped
by the suffocating nature of fame.
The Hunger Games is not Twilight, as any Hunger Games fans
will be quick to point out. But Lawrence understands that the
reach of the franchise is similar.
“I knew that as soon as I said yes, my life would change. And I
walked around thinking, ‘It’s not too late, I could sill go back
and do indies.’”
Unsure of what to do, Lawrence called her dad back in
Kentucky, who suggested she seek advice from Jodie Foster, her director on The Beaver. Foster
was out of the country at the time, but she sent Lawrence an encouraging email.
“Yeah, she’s going to be completely famous,” Foster says now. “And maybe it’s going to be like
Twilight, and there’s going to be sequels, and girls and boys are going to be screaming, and ‘Is
this what I really wanted?’ and all that.
"But look at Silence of the Lambs. Can you make a blockbuster that has real resonance and stands
for something? I think that Hunger Games can, and if anyone is going to be able to get it there, it’s
In the end, it was Lawrence’s mother who eased her youngest child’s anxiety. “She told me I was
being a hypocrite,” says Lawrence. “All of the times that I was doing indies and passing on
studio films, people would ask me why, and I always said, ‘I don’t care about the budget of the
movie or the size of it. I care about the story.’
"And my mom said, ‘This is a story that you love, and you’re thinking about saying no to it
because of the size of it. Hypocrite!’ And she was right. I love this story, and if I had said no I
would regret it every day.”
After track practice, Lawrence heads to a bench in the shade to catch her breath. When asked
whether it stung when Hunger Games fans worried about her casting, she starts reciting what are
clearly bullet points from a pre-approved message.
“Well, that’s the great things about the books, and presumably the movie, which is it has this
great following. People feel like they have an individual relationship with the character. And
that’s great. That’s what you want. You want people to feel like they have...” She pauses,
distracted by a blond boy running on the field, and wonders aloud if she knows him.
“Anyhoo,” she continues, “it’s nice to know that people are involved...” She sounds so checked
out that I can’t help interrupting her and wondering if she’s just... “Saying the right things?” she
asks, breaking into a laugh. “Yeah. Can you tell I’ve had media training?”
“Listen, I know from the bottom of my heart that I love Katniss. I love her,” she continues,
serious this time, her face flushing.
“It’s kind of like when you have a huge crush on somebody, and it’s almost scary because you
don’t want to mess it up and have it not be everything you hope it will be. That’s exactly what I
feel about this. I’m terrified. Is it going to be good enough? Am I going to be good enough?”
Thrillingly, early signs point to yes.
|The Hunger Games: EW's Exclusive
|"Lightning Over New York City" photography by Christopher Imperato.
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Under the Influence
Books and Wands
In Entertainment Weekly's May 27, 2011 issue, writer Karen Valby interviews Jennifer Lawrence,
the actress cast as Katniss Everdeen in the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' book series, The
Hunger Games and the early preparations underway for the production. An excerpt is below.