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’The World Will Be Watching’ Jennifer Lawrence

by Fred Topel
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Tuesday Mar 20, 2012
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"The World Will Be Watching," reads the tagline to "The Hunger Games," the hugely anticipated fantasy/action film in theaters this week.

And the likely person that will be the most watched is Jennifer Lawrence, the 21-year old American actress that stars as Katniss Everdeen in this adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-seller that will likely rival the "Twilight" series in teen appeal.

Collins’ trilogy of Young Adult novels follows the 16-year old Everdeen as she journeys from farm girl to rebel leader in a barbaric, future world in which teenagers fight to the death in an arena-styled sport for the amusement of the oppressive ruling class.


Power and vulnerability

For Lawrence, becoming the face behind the franchise (she is seen on the poster behind a bow-and-arrow), was a decision she didn’t immediately jump at when it was offered her.

It did give me pause because it was scary," Lawrence said. "That was the three days that I gave myself before I said ’yes,’ just thinking through every single thing, combing through every doubt so that when I was here... I knew that I thought it through and said ’yes’ without a doubt in my mind. I signed on. I haven’t doubted or second guessed myself since."

Whether or not it was a smart career move for Lawrence remains to be seen, though early reviews suggest it was. "Is it better than the last big franchise phenom, Twilight? Way better," writes reviewer Leigh Paatsch from Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph. "Any doubters in the audience will be undoubtedly won over by Lawrence’s pitch-perfect performance as Katniss. From the opening scenes, she embodies the contradictory strengths and flaws that have so entranced readers with Katniss the world over: there is great power on display, and great vulnerability as well."


Oscar-nominated

That power and vulnerability was already on ample display in "Winter’s Bone," the 2010 indie hit that brought Lawrence an Oscar nomination as she portrayed a determined teenager out to discover the fate of her missing father in poverty-stricken and crime-ridden Missouri. While she didn’t win the Oscar (Natalie Portman did), she made quite a splash on the red carpet in a red Calvin Klein dress and long blonde hair.

Last year she appeared in three other films - the blockbuster "X-Men: First Class" (where she played Mystique), and two indies: "Like Crazy," where she played Anton Yelchin’s American girlfriend; and the domestic drama "The Beaver," where she played Anton Yelchin’s high school girlfriend. (Note: Anton Yelchin does not appear in "The Hunger Games.")

Set in the future, Collins’ story imagines the nation of Panem, a country ruled over by the powerful ruling class known as the Capitol. Each year the twelve districts send a teenager to participate in the Hunger Games - a fight to the death in which the ultimate winner gets the spoils of victory for his or her district. Early in the film, Katniss (Lawrence) volunteers to save her sister from competing.


Action figures?

One thing that Lawrence quickly realized was that her privacy was going to come to an end. Once she signed on, all the "Hunger Games" fans started googling her name, and the media frenzy began.

"I was in England and I was walking around London, going into coffee shops and going in everywhere and I just kept thinking, ’A year from now I’ll be in here and people will be taking pictures of me with their phones and that’ll suck.’ But I’ve just spent the last months kind of enjoying every last thing of being semi-normal. But it’s already too late: I went to Times Square in New York in sweatpants and they’ve already got pictures of that."

Now that the movie is coming out, Lawrence can have fun with all the accoutrements. There are action figures in her likeness -- Katniss dolls kids can play with.

"That’s just weird. It’s cool. I’d be lying if I was, like, ’Oh, I think it’s stupid.’ It is bizarre that someone is going to have a doll with my face on it. You don’t ever think that way when you’re an actor. It’s weird. Michael Burns from Lionsgate texted me a picture of the action figure and the only thing I could think to reply was, ’I’m a choking hazard?’ I saw it on the box and I was like, ’Oh, I don’t want to do that.’ It’s a weird thing to process because you look at it and it’s the same thing as looking at a movie poster. I can look at it as much as I want, but it doesn’t look like me because when I look in the mirror I’m not going like this."


Joan of Arc

Katniss’ skills in the field make her a strong competitor, and indeed there are three books so it’s safe to assume she wins the first game. This is a strong female heroine.

"I admire her. She’s a leader. She’s a warrior. She’s a Joan of Arc. She’s this brave girl that gets shoved into this horrifying situation; but not only comes out on top, she sparks an uprising. Not only beats their game, she changes it. I thought that she was an incredible girl."

Unlike some of the other female heroines in recent movies, Katniss is not a superhero. "That’s the beautiful thing about her in the books and in the script. It was important to keep her vulnerable. I didn’t want anybody watching her in the arena thinking she couldn’t die because I don’t think that there was one moment where she thought that she wasn’t going to die. So, I think that keeping vulnerability and keeping her scared, she’s a young girl that’s in this position. She’s not a Lara Croft or a James Bond who’s done this a million times and knows he’s going to survive."

No one can take on a franchise without fending off some irate fanboys and girls. For Lawrence, the early criticism was superficial. She is a natural blonde, but Katniss is a brunette.


Passionate fans

"I heard it from reporters, like, ’So many people were upset because you were blonde,’ and I was like, ’Really? That’s what they get upset about?’ There would be a million other things that I’d get upset about if I were a fan and saw me get cast other than my hair. That can be dyed so easily. I thought that it was funny because I thought maybe they thought I’d go through the whole movie with blonde hair, and just be like, ’Yeah, Katniss is blonde. She wears lipstick and she fights in high heels.’"

Lawrence understands the passion for "The Hunger Games" though. She won’t begrudge any fans their concern for the story. "[They love the books] because this is the generation that’s obsessed with reality television and watching people’s lives fall apart while we eat popcorn. This is the new generation that’s kind of started this obsession and I’m every bit a part of it. Also, I think that people love following a character like this who’s a hero that doesn’t mean to be a hero. She just goes against all odds and fights back when something is wrong and doesn’t stay quiet."


The nature of celebrity

Before the kids even battle, they become celebrities for entering the contest. The book and the film make a sly statement about the nature of celebrity.

"There were definitely parts of the books where I was reading that and going, ’I know how that feels.’ I know what it feels like to feel like you’re a doll and people are shoving dresses onto you that you would never wear and all this makeup and just not really feeling like yourself, cameras and questions. It’s just a weird thing to not feel like yourself and have a camera in your face."

This applies to modern day actors too. They’re only killing each other metaphorically, but it’s still true. "It’s just weird because my job is normally reading scripts, talking to directors, showing up on set. Then all of a sudden my job was wearing the right designers and getting people to like you. It’s odd, especially because you can become a plastered kind of version of yourself, (saying) media trained, patent answers all the time. So, it’s a weird thing to get used to. It’s understandable. I get why it’s a part of the job, but it’s just odd."


Too violent?

The film is rated PG-13, but there’s no getting around the violence in the book. It is still a movie about children murdering each other. "I was concerned that they would water it down because violence and the brutality is the heart of the movie. It sparks a revolution. It sparks an uprising. But there’s nothing to water down when you think about it. It is kids killing kids. It’s innocent children that are forced into an arena and forced to either kill each other or die. That is what makes these films so powerful. That’s what makes the books so powerful. That’s why an entire war begins."

But making the violence fit a PG-13 standard forced the filmmakers to find some creative solutions, which Lawrence feels are successful. "We understood that it was PG-13 and there were going to have to be some changes there, and I think it really worked in our favor because it made the violence more realistic. Violence in real life is quick. It’s over very quickly. Fights last a matter of seconds. You get shot with an arrow you’re down, you’re dead. You get your neck cracked you fall and you’re dead. We didn’t have time to do gratuitous blood gurgling out of people’s necks, which I think made it a lot more realistic. All the violence is there, but it’s just over quickly."

"The Hunger Games" opens Friday.


Watch the trailer to The Hunger Games:


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