EXCLUSIVE: The chance that Jennifer Lawrence will repeat as an Oscar winner, this time for Best Supporting Actress for her work in American Hustle, has grown stronger since she won the Golden Globe and then surprisingly took the BAFTA award for Supporting Actress.
While Lawrence probably ate more salmon than an Alaskan grizzly bear during last year’s endless awards circuit banquet campaign leading up to winning the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, she has been relatively scarce in this race, mainly because she has been busy moving between her role as Katniss Everdeen in the final two installments of The Hunger Games shooting back-to-back, and playing Mystique in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. Lawrence was doing re-shoots on the latter when she won the BAFTA last week. It was David O Russell, who directed Lawrence in both Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, who accepted the award in her place. “I’d sat with her at last year’s BAFTAs, when she didn’t win, and me being loyal to her, I was upset and that became a screen grab for everybody and so this year, it was my pleasure to give what might have been the most heartfelt speech ever on her behalf after Leonardo DiCaprio gave me her award,” Russell told me.
Where was Lawrence during all this drama?
“Oh, it was a big surprise,” she told me when she took a few minutes away from shooting. “I didn’t remember that the BAFTAs were happening that day. I certainly did not think I was going to win one so I put it out of my mind,” she said. “So there I was, in the middle of being painted blue, and someone said, ‘You just won the BAFTA!’ And I said, ‘Oh, go f*ck yourself!’ And then it turned out they were serious.”
This is the refreshing thing about watching this young actress grow up before our eyes. She is more fun to watch than a lot of veteran actresses who win, and act like it’s the first time even as you suspect they’ve already made room on the mantel for yet another trophy. With Lawrence, the coltish awkwardness and unpredictability seem genuine, and seem just right for a 23-year-old who has gotten her third Oscar nomination and who anchors one of Hollywood’s most lucrative film franchises in Hunger Games. In fact, these awards fill her with so much anxiety that she has found it refreshing to be working rather than going from one campaign stop to the next.
“It has been a bit of a blessing to be away, and not really aware of what has been going on,” she told me. “It actually has been really nice.” She has just begun thinking about all that pageantry, the dress fittings, coming up with interesting things to say on the red carpet. It has begun making her nervous. She wonders if she will ever get good at it though it’s hard to imagine she’ll get off to as rocky a start as last year, when she fell on the stairs to accept her award, and then spent her backstage interview explaining her fall and whether she worried about peaking at age 22.
“Exciting? I’m trying to go back to that place where dress fittings seemed exciting,” she jokes. “I’ve had one fitting here in Atlanta and I think I have the final fitting on the day of the awards. So I just hope it fits.” I suggest that running for her life as Katniss, coupled with the pressure of filming scenes as the nearly naked blue-skinned Mystique in X-Men, is probably better for dress fittings than months of banquet foods. “I hope you’re right,” she said.
As for whether she has gotten the Oscar thing down, Lawrence said: “Ha! Have you not seen my last Oscar moment? I handled myself so well. I think it’s really unfair to make a person speak in front of the entire world at a moment like that because it is just so overwhelming. It was terrifying and what I regret now is not doing what you’re supposed to, which is even having a few words, something, that you can say, or even some idea if they do call your name. Every time my mind when there, I would feel so much anxiety that I couldn’t think about it. Then when they called me, I got up on stage and said happy birthday to Emmanuelle Riva from Amour, and then I walked off without even thanking David, or Harvey Weinstein.”
She dismisses my suggestion that her speech, complete with the staircase stumble, was somehow charming. “It looked like I was drunk,” she said. “I did learn, though, not to let the dress gather in the front when you walk up the stairs.”
Lawrence said the thing she was most excited about this year was the chance to celebrate this unusual character she played in Rosalyn Rosenfeld, the needy wife of two-timing conman Irving Rosenfeld that she and Russell brought to life together. This was not even supposed to be Lawrence’s role. After completing Silver Linings Playbook and all that press, Lawrence mostly just wanted a short vacation before turning up for another Hunger Games installment.
“I had been working a lot and a vacation seemed important until I met Rosalyn,” Lawrence told me, “and then there was nothing in the world I wanted to do more and I realized this would be more refreshing than an actual vacation. David sent me the script, and then we just started creating her piece by piece. He has this amazing contagious energy that makes me feel like, whatever he asks, you go for it. Even the kissing scene with Amy. I said, David, no. He says, trust me, it will work. No, David. Even after we did it I thought, no way. And then I see it, and it absolutely does work. I can’t explain [the dynamic between us], but his incredible fire just pushes you to do things you didn’t know you were capable of.”
It is clear Lawrence feels awkward trying to explain the chemical connection she has with Russell, and that is not unusual because I’ve gotten a similar reaction from Martin Scorsese as he tried to explain the one he has with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. Russell has no trouble articulating it.
Said Russell: “It is one of those privileged relationships that happen sometimes if you are lucky. We have an intuitive instinct for what we want to do and how we want to get there. We listen to each other. She’ll ask questions. She is very smart. The character has to make sense to her, and once it does, fasten your seat belt. She is just going to become the soul of that person and things are going to happen, things she doesn’t even know are going to happen. I find it wonderful that she is so beautifully inarticulate in talking about her work and I think it’s better it stays that way and that maybe it’s why her work can be so magical. I don’t think she needs to be the one talking about it. She just knows how to feel it, and do it. She’s the least neurotic self-conscious person I’ve ever met. She comes from a very pure desire to do the work and she’s not tortured by it. She has to find the vector, and once she does, she will give herself over to it in the way only she can, much like a fingerprint. There’s something special about how that happens.”
Russell said the key is the preparation they do together, a process that started with Silver Linings Playbook and continued with American Hustle.
“She would ask the smartest questions about this character Rosalyn,” he said. “Why is she in this marriage? Why wouldn’t she get divorced? And then we put it together. She’s someone who doesn’t believe in divorce but the truth underneath that is she is terrified of change. I personally related to that, and I’ve known people in life who’d rather stay somewhere than make a change. I also found that because of that collaboration with Jennifer that things just come to me, like her confrontation with Amy, or her confrontation with Christian Bale, or her singing “Live And Let Die.” It just makes it so exciting to be writing and directing her.
“We have this shorthand when we are shooting,” Russell said. “In the restaurant scene with Jack Huston, she had done the scene a few times, and I just looked at her and said, ‘Jennifer, this time…’ She knows what I mean, which is, go there in a way you haven’t yet. And she completely did, and something happened that I never saw her do and which makes her such a daring actress and so…riveting to audiences. Her hand goes to the back of her neck, in this weird way I’d never seen her do, but it fits the emotion of the moment. ‘It’s very hard for me,’ she says, and her voice changes. ‘I think I’ll die before I change.’ And every grain of what she does reeks of some authentic character that maybe you’ve never met but you are suddenly sitting with. Those discoveries are so exciting for me.”
Russell went through a similar process with Best Picture nominee American Hustle’s other stars — Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper each turned in killer performances and all are up for Oscars, as is Russell for directing and co-writing the script with Eric Warren Singer. But it is clear there is something special that has developed between Russell and Lawrence, who, as Deadline recently revealed, will next team on a movie about the rags to riches story of Miracle Mop maker Joy Mangano.
“I feel like I auditioned for each of my actors, that I had to deliver a role that was worthy of their time,” Russell told me. “This was especially true for Jennifer, because I took the only three weeks of vacation she’d had in many years. We’d come off this huge experience in Silver Linings, but when I was scouting for the first time the room that became Rosalyn’s bedroom, I turned to our producers and said, ‘I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least talk to you and give you the chance to pass on this’. ”
The conversation took a much different turn that Russell expected.
“From the beginning of that conversation, you felt the electricity,” he recalled. “She was devouring the details of this character that was so different from anything she’d ever done. You could feel the palpable excitement in her about throwing herself into something that was so far from the girl in Silver Linings or the girl in Hunger Games or X-Men. Her imagination can be like napalm and she was just right there with me, feeling all the things that were so exciting to us about this character. And that remained a process of discovery the whole time we shot. I would say, listen, I see you standing outside the school and this man from the mob is going to pull up, and everything from the nails to the hair, to the exploding microwave, all these metaphors appear to me because I’m inspired by her. I know that in her hands it’s going to come alive. The microwave was a true thing, Irving did receive this gift of friendship, this new thing that I called a science oven. That gave birth to this metaphor because she is smart and inspires me to make her characters more cunning, more surprising and formidable in every respect, in ways I do not anticipate. Strong women to me have been the secret and the real power in my work since The Fighter. It’s an enormous force that revealed itself to me, when I came out of my eight-year strange hiatus, part of which was spent getting my son on his feet, part of it getting divorced, and part of it was not knowing how to tell a story until I came back and realized, my god, those characters in The Fighter, these are people who come from my family and my whole life, in Long Island, New Jersey and the Bronx. When I realized that, it was like the lights came on for me in a big way.”
Russell said he is aware that when he shoots Lawrence at certain angles, she is impossibly gorgeous, but there is still something relatable and accessible that makes her fit this character mold that have become the core of his last three films.
“Jennifer is key to that,” he said. “Because of her formidable nature, I made the science oven the metaphor for the whole movie. She says, ‘I read this article, that this science oven takes the nutrition out of the food and can light our house on fire.’ And she turns the whole thing around on Christian. That has been done to me, often, by various smarter women, where you are kind of in awe. Your ass is being handed to you, and even though what she is saying doesn’t really make sense, you feel that it is kind of genius, and maybe you’re right, even if at least half of it makes no sense. She says, ‘You’ve brought something in to our home that is going to light our house on fire, and take the nutrition out of our food? Thank god for me!’ You know she is right, from the standpoint that Irving has brought something into the house that isn’t good or healthy for them, and this was a symbol of it.
“Then there is the nail polish,” Russell said. “Jennifer and I love the nails. I find them very sexy and sensuous, and I wanted her hands to be very prominent. And from there, I remembered reading somewhere that the greatest perfumes of the world have something rotten in them, which is what gives them depth. It was the same as some of these characters. Something’s sour, something’s broken, otherwise it’s your grandmother’s perfume that just smells like flowers instead of that primal scent that in nature makes the hair on the backs of animals stand up. So Rosalyn is talking about those nails, but she’s also talking about the core of her relationship with Irving. As much as it’s wrong, there’s something very deep in it that he couldn’t pull himself away from. That writing is inspired directly by her.”