“It’s certainly not a darling. It never crossed our mind that everyone was going to love it,” Jennifer Lawrence said at The Contenders today of mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s polarizing Paramount picture in which she stars opposite Javier Bardem. “It’s an assault, but I think it’s necessary. I’m proud of us, and I’m proud of Darren for writing and conceiving it.”

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Lawrence stars in the film as a woman known only as “Mother,” who finds herself at the hands of a mysterious and increasingly disturbing home invasion. Lawrence knew, taking on the project, that it would be a challenge — but one that she was ready to confront. “It was something I’d never done before,” the Oscar winner said. “It’s what I wanted from working with Darren, to be challenged in different ways. Everything about him is unique, and all the movies he’s made are unique.”

Lawrence’s preparations for the project involved “a three-month rehearsal period in Brooklyn,” though the actress said she found her character just before beginning production. And while the experience of the film is a daunting one, Lawrence said she had to keep herself in a good mental place to consider the endeavor worth the effort. “I had to find a place of staying mentally healthy with this bizarre job in all sorts of ways, and if I had to be sad all day, or feel intense emotional pain all day, I wouldn’t do this,” she said. “I’ve never lost myself [in a character] before this movie. I couldn’t get my brain in order.”

Taylor, Chau and Johnson
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Also appearing at The Contenders, representing Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, were co-writer/producer Jim Taylor, producer Mark Johnson and star Hong Chau. A high-concept satire that fits perfectly with the rest of Payne’s oeuvre, the film explores a world in which scientists have figured out the solution to overpopulation: by shrinking obliging humans down to mere inches in height.

“Don’t alienate your family, because sometimes they have really good ideas,” Taylor said of his brother Doug — present in the audience — who provided the initial inspiration. “He wasn’t thinking about it as a movie, but he was thinking about the basic concept. It was about 12 years ago.”

Approaching the project, what was important to Johnson was to achieve a consistency with the thematic preoccupation and tone of past Alexander Payne films. “It was important that we keep all the idiosyncrasies of Alexander’s work in this much bigger canvas,” he said. “I think this is Alexander’s most optimistic movie; albeit, taking place in a world that’s ending.”