On the big screen, Jennifer Lawrence is as tough as they come. But meet her for dinner, and you’ll quickly learn the truth—she’s a lightweight. After a single glass of wine, she’s already starting to feel tipsy. “I’m going to need to eat,” she says. “Or take my clothes off.” She orders a hamburger with bacon and truffle fries. No, wait, she tells our waitress, hold the bacon. And hold the burger. She eyes the strip steak, before deciding on what she really wants—the chicken, with fries. “Hang on. Sorry, I’m so annoying.” Pause. “The mashed potatoes! Yeah, instead of the fries.” She tops it off with bacon, because evidently she loves bacon (along with Domino’s pizza, bubble gum, Sour Patch Kids, and pretzels dipped in avocado). Should we share some fries? “No,” she insists. “Order what you want.” When I do, she interjects: “You’re making a huge mistake!” The truffle fries it is.
If this sounds like a scene from When Harry Met Sally, it’s because Lawrence, 22, is an eccentric spirit. You’d never know that from her roster of serious roles—Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Mystique in X-Men: First Class, and her Oscar-nominated debut in Winter’s Bone. Lawrence grew up in Louisville, Ky., where she worshiped Lucille Ball. “My No. 1 priority in life is laughing,” she says. Now audiences are about to see that comedic side in David O. Russell’s latest, Silver Linings Playbook. Lawrence plays Tiffany, a widow, who romances her bipolar neighbor (Bradley Cooper). Lawrence is so great in the role, she’s already a frontrunner for next year’s Best Actress Oscar.
In a candid two-hour conversation over dinner in Atlanta, Lawrence spoke to Ramin Setoodeh about a variety of ridiculous—and a few serious—subjects.
How did you find Tiffany?
When I first showed up, she was goth. They dyed my hair jet-black, and I was going to get my tongue pierced. She had a million piercings. We went along with it and tested it. It just didn’t seem right. We got a brand new wardrobe and dyed my hair lighter to make her less intense.
Did you diagnose her with a condition?
No. Bradley was studying documentaries on people with manic depression. I didn’t ever feel like Tiffany had a condition. I felt like Tiffany did something and made no apologies. She’s like, “Yeah, I fucked everyone in my office. I was mourning the death of my husband.” For me, I gained weight and lay around.
The reason being—
It was actually hilariously backwards. David pulls me in his office. I’d just wrapped The Hunger Games, and he’s like, “Listen about the weight stuff, I want you to gain weight.” No problem. Then halfway through, when we’re shooting the dancing scene, he’s like, “Oh yeah you’re going to be in a crop top.”
I’m white trash, so that could be the white trash Kentucky version. I’m not sure what it’s called. A belly shirt? A half top?
What’s David O. Russell like?
I’ve never met somebody who deserves a reputation less than David. He is the warmest, nicest, most wonderful man. I think that the only problem, really, is that he cannot bullshit and he’s in Hollywood. And people who can’t bullshit in Hollywood don’t fit in well, because that’s how this industry is fueled and how actors are maintained—bullshit. I grew up in sports, where you were screamed at all day. I can’t work in an environment where they’re constantly talking about how everything I’m doing is right. We would be in the middle of a take, and I’d hear David going, “It’s so bad.” And Bradley would be giving me this look, like, “Are you OK?” I’d just start cracking up. Sometimes you’re going to suck and it’s great if somebody could just tell you when you’re sucking.
“I probably shouldn’t have said vagina, but you get what I’m saying. Vagina! If you’ve got it, shout it.”
In the film's finale, you look like a good dancer.
If that’s true, that’s a lot of editing and possibly CGI. Tap was so difficult. Bradley has this amazing brain where he sees them do it and is like, “OK.” I’m not that way. I can barely walk across the room.
Did you watch old Gene Kelly videos?
Yeah, that made me want to kill myself.
There are a lot of things about your feet on the Internet.
I’ve never heard of this.
I don’t think it’s a sexual thing.
I didn’t even go the sexual place. So! That’s hilarious.
It might have to do with you running.
Oh, I run like an idiot. I don’t even know what I look like when I run, but it’s definitely not like anything you’ve ever seen before.
I hate running on a treadmill with a mirror in front of it.
Try realizing that you run funny on a movie—at the premiere. My friends were over, we were three glasses of wine deep, and a Hunger Games preview came on and the first thing is the shot of me, pursing my lips like this. I don’t understand why nobody stopped me from doing karate hands. Hey, Jen, ball your fists, relax your face. I look like I’m imitating an ape. And then at the premiere I realized my legs are actually deformed. I really run insanely. Go watch the movie again. Watch me run.
Have you always been so critical about yourself?
No. This came with age and fame. When I first started acting at 14, I thought: I’m going to be successful. I’m going to get a contract. I’m going to become an actor, which now I’d never have the balls to do.
When you were younger thinking about fame, what did you imagine?
I knew the paparazzi would be annoying. I never knew they’d be actually scary. I’m a single girl driving around being followed by a bunch of strange men that I don’t know. I realize they’re paparazzi and just want pictures. But your body doesn’t realize that. To your instincts, you’re being followed. You’re being hunted. You just want to run and get away. That’s something that I’m still getting used to. I’m still getting used to how to walk into places. Do I look all the way down?
You avoid eye contact with strangers?
I’ve gotten this strange tunnel vision. I only see people that I know. I used to be a huge people watcher, until people started watching me. People start treating you differently, so of course, you start acting differently.
Hollywood is a lot harder on young women than men.
The trick to that is, don’t Google yourself.
Oh, God, no. I was trying to make a point to my friend that’s an actress. She was getting upset about these red carpet pictures. I typed in “Jennifer Lawrence fat and ugly,” just to make a point. It’s like in Mean Girls, when she’s like, “If somebody is saying something bad about you, do you want to hear it?” And she’s like, “No.” She’s absolutely right. You don’t want to hear it. I’m a one-year-clean no Googler.
What about other Internet technology?
Do you ever feel like the world is progressing way too fast for you? Everybody was talking yesterday about Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr. It was really confusing me and overwhelming me. I literally started losing my breath. People were showing me these hilarious things and I was like—I want to have this. What’s Pinterest? I don’t have it. I know by the time I get it, it’ll be something else. I bought a CD case less than a year ago.
Look at my tape recorder. It’s from the ’80s.
Ohmygod. It’s Home Alone. [She picks it up and says a line from the movie]: “And one of those little refrigerators you have to open with a key.”
How long have you been shooting Catching Fire?
Two months. I think we’re halfway through. I only get to depression when these movies end. I have so much fun doing them.
Had you read the books?
Yeah. I read the books and then I found out they were making them into movies. It’s kind of nerve wracking to join something that huge. I had chosen my path. I was going to be the indie actor. I was going to drive my kids in a minivan and have a normal life. I knew if I said yes to this, it would change my life. I wasn’t sure if I was ready.
Did you actually seriously think about turning down the role?
Yeah. I had about three days [to think about the offer]. I was much more on the side of no than I was yes. If I’m honest with myself, the thing that was driving me to do the auditions was actually being competitive. Everybody wanted it. I wanted to give my best.
Why did you finally agree to play Katniss?
My mom told me I was being a hypocrite. Then I realized if I was going to be well known for something, this was actually something I would be proud of.
Why is Katniss is a good role model for girls?
She’s this Joan of Arc that doesn’t see herself that way. She kind of grows into it. And she’s strong like a male hero with a vagina. It’s good for our 13-year-olds. I probably shouldn’t have said vagina, but you get what I’m saying. Vagina! If you’ve got it, shout it.
I read somewhere—and this could be totally wrong—that you’re a Twihard.
That’s so funny. I read the book when it first came out. I was like, “Fuck, yeah, this is awesome.” I’m more of a Harry Potter freak. I read all the books three or four times. I know every spelling or incantation. I end up speaking sometimes in Harry Potter terms.
Have you ever met Daniel Radcliffe?
Yeah, I screamed in his face. We were both doing Letterman. I grabbed him by the shoulder. Of course, I’m in 6-inch heels. That makes me 6-foot-4. I’m towering over him, saying, “I love Harry Potter!” His security people were nodding to each other—should we go?
You’ve been with your boyfriend Nicholas Hoult for two years. Did he pursue you?
Neither of us did. It’s really funny. I’ve never had anything like it, where I was like, “Yeah, this is awesome. Let’s do this all the time.” We were such good friends. We liked hanging out, hanging out turned to dating. There was never that awkward period. We just both liked being around each other so much.
Do you still think you’re going to get married and have kids?
Well, yeah. It’s so weird for a 22-year-old to say it. I do feel like the reason I was put on this Earth is to be a mother, which is why it’s funny for me to end up with such an overwhelming career. Every since I was a baby, I was always playing house.
That’s kind of old-fashioned.
I guess so. I did grow up in Kentucky. I was a nanny and babysitter. I always loved children. Then again, I’m not even mature enough to buy a house yet. I can’t buy a car. I’m still paying off my Volkswagen. If someone proposed marriage to me, I’d be like, “I’ve got to pay off my Volkswagen.”
What do you mean?
When I first got credit, I instantly had terrible credit, way in the negatives. I was like, “Why do I have such bad credit?” Apparently, I opened up a Macys card or something, I never paid it. The only thing I had credited to my name failed miserably.
You should be able to say, “I’m Jennifer Lawrence,” and get better credit.
I should just hand them the Hollywood Reporter reporting on how much I make.
Are you gearing up for awards season now? It’s sort of like planning a wedding.
I don’t know. I’ve never planned a wedding before. It’s one of those things, when you read the first review and it’s glowing, and everybody keeps hinting it’s going to happen. I think it will be a lot better this year, now that I can drink. I honestly think that was the worst part. You can’t sit through the Golden Globes without drinking. I was the only sober one there listening to every word. It was so cold that at one point, I wrapped myself up in the train of my dress and then I saw myself pop up on the screen. I started smiling but my teeth were chattering. It probably looked like I was secretly crying, as if I thought I had a chance.
What about the Oscars?
The Oscars are awesome. It’s the last awards show. You’re cutting loose. They sing and dance and have exciting lights.
People are saying you’re going to win this year.
I really did not know that. I’ve got to start Googling myself.