Hunger Pangs

Is Jennifer Lawrence Going Stir Crazy From ‘Hunger Games’ Hype?

Paging Kristen Stewart? As The Hunger Games opens, the Oscar nominee is oddly dismissive over her new stardom, though her record shows her to be anything but ambivalent.

Alo Ceballos, FilmMagic / Getty Images

Is Jennifer Lawrence—the gorgeous breakout starlet appearing in this weekend’s impending blockbuster The Hunger Games—in jeopardy of becoming the next Kristen Stewart?

Like Stewart, who indelibly portrays the vampire lover Bella Swan in the smash hit Twilight movie franchise, Lawrence is poised to ascend the pinnacle of marquee idol-dom for her part in a heavily hyped adaptation of a bestselling young-adult novel brimming with romance, danger, and unrequited yearning. It’s the kind of immensely lucrative, high-profile role any number of Hollywood ingénues would sell their soul or, at least, murder a cherished family pet to land.

So what’s the problem?

During the promotional maelstrom in the final lead-up to Hunger Games’ Friday release—which, if tracking estimates are right, could rake in a whopping $150 million by Monday—Lawrence has been displaying a deep ambivalence toward her new status as a global movie icon. It all harkens back to Stewart’s characteristic lip-biting, interview paranoia and “this is all bullshit” attitude toward movie stardom insofar as the intense glare of the limelight seems to have driven both actresses somewhat stir crazy.

As far back as a year ago, Lawrence lamented having to kiss her personal life goodbye. She complained to the Los Angeles Times this month about how paparazzi hiding in her bushes have left her stomach knotted with stress. On Late Show with David Letterman Monday, the 21-year-old actress remarked on how much Hunger Games fans—zealots who scream, cry, nearly faint, and show up decked out in the survivalist garb of her character Katniss Everdeen—basically creep her out. Then, in that interview, the Oscar nominee took the self-deprecation shtick beyond any reasonable expectation.

“I hate myself. Don’t go see the movie. I’m a troll,” Lawrence told Letterman, before going on to vividly detail her apprehensions about the red-carpet-to-chat-show-interview circuit: “It’s so scary. I end up getting so nervous that … I get really hyper. So then I go to interviews, and I’m like, ‘I’m a Chihuahua! Shaking and peeing.’ And then afterward, I’m like, ‘I just talked about peeing on the red carpet.’ It’s just not a normal situation.”

Um, really, Jennifer Lawrence?

That’s a funny way to react to having achieved your wildest dreams, after spending the better part of seven years perfecting a certain all-American-girl-next-door-turned-bowhunting-Barbie brand of movie stardom. And especially in light of a performance that is really rather excellent, “combining formidable strength of will with convincing vulnerability,” as one reviewer put in, “Lawrence’s ability to involve us in her struggle is a key to the effectiveness of Hunger Games.

Long before she won her coveted teenager-who-kills-other-teens part in The Hunger Games—four planned films based upon Suzanne Collins’ epochal trilogy of YA novels, which have more than 23 million copies in print and have been published in 47 foreign editions since 2008—Lawrence seemed determined to become the sort of screen queen who could literally stop traffic with her celestial aura.

She grew up in Louisville, Ky., the third daughter of a construction-worker dad and summer-camp-operating mom, suffering from what she has often described as crushing self-esteem problems, but never took her eyes off the movie-star prize. At age 14, the high-school cheerleader famously pleaded with her parents to travel to New York to audition for talent agencies even though they forbade her from working until after graduation. “My parents were the exact opposite of stage parents,” she told Canada’s Globe and Mail. “They did everything in their power to keep it from happening.”

But after finishing school early, Lawrence quickly landed commercials for MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen and Burger King, as well as an Abercrombie & Fitch ad and bit parts on TV’s Monk and Medium. And after her agent forced her to choose between being “a supermodel and a starving actress,” the future “troll” managed to parlay her slight resume into parts in such indie dramas as The Poker House and The Burning Plain (opposite Charlize Theron) for which Lawrence took home the Best Young Emerging Actress award from the Venice Film Festival in 2008.

But the role that would come to define Lawrence’s future prospects—and garner an Academy Award nomination for best actress in 2011—was not such an easy lay-up. Attempting to land the lead role in Winter’s Bone, director Deborah Granik’s gritty odyssey (about a hardscrabble teenager who must venture into the bowels of the Ozarks’ methamphetamine hell to find her wayward tweaker father), the actress auditioned twice for the part before being brushed off with the remark she was “too pretty.” Which is to say, Lawrence’s freshly scrubbed good looks seemed too at odds with the precociously world-worn character, Ree Dolly, who skins squirrels, stands in as a de facto mother figure for two young siblings and knows her way around a shotgun.

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Undeterred—and behaving distinctly unlike someone suffering crushing self-esteem issues—Lawrence took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York in a last-ditch bid to claim the part. “I think that once they saw that I had the exact kind of stubbornness and competitiveness that Ree has, they were like, ‘Oh well, nobody else is going to be this stubborn and this crazy to embark on such a journey,’” the actress told The Huffington Post last year.

The movie took the grand jury prize for drama at the Sundance Film Festival and Lawrence turned up at the Oscars last year in a va-va-voom, tomato red dress with plunging décolletage that hugged her every curve.

But the perception in Hollywood lingered that Lawrence was, in fact, more of a “wilderness girl” than an actress of any range. Frustrated with her inability to nab more feminine parts, Lawrence decided to upend her image with a racy pictorial for Esquire in which she appears bikini clad and dripping wet. “There’s just no imagination,” Lawrence told the Los Angeles Times. “I wanted to show people Winter’s Bone for the performance, but it ended up having the opposite effect. People were like, no, she’s not feminine. She’s not sexual.’ ”

The critical blowback for Lawrence’s decision to get her ya-yas out was swift and unequivocal. But as a direct result, she scored a flashy part in a big-budget studio vehicle—last year’s comic-book adaptation X-Men: First Class—for which the actress endured six-day-a-week, six-hour makeup sessions for the duration of the movie’s four-month shoot to portray the sexy shape-shifting mutant Mystique. (Lawrence met her rumored boyfriend Nicolas Hoult on its set; the movie went on to gross $353 million in worldwide box office.)

By late 2010, Hunger Games director Gary Ross had spread his casting dragnet far and wide, interviewing just about every conceivable actress between the ages of 14 and 21 for the hotly contested part of Katniss Everdeen, a soulful teenager living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland who volunteers to replace her younger sister in a televised death match between 24 young adults.

According to a May 2011 story in Entertainment Weekly, when Lawrence was offered the part she felt a mixture of elation and anxiety. “I knew that as soon as I said yes, my life would change,” Lawrence said. “And I walked around an entire day thinking, ‘It’s not too late, I could still go back and do indies, I haven’t said yes yet, it’s not too late.”

Lawrence’s “lady doth protest too much” recalcitrance to follow in Stewart’s Twi-hard footsteps was cemented during her late-inning promotional run this week that had the actress hopping from sofa to sofa on the early morning and late night talk-show circuit, walking endless red carpets and swapping one designer look for another—four times in 24 hours at one point—with the speed of a quick-change artist.

And despite the sheer force of will required to keep up with such commitments to her breakthrough level of celebrity, Lawrence had this to say on the Ryan Seacrest show Thursday: “I genuinely watch myself and hate everything. I hate how I always look, how I talk, what I say, how I act and everything about myself. It’s genuine! It’s real!”