Jennifer Lawrence, Star without a Script

In a mere six years, Jennifer Lawrence has blazed past every marker of Hollywood stardom, with no sign of slowing down: next month’s science-fiction romance Passengers will be followed by movies with Steven Spielberg, Adam McKay, and Darren Aronofsky. In unreal circumstances, Lawrence is learning to assert herself as a real person, whether that means equal pay, privacy, or never being a bridesmaid again.

by Julie Miller for Vanity Fair | photographs by Peter Lindbergh | November 2016

The bar of the Plaza Athénée, an elegant Upper East Side hotel, is empty save for an elderly French couple sipping Bordeaux at two P.M. when in bursts a tall blonde crackling with energy. It is Jennifer Lawrence, wearing a black cashmere sweater, jeans ripped at the knee, and black boots, her platinum hair chopped into a chic bob. Delicate gold jewelry circles her wrists, neck, and fingers, and her most pronounced accessory, a security team, looms nearby.

She orders tea and explains, “I am playing a ballerina in my next movie, so my first step is not drinking alcohol for every meal of the day. Obviously I’m still drinking every day,” she adds, in the same engaging, infectious manner America has come to love.

While most millennials are navigating student debt and entry-level employment, Lawrence, who turned 26 in August, hasn’t so much achieved the Hollywood dream as crushed and re-invented it by blazing an unprecedented career trajectory. In the past five years, she has won an Oscar (in 2013, for Silver Linings Playbook), earned three additional nominations (for Winter’s Bone, American Hustle, and Joy), collected three Golden Globes, gone full superhero in the $4-billion-grossing X-Men series, and fronted the nearly $3-billion-grossing Hunger Games franchise. With her next film, Passengers, Lawrence has joined Julia Roberts in an elite league of actresses who have commanded $20 million for a movie. (Lawrence will also reportedly receive 30 percent of the film’s profits after it breaks even.) While Roberts reached this paycheck peak when she was 32 (for Erin Brockovich), Lawrence has already done so, a mere six years after skyrocketing out of obscurity. (For additional perspective, Passengers marks Lawrence’s 20th film, while Meryl Streep did not appear on-screen in a feature film until she was 28.)

With her franchises behind her, Lawrence has lined up a flurry of roles to fill the next chapter of her career: the aforementioned Russian ballerina (turned spy) in Red Sparrow, directed by The Hunger Games filmmaker Francis Lawrence; war photographer Lynsey Addario in It’s What I Do, directed by Steven Spielberg; and Elizabeth Holmes, the controversial founder of the scandal-plagued Silicon Valley health-technology company Theranos, in Bad Blood. She also has a role in Mother, directed by Darren Aronofsky, which was shot last summer in Montreal. “I don’t like waking up with nothing to do or going to sleep without accomplishing anything,” Lawrence says. “That really depresses me.”

She had her big breakout role at the age of nine, when she played a prostitute from Nineveh in a church play in her native Louisville, Kentucky. Lawrence was so unexpectedly convincing—“swinging her booty and strutting her stuff,” her mother has said—that family friends told her parents, “We don’t know if we should congratulate you or not, because your kid’s a great prostitute.” Five years later, Lawrence was discovered by a modeling scout and was so eager to embark on her career that she left high school early with a G.E.D. and moved to New York.

Having reportedly banked $46 million last year—making her the highest-paid actress two years in a row—Lawrence is a long way from the horse farm where she was raised by her mother (the owner of a children’s-camp) and father (the owner of a contracting business), along with two older brothers. She is still a typical twentysomething in some ways, but with some extraordinary caveats. She is obsessed with Beyoncé’s Lemonade, for example, but met Beyoncé herself and verifies that, in person, the superstar “looks like she was sent directly from heaven.”

She watches Real Housewives but texts executive producer Andy Cohen with feedback. (She produces her phone from a black purse to recite her last mobile missive to him: “Please somehow get this to the Real Housewives of O.C.: Shannon, your mother-in-law is a dirty bastard and you are completely right. Meghan, you have got to stop apologizing—these women are better at arguing than you. Sincerely, Jennifer’s period.”) She is occasionally struck by insecurity and calls Paris Fashion Week “the most intimidating time to be alive. You get ready in your hotel and you’re like, ‘I look awesome.’ Then you walk outside, see the outfits and people who are like seven feet tall, and are like, I am a piece of garbage. I’m not going out anymore.’ ” But, having worked with Dior since 2012, she manages to get through it.

She worships the usual icons, but, more and more, they approach her, as Paul McCartney did to compliment her dancing to “Live and Let Die” in American Hustle. “I don’t think I spoke back,” she says. “I just dropped my jaw and cried.”

Lawrence is also loyal to her close friends outside the industry and makes time to celebrate their personal milestones. “All of my friends are getting married and having babies,” she says, revealing one role that she will absolutely never reprise. “Weddings rock, but I will never be a bridesmaid again,” says the four-time survivor. “There needs to be a bridesmaids’ union. It’s horrendous. If anyone asks me again, I’m going to say, ‘No. That part of my life is over. I appreciate the ask.’ If I do ever get married, I don’t think I will have bridesmaids. How can I rank my friends?”

Not that she would have the time to plan a wedding if it were on her radar. Lawrence—whose longest relationship was with X-Men co-star Nicholas Hoult—currently seems more focused on professional, rather than romantic, collaborations. As for children, Lawrence’s maternal focus right now is her small brown dog, Pippi Longstocking. “I am a psychotic dog mom in a way that I am genuinely embarrassed about.” Because of this, Lawrence jokes that having actual children “would be dangerous. My kids would be incredibly jealous because I would still be way more attentive to Pippi than I would to them.”

These days, Pippi and Lawrence are constantly on the move—recently traveling together to Montreal to film the Aronofsky movie with Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris, and Javier Bardem. Lawrence had been wanting to work with the Black Swan filmmaker, so when he pitched her the project, still without a script, she immediately accepted. (“He is a visionary,” she says.)

This fall, Lawrence flew to Africa to shadow photojournalist Lynsey Addario as she documented South Sudanese refugees crossing into Uganda. Although the experience offered her a rare veil of anonymity (when introducing herself to a U.N. worker as Jennifer, he replied, “Ahhh, like Jennifer Lopez”), she was haunted by her uselessness. “The worst feeling about being there was that I wasn’t helping anybody,” she says of the humanitarian crisis. “I was doing a character study.” (Lawrence is also a producer on It’s What I Do, the Spielberg film based on Addario’s memoir.) Lawrence, who has donated generously to a number of charities (including $2 million to a children’s hospital in her hometown this year), said she found solace in vowing to visit again in a more active role.

And Pippi joined Lawrence in Atlanta, Georgia, for Passengers, a big-budget project she tried, at first, to resist. “My plan was to do a few more years of indies and remind people and myself how I started,” Lawrence says, referring to Winter’s Bone, her 2010 breakout, which earned her her first Oscar nod, at 19. Then she read the screenplay, by Jon Spaihts. “I wanted to say no, but I kept coming back to it.”

Directed by the Oscar-nominated Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), the reportedly $150 million movie stars Lawrence and Chris Pratt. The co-stars share several love scenes that spark—an on-screen electricity Lawrence says was easily summoned, since her co-star “could have chemistry with a cactus.” Lawrence got along with Pratt’s wife as well, appearing on her top-rated podcast, Unqualified, and forming a “spin-off friendship” with her. “I think women can sense if you are the kind of woman who is going to run off with their husband,” Lawrence explains. “I don’t think I give off that vibe. I give off the ‘Please like me!’ desperation. Which is not threatening.”

As for Pratt, she says, “He is a ray of sunshine. We had to have a talk about his good moods at four in the morning, when he was encouraging the crew and I’m like the Grinch. I came on set like, ‘No more smiling. No more dancing.’ ” Pratt laughed when I raised the subject. “Jen is really tuned in to her emotions,” he told me. “If she’s mad, she’ll let you know. She is very clear in her communication. I found it startlingly refreshing. It’s nice to work with somebody and know exactly where they stand. She’s a boss. It’s pretty awesome.”

Ingenue to Star

Lawrence was not always so assertive. Last year, after the Sony hack revealed a gender wage gap among the American Hustle cast, Lawrence took responsibility for not realizing her worth and negotiating for it. “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable! F** that,” she wrote in an essay for an e-mail newsletter co-created by Lena Dunham. Although Lawrence was the first to admit that her particular problems as a workingwoman “aren’t exactly relatable,” her sentiments—about being concerned that others like her rather than fighting for herself—were, and the essay went viral.

“I feel like something really clicked when I was 25,” Lawrence reflects. “It’s not as scary to say what you mean anymore. Remember how scary that used to be? Like ‘What if they think I’m mad at them?’ Now it’s like ‘They better think I’m mad!’ ” After a quarter-century spent concerned about how others perceive her, Lawrence has turned a corner and, as evidenced by her Passengers paycheck and on-set confidence, has begun asserting herself.

Although she’s gotten career advice from some of her Oscar-winning predecessors, such as Shirley MacLaine and Jodie Foster, Lawrence has come of age as an actress in an undeniably new Hollywood frontier—one marked by declining ticket sales, expanding distribution channels, omnipresent paparazzi, and fans literally stalking their idols on the street and via social media in a relentless hunt to feed a never-ending Internet appetite. Despite these pressures, Lawrence has gracefully leapt from endearingly unvarnished ingénue to white-hot star.

Her greatest struggle has been privacy. And while she has adjusted to her hordes of fans, she does offer them a gentle caution: “You might think you know me, but when you approach me you’re a total stranger to me and I’m scared.” She sighs. “I get very protective of my space. It took me a long time to be able to do that. But if I’m eating dinner and somebody comes up and a flash goes off from someone’s iPhone camera, I am really rude to that person. Then other people at the restaurant will see and be like, ‘Oh, damn, I don’t want to do that.’ Privacy is a full-time job and I work very hard at it.”

As part of this mission, Lawrence does not comment on her dating life past Hoult. She neither confirms nor denies the reported romance she had with Coldplay front man Chris Martin in the summer of 2015. More recently, the gossip mill linked her to Aronofsky. Don’t look to Lawrence to confirm the rumor, though. In an age of unabashed oversharing, she is a throwback in that she has perfected the now ancient art of personal discretion—a tremendous feat, considering her age and station as one of the most public figures in the world. Sure, she’ll offer fans delectable personal details, but only on her terms.

She doesn’t read the rumors (“I try to just live in a nice little imaginary cocoon”), but her relatives do—and buy into each tabloid twist with the rest of America. “My brother asked me the other day, ‘Everybody online thinks you and Amy [Schumer] aren’t friends anymore,’ ” she says, annoyed. “And I said, ‘Oh, really, because everything online is always true.’ ”

But it is not just her curiosity and one-in-seven-billion charisma that renders her Hollywood’s rare double-barreled movie star—able to attract mass audiences and critical recognition. Francis Lawrence, who directed most of the Hunger Games series (and is not related to Jennifer), has his own theory about Lawrence’s superpowers. “Jen is the most in-tune person I’ve ever met,” he said. “It’s uncanny, but her gift is that she can read people so quickly and use that on-screen. I would hate to date her because you would never be able to get away with anything.”

“She has unbelievable clarity,” Stone echoed. “She can witness a situation or meet a person and see through the entire thing almost instantly. It’s stunning.”

When I bring up this compliment, Lawrence waves it off. She has a different way of describing her depth of perception. “I’m a good bullsh* detector,” she says. “Ever since I was a kid, I was always calling sh* out,” she says.

Although it seems that Lawrence has already conquered Hollywood, the Oscar winner has an offscreen ambition she’s kept closely guarded. “The directing bug hit me two years after I got the acting bug,” she admits. “But in the same intense way, only I haven’t been able to get better at it because I haven’t had time to do it yet.” To prepare, she has studied each filmmaker she’s worked with, carefully compiling notes. Granted, Hollywood has plenty of actors publicly eager to move behind the camera. What makes Lawrence somewhat unique in this scenario is that she demurs from discussing the aspiration any further.

That’s the thing about Lawrence: she may be Hollywood’s most charmingly unpretentious conversationalist. But at the end of the day, she is not satisfied to simply discuss. As her résumé shows, this 26-year-old would rather get right into the action. And with her near future fully booked, and her newfound confidence in place, we likely won’t know anything about Lawrence’s next chapter until she turns that page herself. “I would prefer to just do it,” she says, smiling and flicking the last of the popcorn into her mouth.

This article has been edited for girlsspeakgeek.com. The complete story appeared in Vanity Fair, Nov.2016.

November 11, 2016 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links