Playing a reluctant teen revolutionary in The Hunger Games is a huge honour, Jennifer Lawrence tells Film Critic Tony Earnshaw as the latest episode in the franchise – Mockingjay Part 1 – hits cinemas.
Jennifer Lawrence famously took three days to accept the invitation to play Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.
That was after auditioning – and being turned down – for the role of Bella Swan in Twilight, the part going to Kristen Stewart.
And following her astonishing breakout performance in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, which garnered her an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress, she joined the cast of X-Men: First Class as the young Mystique.
Franchises galore, therefore. But Lawrence, not yet 25, is a veritable Hollywood phenomenon, courtesy not just of the immense success of the Hunger Games series but also because she is the go-to girl for filmmakers who desire intelligent acting and box office appeal. Lawrence has got the lot.
Nowadays she combines the parallel worlds of X-Men and Hunger Games with meaty fare such as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.
She’s had to grow up fast in an industry that chews up and spits out young stars.
Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games universe is getting darker, too. After the first film and its sequel, co-written by Yorkshire’s Simon Beaufoy, the latest episode has been split into two movies. Mockingjay, Part 1 is out this week and takes Katniss into grim territory.
“Katniss has been completely stripped down when we find her at the beginning of this movie,” says Lawrence.
“She’s suffered from post-traumatic stress from the first games. She had to go back. She wakes up in a district that she didn’t even know existed. She’s lost her home. She’s completely bare and has to rebuild herself.”
For those oblivious to the Hunger Games universe, the on-going saga is one of oppression. It’s the age-old story of a class system with upper classes driving down the proletarian have-nots.
And Katniss is the girl who bucks the system by winning the Hunger Games – an annual fight to the death between teenagers representing districts governed by fat cats in the Capitol.
In the latest episode Katniss has become a symbol of possibility, not just for her own district, but also for others. And that makes her dangerous.
“It’s continuing Katniss’s journey,” adds the 24-year-old Kentuckian. “It’s not really about getting out of the games anymore. We’re moving into a real war between District 13 and the Capitol.
“So things are kind of naturally getting darker, storywise. Visually too, because we’re underground a lot in District 13. We’re just following her journey.
“One of the first scenes that I shot was when we first find Katniss and she’s locked herself in an air vent. It’s natural [that] she’s in a darker place because she’s completely stripped away from everything that she knows and has to rebuild.”
Katniss, as written by Suzanne Collins and played by Lawrence, is a girl forced to grow up fast.
And it’s been a tumultuous few years for the actress, too – a rollercoaster of highs and lows that hit a nadir this summer when private naked photographs of her were leaked to the world.
When Lawrence is asked whether she drew on her own personal experiences to play Katniss one has to wonder whether the trauma of privacy invasion – she accused anyone who viewed her images online of committing a sexual offence – has bled into her recent work.
“Drawing on your own personal experiences is tricky for me. I never really understand how that works,” she says.
“It’s not me. It’s a very different person that handles emotions in a very different way. I mean, I would have just been crying every single day: ‘Where’s my Mom?’ But I remember reading the first books. When I read them I was going through my first awards season for Winter’s Bone and I had never experienced anything like that.
“It was kind of being put in dresses that were uncomfortable and not looking like myself and all of a sudden everybody’s listening to you and you’re like, ‘Don’t listen to me, I’m 20!’ And then kind of growing into it, in a way. I felt like there were a few parallels of having people look at you and listen to you at a very young age when you don’t really feel ready.”
But there are some benefits to being young. Maybe it’s about resilience. Perhaps it’s something to do with energy.
Certainly Lawrence understands and appreciates the enormity of the obligation she owes to the source material and its fans.
“Before I said yes to these movies I had a feeling, because the books were so popular and so huge, that this character was going to be with me for the rest of my life.
“That made me nervous for a few days because I’m an actor. I don’t want to be remembered just as one character. That’s a scary idea.”
She adds: “The fans and our audience are constantly in our conversation because of the excitement around these books – that’s who we’re making these movies for. So before we make any huge decisions there’s a conversation with Suzanne Collins.
“There’s definitely an awareness of our fanbase because it is so giant and so important to us.
“But I am so proud of these movies. I love their message. I love this character. I love everything about her that I’m actually honoured to carry this character with me for the rest of my life and to have people remember me as this incredible, courageous hero. I hope people mistake it for me.”
n The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is on saturation release.