VENICE – Does her mother know where she is? Her latest film begs the question, showing that Mother does not always know best. Here’s the thing: It would be hard to find a more refreshing Hollywood personality than Jennifer Lawrence. She has trouble being anything other than who she appears to be – a spirited, talented, and charismatic young woman with a taste for mischief. That’s an astounding feat for someone working in a film industry known for training its high priced movie stars to maintain a prefabricated, PR-savvy facade. During the course of a recent American talk show appearance, not only did she admit to being “morbidly hung over,” but she also confessed to having engaged in a minor bar fight in Budapest a few days earlier while shooting a movie in Hungary.
“I was drunk and this guy asked me for a selfie and I was like, ‘No, thank you, no,'” the actress explained. “Then he was like, ‘Please, my girlfriend will never believe me (that I met you),’ and then (my friend and I) were like, ‘Just go away.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, well f–k you.’ Something in me just snapped, it couldn’t have been the alcohol, and I was like, ‘Did you just say f–k you to me?’ (Then) I grabbed him, took some beer glasses, and started dousing them all over him.” (Laughs)
Arriving by motorboat at the pier to the Excelsior Hotel in Venice where she was promoting her new film, MOTHER!, Jennifer Lawrence looked casually chic in a black sleeveless top and black and white checkered pants. She would later appear for the film’s premiere on the Lido in a stunning Dior dress that dazzled fans and paparazzi alike.
The 27-year-old actress pushed herself “beyond my limits” in Mother!, a psychological horror story directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan). Not only does the film see her give a tour-de-force performance (she’s on camera virtually the entire time) but she and Aronofsky have been inseparable ever since the film finished shooting last year.
The film stars Lawrence in the title role, that of an unnamed young woman trapped in an increasingly hellish relationship with a self-absorbed writer played by Javier Bardem.
“I think that the way that my character is a muse for Javier’s character is that she almost worships him,” Lawrence said. “He’s this creator, this writer, and so powerful and she really just wants to be there to serve him. That’s how this relationship works and it’s not until she gets pregnant and has a baby that she serves a bigger purpose and that affects their dynamic.”
Her world similarly begins to fall apart when mysterious strangers arrive uninvited to the house (located in the middle of a forest) – a doctor (Ed Harris), his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), and their two sons who display increasingly aggressive behaviour. Pfeiffer’s character in particular takes delight in tormenting and intruding on Lawrence’s character’s fragile psyche. The film resembles Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby on many levels, particularly in the Lawrence’s character’s hallucinatory journey that casts doubt as to whether what we’re seeing is actually taking place or something which is part of the “mother’s” distorted imagination.
Without doubt, Lawrence will once again earn serious Oscar attention for her work in Mother! which is destined to be one of the most controversial films of the year. Speaking to reporters in Venice, Aronofsky described Lawrence as an “incredibly gifted technical actress…Much of film acting is so technical and in this film where she’s almost dancing with the cameraman and having to walk over wires and through walls she took this autodidact skill and absorbed all this information and then she was still able to fully engage on the performance. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Q: What are your thoughts about Mother! It’s a film that many people are going to find unsettling?
LAWRENCE: I’m proud of this film and it’s one of the most difficult and extraordinary films I’ve ever been part of. My character spends most of the film trying to understand what’s happening to her and what’s going on and it was a very demanding role.
Q: Michelle Pfeiffer’s character is very cruel to you in the film. How did you feel about working with her?
LAWRENCE: I love Michelle’s character. My character is shy and lonely while her character is very scornful and scandalous…But I have so much admiration for Michelle and I was so proud to be able to work with her.
Q: Mother! is a reflection on fame amongst many other things especially when it comes to Javier Bardem’s narcissistic writer character. How do adapt yourself to the fame and adulation that comes with your work?
LAWRENCE: If it weren’t for fans I wouldn’t be able to do what I love. And I would be no use to society if I couldn’t act because this is the only thing I know how to do. I love my job and so if I didn’t have fans then I wouldn’t be able to do it.
The people who are (standing) outside – there are no words for the amount of gratitude I have towards out fans. I’m happy to sign as many autographs as I can and say hello to as many people as I can.
But sometimes I’m just walking outside or going to a grocery store or getting out of my car going to a restaurant and I have to find the balance in myself… It’s important to have boundaries….
Sometimes I don’t want to have fashion sites say how they don’t like my pyjamas and so sometimes I say no (to autograph or selfie requests)….It’s necessary to find a balance. You need to be accessible but also maintain your own private space.
Q: One of the important themes in the film is how Javier Bardem’s character is perverted by fame and success. Do you ever worry about how your personality or outlook on life is affected by all the adulation you receive as a movie star?
LAWRENCE: I know that the fans love a character through my movies but they don’t really know me. So it’s important not to walk through the crowds thinking, “God, they love me!” They love a character, they love a movie…It’s a job and it’s very fickle and sometimes that hate you just getting out of a car and walking to a restaurant.
Q: What made you play this rather meek woman in Mother after you’ve normally played such strong and more assertive female characters?
LAWRENCE: It was a completely different character from anything I’ve ever done before, but it was also a different side of myself that I wasn’t in touch with and I didn’t really know, yet. We had a rigorous rehearsal process for three months and it was a part of me that Darren helped me get in touch with and it was a part of me that Darren really helped me get in touch with. But it was difficult. It was the most I’ve ever had to pull out of myself.
Q: How stressful was it for you to play this character and be part of this terrifying world of hers?
LAWRENCE: It’s a hard film to watch and then when you go home and think about that you’re only left with these intense feelings because your reaction is so visceral…
I’d never had to go that far and a couple of days before we started shooting I was really worried about what this woman has to go through which no woman should ever have to endure.
Q: Mother! is steeped in allegory. Does this make it more difficult for you to play a character?
LAWRENCE: I had been asked in interviews earlier that, when you’re doing a film with so much allegory and metaphors like this, how that affects your performance. But (the answer is) no. You find your character and your character’s truth separately.
The only time I remember where in one scene the allegory affected how I approached a scene was something that the audience wouldn’t even have noticed.
As part of my character’s connection to the house, I would walk down the staircase holding only the banister from the top to the bottom. It would never have been right for me to wear shoes in the house, although in real life I like to wear slippers. And I was wearing slippers off camera. But then Darren gave me a note and after that note I (took the slippers off) and went barefoot again. That (reinforced) the connection between me and the house which was very strong.
Q: What kind of preparation did you do to get ready to play this woman who experiences so many extreme situations?
LAWRENCE: Darren and I spent hours talking and shaping the character and when I read the script at first and I didn’t really know who she was and the three months we had to prepare the film helped me get in touch with this hidden part of myself. I’m hopefully always going to be playing different types of characters but we had the understanding that were was much more going on underneath.
Q: You’ve been hailed as a very naturally gifted actress. Did you always know that you had acting in your blood?
LAWRENCE: It’s all I wanted to do with my life. I knew it was something I could excel at. That’s why I finished (high) school early. Nobody wants to hire someone who’s still in school, so I’d lock myself in my room and work for eight hours to finish all my courses and graduate early because my mom insisted I finish school.
I knew what I wanted. It was weird. I knew what I was made for, what I was meant to do with my life and I didn’t want to let it go. Acting has always been my destiny and that’s kind of made it easy for me in life. A lot of my friends have just graduated university and they still don’t know what they want to do or whether they can even find a job. So my life is pretty easy and you’ll never hear me complaining about staying in great hotels or getting to wear beautiful designer dresses.
Q: Have you always had confidence in your raw ability as an actress?
LAWRENCE: Pretty much! I’ve never done theatre or taken acting classes which I think has helped me. I just have good instincts when it comes to playing characters and acting is something I have a natural feel for. I loved watching movies on TV but it was only when I started doing some modelling that people began telling me I should also try acting.
Q: Tell us about how you got your start in the business?
LAWRENCE: I kept bugging my parents to take me to New York and let me go up for auditions and then finally my mom took me there. Then this talent scout spotted me when we were walking in Union Square and asked to take my photo. He wasn’t creepy, he was very professional.
Then all these agencies started calling and I auditioned for a commercial and that’s how it got started. After that acting was all I talked about and my poor mother had to deal with my obsession.”
But I convinced her that we should move to New York and I had the best time of my life riding the subway and going to auditions and living there as a teenager. It was just a surreal and amazing experience for a Kentucky girl. Eventually producers started flying me out to L.A. for auditions and it’s kind of been a blur since then.”
Q: Acting also helped rid you of a lot of anxiety issues as a teenager?
LAWRENCE: Yeah…It was kind of like I finally found something people were telling me I was good at, which I had never heard, ever. And that was a big reason why my parents let me do this. One time, my mom was on the phone with my dad, saying, ‘We’re paying for therapy and all this medication, and we don’t need it when she’s here (auditioning and finding modelling and acting work). She’s happy.”
Q: You’ve played a wide variety of characters during your career thus far. Do you like mixing things up creatively?
LAWRENCE: My imagination is the most crucial part of what I do. I can’t look for roles that are identical to me in any way. I want the creative flexibility to imagine a life outside of my own. And I can’t go around looking for roles that are exactly like my life. So I just rely on my imagination.
Q: You give the impression of being very direct and uninhibited yourself?
LAWRENCE: I don’t want to present a manufactured version of myself. I sometimes make my publicist cringe when I start talking about something and I’m liable to say something outrageous or a little strange. I don’t have that much control over my mouth and I never prepare what I’m going to say before I do an interview.
I need to feel that I’m being as truthful and natural as I can be because I know that works for me. That’s why I do basically no research for a part because I like the idea of getting to the set and operating from instinct. I think I do my best work when I’m functioning instinctively and letting the emotions flow naturally into my character. I like not knowing how I do what I’m doing – it lets me be much freer and more uninhibited and fearless when I’m working.
Q: Have you ever felt awkward or embarrassed doing certain kinds of scenes?
LAWRENCE: (Laughs) Sometimes it feels odd kissing actors you’ve been friends with and you have to be intimate with in front of the camera and the crew. But the most awkward time for me ever was on X-Men.
The first test where they painted me blue took around eight hours of makeup. I would stand, lean, or sit on a bicycle seat naked while they painted me. I have no modesty left after X-Men — I had blue in places I didn’t even know existed. Afterward, I had to go around naked, with scales over my private parts, surrounded by men. That cures you of all inhibition! (Smiles)
Q: You’ve complained of having problems with anxiety in the past. Apparently you’re not that fond of flying?
LAWRENCE: (Laughs) I don’t know why, but I’m getting more and more nervous on planes lately. For some reason I start to get claustrophobic and I worry about losing control and screaming that I have to get off the plane. I remember on one flight we hit an air pocket and suddenly the plane dropped and I started screaming, “We’re going down!” (Laughs) It was awful.
Another time I was taking a night flight to Berlin (on her way for the December 2016 premiere of Passengers – ED) and the turbulence was the worst ever.
That was the closest to accepting that I was going to die. One of the luggage doors on the underside of the plane had opened and there were these crazy sounds, the plane was (moving) from side to side and I was screaming at the flight attendant, ‘Is everything going to be OK?'”
Everyone was trying to be very calm and not freak out the other passengers, but not me. I was alarming everyone. I felt it was my duty to get other people to panic more. I felt people weren’t panicking enough. Chris (Pratt) kept trying to calm me down. He reached over across the aisle and I was just like “Aaarrggh, get off me…”
Hardly surprising. Lot of weirdoes in Hollywood these days. Watch out, Jennifer. . .
by GT correspondent Jan Janssen