When Jennifer Lawrence is out and about, no one is more visible.
Since she rocketed to the tippity-top tier of Hollywood with her roles in the Hunger Games and X Men franchises and an incredibly fruitful collaborative relationship with David O. Russell that resulted in an Oscar win at 22, few truly A-list stars have compelled more headlines than the frank, filter-less actress from Louisville, Ky.
Her candor, of course, is what has made her one of the more enjoyable, almost relatable big stars who, when she first booked The Hunger Games needed a security escort to get her safely out of a Whole Foods, so many paparazzi had followed her there.
“I kind of struggled with impostor syndrome a little bit, ’cause people were just so, you know…I don’t know, just ‘ah, la la,'” she recalled, describing what it was like going from working actress to all-eyes-on-her practically overnight. (She was on a podcast, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter, but you could still see Lawrence’s eyes rolling.)
Impostor syndrome being, she explained, “where you’re like ‘I don’t belong here and everybody’s lying to me,’ and you feel like you’ve put the wool over everyone’s eyes, and then everyone’s going to find out you’re a huge hack.”
Lawrence, who is turning 28 today, hasn’t ceased being the real deal, but on the other side of that success coin, the side where everyone is thrilled to see you and hang on your every word, lies scrutiny. And since a what-you-see-is-what-you-get vibe has shaped her public persona, her answer lately has been to ensure that you see—and therefore get—much less.
“It’s not healthy to realize how many people are actually looking and listening to you,” she said last November during an installment of Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series. “That is such a mindf–k.”
It’s also one thing when it’s just a bunch of anonymous people picking over what you wear (where’s her coat?!) or what she’s doing (having fun?!). Film critics are a whole other story.
“It’s so bizarre because you’re so in the zone, you put your whole soul and body, you move to shoot a movie, and you then love it, obviously because you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t love it, and then people just destroy it,” Lawrence also said in the Variety chat, in which she sat opposite Adam Sandler, someone who knows something about rough reviews.
But despite its star’s considerable charms, Lawrence’s next film, the R-rated spy thriller Red Sparrow, also turned out to be a major disappointment when it came out in March, financially and critically—and then you didn’t see the actress for several months, until she surfaced May 30 at the BAM Gala in New York.
“‘Cause I’m so miserable,” Lawrence joked to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show in February when he inquired about her scheduled break. “It’s not like a big, dramatic thing.”
Asked what she planned to do during her time off, the movie star who told Vanity Fair that she found the idea of “waking up with nothing to do or going to sleep without accomplishing anything” depressing said she was going to be “talking to kids about corruption.” (Stricken and chastened as many were after the 2016 presidential election, she’s on the board of Represent.Us, a campaign finance reform organization that’s trying to rein in the influence of lobbyists, super PACs and other corrupting influences in our politics.)
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“He drags you into his pile of bulls–t,” Colbert commiserated with her. “Yeah. Yeah, so,” she quipped, “everybody does.” Lawrence giggled, almost to herself, and added, “But I’m very lucky and happy,” before dissolving into laughter. But still, her break was “just by coincidence. I really love my job and I’m very happy.”
She punctuated the sentiment with a knowing glance at the audience.
No doubt she loves acting (she repeated as much), and the job itself, but Colbert was her last stop before The Red Sparrow premiere and you could almost see the second hand ticking down to the moment where she could put a big J.Law-shaped hole in the Hollywood gauntlet’s door.
“I am just a normal girl and a human being, and I haven’t been in this long enough to feel like this is my new normal,” she told Vogue in 2013, referring to not-so-hypothetical intrepid “fans” who would just show up outside her house. “I’m not going to find peace with it.”
She later mused, “It still makes me a little emotional, just to see how quickly everything kind of changes…that it changes so fast. So I’ve kind of been a big homebody lately. But I think eventually, one of these days, I guess when the next franchise starts and I’m not in it, and the new Jennifer Lawrence is born, then I’ll be able to go outside.”
Lawrence has by necessity gotten adept at gauging when it’s the right time for her to go away—more to tend to her own needs than keep ’em guessing, but also because her fame experience has included some treacherous lows along with the heady highs, such as when her phone hacked and intimate pictures of her leaked online in 2014.
“That was really an impossible thing to process,” she said on Awards Chatter. No legal recourse she could think of “was going to really bring me peace, like none of that was going to bring my nude body back to me and Nick, the person they were intended for.” (Nick being Nicholas Hoult, whom she met making X-Men: First Class in 2010 and dated for years.)
“I wasn’t interested in suing everybody,” Lawrence continued. “I was just interested in healing…I think like a year and a half ago, somebody said something to me about how I was a good role model for girls, and I had to go into the bathroom and sob because I felt like an impostor, or I felt like I can’t believe somebody still feels that way…It’s so many different feelings to process when you’ve been violated like that.”
Then, via another technological breach—the mass email hacking at Sony Pictures and subsequent information dump—she found out she had been paid less than her male co-stars on David O. Russell’s American Hustle, which was made after she’d won the Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. “It brought up something that I was not prepared to talk about publicly, which was gender discrimination pay gap, but then it was kind of like ‘well, you don’t always choose those moments.'”
In addition to the conversation among her peers that the email started, Lawrence took up the issue, penning an essay about her personal experience settling for less, and why she thought in the moment that she needed to, for Lenny Letter.
In fact, Lawrence thinks Mother! got the reception it did because “people saw me being soft-spoken and meek and they hated it. They were like, ‘I like her better when she’s Katniss!’ I think people do fall in love with this idea, but I’m an actor. I have to push myself. I have to try as hard as I can to transform. That’s what scared me about a franchise, and also doing too much press, is people get to know you and then they think they know you, and they can’t lose themselves in one of your characters.”
She laughed. “So I guess one of my biggest fears has now been confirmed.”
Another reason why any kind of overexposure has become increasingly distasteful to her.
She still has that power and then some, but the reality is that movie stars aren’t necessarily box office magnets any more than they’re always critical darlings.
Passengers, her much-anticipated 2016 sci-fi-thriller-romance with Chris Pratt, for which she was reportedly paid about $20 million, plus a profit share, did…OK, earning $100 million domestically and twice as much internationally. But it was a critical dud, a lump that Lawrence took in stride, acknowledging to Vogue last year that the dynamic in the movie—guy wakes up from induced coma on spaceship but waits a year before waking up girl—may have been a little off.
“I thought the script was beautiful—it was this tainted, complicated love story. It definitely wasn’t a failure,” she said. “I’m not embarrassed by it by any means. There was just stuff that I wished I’d looked into deeper before jumping on.”
Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
“I think women can sense if you are the kind of woman who is going to run off with their husband,” Lawrence, who reportedly got along great with her co-star’s then-wife Anna Faris, told Vanity Fair before the film came out in December 2016. “I don’t think I give off that vibe. I give off the ‘Please like me!’ desperation. Which is not threatening.”
J.Law’s name came up again when Pratt and Faris announced in August 2017 that they had separated, but the speculation had no staying power. Talking about the weirdest rumors to have plagued her over the years, Lawrence told KISS FM UK in February, “This isn’t weird, it was super flattering, but at one point, I was just, like, dating Brad Pitt. Like, we were having secret rendezvous. That was weird.” She continued, “I mean, I never had an affair with Chris Pratt on Passengers. They got a divorce like two years later [the movie was shot in 2015] and everybody was like, ‘Jennifer Lawrence!’ and I was like, ‘What the…? What? I’m in Montreal.’ Two years later!”
“It was the fan base, though, too,” she added, citing the need for continuity. “The other reason was for the fans.”
She was still working, shooting Red Sparrowin Austria and then Dark Phoenix in Montreal. But she had caught the latest wave of publicity and rode it right out of the room, figuring everyone—herself included—could do with a little less “J.Law” for awhile.
Meanwhile, business had happened to coincide with pleasure in 2016, when she and Mother! director Darren Aronofsky started dating once shooting wrapped on the hardest-to-watch film Lawrence has ever made.
“The way I see we treat Mother Earth is incredibly disrespectful. We pillage her, we rape her, we call her dirt,” Aronofsky said at SXSW, explaining the environmental allegory he claimed was behind the disturbing, gory film. “That’s why Jennifer played the character the way she did. There’s a lot of emotion.”
Shooting the movie was trying, as was promoting it—and hearing what people had to say. Even knowing what Aronofsky—whom Lawrence called “a visionary”—intended going in, it still felt like more of a plain old “watch this woman give up everything, including her sanity, for this man” plot rather than a scathing indictment of the way human beings treat the planet.