When Jennifer Lawrence began working on “The Hunger Games” franchise six years ago, she was far from a household name. She had earned an Oscar nomination for the little-seen indie “Winter’s Bone” and was a fanboy fave thanks to her turn as Mystique in the “X-Men” movies.
But it was Katniss Everdeen which put Lawrence over the top.
Not long after completing the first of the four “Hunger Games” movies, Lawrence auditioned for “Silver Linings Playbook.” She nabbed the starring role and went on to earn a Best Actress Oscar for playing the no-nonsense Tiffany.
Lawrence credits her incredible run of success, which includes another Oscar nod for 2013’s “American Hustle,” to her never-say-die work ethic. Let others vacation; Lawrence keeps her nose to the grindstone.
“I really just think of myself as a working woman,” says the actress. “I just go from set to set and work … There have been a few times when I really would have loved time off but I was very aware of how overwhelming the [‘Hunger Games’] movies are and how [indelible] this character is.
“[Katniss] is remarkable. I think she’s the greatest female character ever. So I wanted to keep working so people could see me [play] other characters, and know the other things that I could do.”
During the final installment of the “Hunger Games” series, Katniss, recovering from an assassination attempt engineered by the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), is on a mission to take out the dastardly President Snow (Donald Sutherland). With a company of rebels led by Gale (Hemsworth), Katniss makes her way to the Capitol, side-stepping bobby-trapped “pods” capable of unleashing fire, bullets and waves of oil. But as UK’s Guardian newspaper noted, “Katniss still finds herself nagged by doubt: in the heat of war, the side she’s fighting for no longer seems that different from the tyranny she always hoped to overthrow.”
The series, which has racked up $2.3 billion at the box-office so far, began with Katniss being forced to hunt other teenagers for the enjoyment of Snow and winds up with a take-charge heroine so fearless she would give Joan of Arc a run for her money.
With “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two” in theaters, Lawrence is in a reflective mood, eager to look back on the series which has touched a chord with so many movie-goers.
“I have a feeling of accomplishment, which I think will [increase] when the film finally comes out,” says the actress. “I didn’t really feel [so sad saying goodbye to Katniss.] But I think it will be pretty bizarre when the movie’s finally out and finished and everything is officially done.
“I think that’ll be a pretty weird feeling on a personal level because this movie’s been my life for so many years.”
For Lawrence, saying goodbye to her co-stars was arguably her toughest assignment.
“I hope I’ve grown up [ in the last six years],” says the actress, 25. “It’s much easier to be mature on sets without Josh and Liam. We’ve all helped each other get a handle on everything. Going off and not doing movies with them was like losing training wheels.”
Fans of “The Hunger Games” movies can expect a final installment that’s not only darker and more intense but heavier on battle sequences and boasting a bigger body count.
In addition to overcoming Snow’s booby traps, Katniss and company have to make their ways through endless, watery sewers.
Shooting the underground scenes in Paris and Berlin took three weeks and exhausted the cast as well as director Francis Lawrence.
“It was absolutely the most miserable three weeks,” says the filmmaker. “It felt like nine weeks. It’s kind of a fun sequence to … see [when] it comes together. But these tunnels, you had to duck and we all had to wear hard hats. The water was heated. So it made [the environment] humid and smoky. It was wet, it was miserable.”
Lawrence not only had to navigate walking through the tunnels, she also had to fight in them.
“When we got to the fight sequence, we were all complaining,” she says. “All of our gear and all of our costumes were completely waterlogged. It felt like [we were carrying around] an extra 2,000 pounds.”
Unlike a lot of dystopian science-fiction, “The Hunger Games” suggests that all is not lost, and individuals, if they band together, can make a difference.
Producer Nina Jacobson, who’s overseen the entire series, hopes audiences take away from Katniss a belief in “defiance in the face of injustice and kindness in the face of cruelty.”
Says the producer, “I think the popularity of dystopian fiction speaks to an anxiety that young people have about what awaits them. What I find so hopeful in these books and these movies is the fact that you can create change. You can refuse to play the game and see your world change as a result.”
In many ways, Katniss seems to have rubbed off on Lawrence who, in a recent magazine article, bravely shared her views on the income disparity between men and women in Hollywood.
In the piece, Lawrence wrote that during negotiations for “American Hustle,” she didn’t push for a higher salary because she was worried about what others might think of her. The end result was that her male co-stars Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale earned considerably more than she did for the same movie.
“[The article] wasn’t so much about complaining about not getting paid more because I’m a woman but about how my own mentality got in my way of fighting just as hard as the men did to get a better deal,” says Lawrence.
“I wanted to write about how my own fears about how I’m going to be portrayed or how I’m going to look [affected me] … Obviously the men in the movie didn’t think that way.”
Almost instantly, Lawrence received backlash for her opinions. “It’s been called ‘Jennifer Lawrence’s bratty display,’” says the actress. “Thank you for completely making my point that when a woman speaks up and is assertive and has a voice, she’s called a brat. I just don’t see men getting called brats.”
Now that “The Hunger Games” has wrapped up, Lawrence still has the “X-Men” franchise ongoing and says she wouldn’t rule out joining the Marvel Universe.
“I would love to play in the sandbox with [Marvel],” she says.
First up, Lawrence will pop up in at least three other films, which are in various stages of production. She plays a powerful businesswoman in “Joy,” which is due Christmas Day from David O. Russell, her “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” director.
Also forthcoming is Steven Spielberg’s “It’s What I Do,” the story of wartime photographer Lynsey Addario, who was one of four journalists held captive by the Libyan Army in 2011; and “Passengers,” a sci-fi drama due in 2016.
If there’s a downside to Lawrence’s recent string of success, it’s her loss of anonymity, which, she says, required a period of adjustment.
“There were a few years of just getting used to it,” says the actress. “Your entire world changes. Now it’s very easy for me because I’m isolated. I have a new normal now so I feel very stable and normal and happy.
“But it took a few years to get used to being looked at differently because it’s a very alienating feeling. You don’t feel different but everyone reacts to you differently.
“The pressure, you just can’t think about it. It’ll just keep you up [nights] … People can react to me, and do whatever they want. And that’s fine. But I have a job to do.”
And Lawrence plans on doing that job for years to come.
“I enjoy working,” she says. “There are certain things that I like to escape from in this business but for the most part I don’t really feel like going off into the country.
“If I went to some place quiet, I’d probably lose my mind. I’m sure one day I will want to retire and slow down but, as of right now, I love working. I love being busy.”
Story by Amy Longsdorf, Digital First Media