“I’m having a fine time,” Lawrence says. “I hopefully will have a long career ahead of me, I have good friends who are going, I’m happy for them. I think watching the [Golden] Globes from home with my friend, eating pizza was, like, the best night. I’m like, ‘This is where it’s at.’ ”
She pauses for a sip of tea. “Did that sound cocky? I feel like people can’t hear the inflection of my voice. Because sometimes I read things back and I’m like, ‘What the [expletive]? Who the [expletive] do you think you are?’ Because really, I’m deeply insecure, everybody, so . . .” Her voice trails off before she adds an aside with a half-deprecating laugh. “Not really.”
Welcome to what it’s like to be Jen: a 27-year-old Kentuckian who happens to be the highest-paid actress in the world; Hollywood’s most relatable girl-next-door at a time when relatability is both a curse and high currency; a coltish starlet and seasoned actress who has been working since she was a teenager; a filter-free buzz magnet who “desperately wants to be liked” but who nonetheless affects the nonchalance of someone with zero figs to give.
Along with Kristen Stewart and the Two Emmas (Watson and Stone), Lawrence has reinvented our notion of the traditional ingenue, a creation once considered pliant, passive and frivolous. Lawrence may be fun — she may be able to get down, as any number of viral videos and talk-show interviews attest — but she’s anything but fluff.
“I don’t feel like there’s any reason for me not to act like a normal person,” Lawrence explains about what critics insist is her calculatedly unpretentious persona. “It’s as simple as that. I really can’t take credit for it. I have not seen yet a reason why I should act differently.” Should that reason arise, she assured her public, “I’ll turn into a total a--hole. Mark my words.”
Lawrence has come to Washington to promote “Red Sparrow,” a neo-Cold War thriller in which she plays a woman recruited by Russian intelligence to use her sexual wiles to compromise political opponents. With its themes of kompromat and honey pots, the film possesses unmistakable resonance with investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But for Lawrence’s fans, the film is notable for marking the first time she has depicted graphic and markedly aggressive sexuality in a feature film.
For Lawrence, the decision to do nudity was a fraught one: In 2014 she was one of several victims of a massive phone hack, during which her private photos were leaked without her permission. She knew that if she were to do “Red Sparrow,” which is directed by her “Hunger Games” director Francis Lawrence, she would have to “go all the way.” She also considered having a body double do the nude scenes. “If I’m being honest — and it’s about to be clickbait, which I don’t want it to be, but it is — but if I’m being honest with myself, I just thought if I lose out on a movie that I love, with a director who I admire and trust, then they win.” Once she did the scenes, she recalls, “It was actually really empowering. . . . I was like, ‘It’s just a body.’ And it kind of just took all the power away.”
The fact that Lawrence can precisely identify which of her quotes will become clickbait is another skill-set particular to her generation, who came of age just as the iPhone made everyone — amateurs, professionals, fans and haters — a potential paparazzo. But Lawrence’s accessibility — combined with a level-headed understanding of how to curate a sustainable career — makes her perhaps the ideal avatar for social-media-era celebrity.
With the “Hunger Games” and “X-Men” movies, she has made herself into a global, mega-bankable star, notwithstanding recent disappointments like “Passengers” and “Joy.” Working with the likes of Aronofsky and David O. Russell, she makes it a point to return to the kind of art-house films that made her a star in the first place. (She received the first of four Oscar nominations for her leading role in “Winter’s Bone”; she has won for Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook.”) “I started in indies, and I want to end in indies,” she says flatly.
Still, she extols the advantages of doing big franchise films, even if she momentarily forgets whether “X-Men” is a Marvel property — and really, who can tell anymore? “You get such a huge fan base from them,” she explains, “and then you just simply have more freedom. So if you want to have an indie career you can have an indie career. You get a bigger audience, you get more opportunities. It’s important to remember that these are jobs.”
They’re jobs she has been auditioning for since she was a teenager, driving herself around L.A. like countless other talented kids with a cockeyed dream. It might be that longevity that explains why, even in her 20s, she radiates experience beyond her years. (“I feel 90, so every time you point to me and say ‘your generation,’ you make me feel so young,” she says at one point.) Although she says she was never accosted by Harvey Weinstein, she endured her share of patriarchal abuse. “Did I have to grow up with executives or what have you just putting their hands on my legs? Yes,” she says. “And I didn’t know what to do.”
When the Weinstein story broke last fall, Lawrence started attending meetings convened by Reese Witherspoon, America Ferrara, Natalie Portman and others, which eventually led to the creation of Time’s Up. “At the beginning, it was just really raw,” she says, recalling the stories that her colleagues shared (“The sheer number was gob-stopping”). Then, they began discussing solutions, which included what came to be a legal-defense fund, and union bylaws to ensure the safety of cast and crew members on set.
“This is a watershed moment,” Lawrence says. “In short, we’re reshaping the way we want to be treated. A lot of things that have been normalized, we’re just saying that’s not normal anymore.” As for male executives abusing their power in ways they did when she was coming up, she says, “Now a girl who’s my age when that was happening knows that she’s allowed to recross her legs and say, ‘Please don’t touch me’ and not feel like she’s not going to get the job because they’re going to say that she’s crazy.”
For Lawrence, the issue is a simple one of consent, which it took her a while to understand herself, especially within the context of her new movie. “It was an important learning curve for me,” she explains. “Because there was a part of me that was paranoid that if I do this, then everybody’s going be like, ‘Well, what was she thinking, getting so upset about having her nudes hacked if she was just going to get naked anyway?’ ” The crucial difference, she came to realize, was that the nudity in “Red Sparrow” was “for my art and for my craft, and even if it wasn’t, if it’s with my consent, then there isn’t an issue.”
As for viewers who question the politics of sexual objectification in the film, she’s equally dismissive. “It’s just absolutely ridiculous,” she says, her voice rising. “I think there’s confusion about what feminism is. It’s just equality: political, social, economic equality. It doesn’t have anything to do with my nipples.”