“I’m pregnant,” Jennifer Lawrence tells me with deadpan solemnity, swirling a goblet of red wine. Then, seeing my eyes widen, she shakes her head vigorously. “Not really! Quite the opposite, actually…”
We’re sitting in an empty bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Atlanta, not far from where Lawrence, in her role as the longbow-wielding Katniss Everdeen, is filming the third and fourth installments of The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay-Part 1, due out in November, and Mockingjay-Part 2, a November 2015 release. Our allotted time is just about up, and I’ve demanded a juicy piece of gossip in exchange for promising to keep out of print whatever career-ending comments she may have already uttered. (Nobody ever said celebrity journalism was pretty.)
Lawrence’s hair is short, honey-colored, and windswept. She’s wearing a gray sweatshirt from Topshop, J Brand jeans, and a pair of black suede boots. Her black leather bag is “a gift from Tom Fordy,” she trills. Among its contents: an informational sheet that came with her birth control; a computer charger; a bottle of Chloé perfume, custom-monogrammed by a friend with Lawrence’s nickname Katpiss Neverclean; and some lip balm, which she generously offers to share.
Lawrence has a reputation as every girl’s imaginary BFF for a reason: In person, she is in fact the nicest, coolest, most grounded and hilarious superstar you’d ever hope to meet. But the 23-year-old Oscar winner has also got a mouth on her and a marked disinclination to censor what comes out of it. So far, that has generally worked in her favor. But every so often, when the moon tides are just so, look out. “You don’t know what it’s like to tell your ovaries not to make you cry,” she lectures. “You don’t know what that’s like! It’s going to be so hard to watch my daughter come home from school crying about her period and not just say, ‘You need a glass of wine. That will fix you right up!'”
But before all that, she has a movie to promote. X-Men: Days of Future Past is the latest in the mutant-superhero franchise in which Lawrence returns as Raven Darkholme, aka Mystique, a self-effacing shape-shifter whose natural skin tone is a vibrant, scaly, cerulean blue. One of the great ironies of Lawrence’s short but extraordinary career—playing relentlessly determined heroines in everything from scrappy indies (Winter’s Bone) and thoughtful dramas (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) to tentpole franchises like The Hunger Games—is that this supposed superhero has somehow been the feeblest character in the bunch. That, she promises, will change in this new installment. “In X-Men: First Class, she’s insecure, and she wants to be something she’s not,” Lawrence explains. “But in this one, it’s years later. She’s her own agent, and she’s proud of who she is, so yeah, she will not be as wimpy.”
Asked if she has anything in common with the character, the actress furrows her brow. It’s a boilerplate question, and Lawrence is not a boilerplate celebrity. She looks a little pained. Still, she summons up a respectable answer: “I can definitely relate to feeling like every teenager who wishes they could be anything but what they are right now. That was definitely something that rang true …?” Then she snorts and adds, “And I guess I can understand what it would feel like to have a crush on Nicholas Hoult!”
Lawrence has an ironclad rule never to talk about her three-year relationship with Hoult, her X-Men costar, who plays Hank McCoy/Beast. Which would be fine, if she were the sort of person to abide by rules. Hoult is her fourth or fifth steady beau, she says, after Huck, John, and Michael, and maybe one more who has slipped her mind and will be heartsick to read that in a national magazine. I ask Lawrence what attracts her. “Looks can go pretty far,” she says. “Nobody can deny a beautiful face. Fortunately, I have one.”
Indeed, she does. But, um, what?
“Oh, no! I mean my boyfriend! I didn’t mean my face! Oh, my God! I meant I’m with somebody who has a beautiful face.” The actress grimaces, no doubt picturing the quote splashed across newspapers around the world—”Jennifer Lawrence: ‘I Have a Beautiful Face!'”
Anyway, looks aren’t everything, Lawrence adds. “Humor and intelligence are key. Looks fade very quickly. I love a unique mind. Somebody who’s his own person.”
Maintaining a long-distance relationship can be challenging, she admits. “It’s hard when you’re both working. It’s important to keep your individuality when you’re a couple and keep your own life.” Rather than regular Skyping, she says, “When we’re busy, we agree to mutually ignore each other. Not completely, but neither of us gets mad when the other doesn’t text back or call. Life’s super-busy. Obviously you know what they’re doing, and you trust them. We’re so young that it would almost be like if we lived in the same city, what would happen? We’d be living together. At least this way he’s in the same boat as I am: We can both go out and have our own lives and know that we have each other. Why am I talking about my relationship? Jesus …?”
Given that she and Hoult kindled, and then rekindled, their romance on the X-Men sets, I can’t help asking if the mutant lovebirds have ever gotten, you know, freaky while Lawrence was sporting that elaborate blue makeup. “Ha, ha,” she laughs, shaking a finger at me. “No comment.” Then she gets a slightly devilish look on her face. “I will say,” she allows, “it’s complicated to explain touch-ups when you come back from lunch …?”
Clearly, Lawrence can’t help herself—or, more likely, she doesn’t want to. Indeed, it’s precisely that impulse to say whatever comes into her head, to trust her gut and barrel past the internal filters and self-censoring instincts that keep most of us on the safe side of the yellow line, that fuels her art and makes her so magnetic on-screen.
That said, the laws of gravity being what they are, a J-Law backlash is allegedly brewing—at least on the Internet. And it’s probably about time, Lawrence says. “Nobody can stay beloved forever,” she reasons. “I never believed it, the whole time. I was like, just wait: People are going to get sick of me. My picture is everywhere, my interviews are everywhere; I’m way too annoying because I get on red carpets and I’m really hyper, most likely because I’ve been drinking, and I can’t not photo-bomb somebody if it’s a good opportunity. But it’s something I always tell myself: ‘You need to calm the fuck down. You don’t want to constantly be a GIF.'”
There is even a conspiracy theory suggesting that Lawrence’s tendency to trip over her own feet at the Academy Awards is all part of a devious plot to appear authentic. We’ve had truthers and birthers—now meet the stumblers. Even Jared Leto thought it all seemed a little too convenient. “I know!” she says of the second misstep. “I’m trying to do the right thing, waving to the fans, trying to be nice, and there’s a traffic cone. The second I hit it, I was laughing, but on the inside I was like, ‘You’re fucked. They’re totally going to think this is an act.’ If I were Jared Leto, I would completely agree. But trust me, if I was going to plan it, I would have done it at the Golden Globes or the SAGs. I would have never done it at two Oscars in a row. I watch Homeland—I’m craftier than that!
“Honestly, I’m just doing my best,” she goes on. “But if people want to start the backlash, I’m the captain of that team. As much as you hate me, I’m 10 steps ahead of you.”
Lawrence, who won a Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, watched with a sense of mounting horror, for instance, the great pile-on that pitted her against Anne Hathaway, Best Supporting Actress winner for Les Misérables, in a fairy-princess-and-wicked-witch matchup during the 2013 awards season. “I thought that was really fucked up,” Lawrence says. “It’s like, you’re sitting behind your computer and writing awful things about a person. Fuck you!”
For the most part, Lawrence avoids the Internet, but she makes an exception once a month to Google herself. “I’ll be PMSing and just in the mood for a cry,” she explains. “In fact, the first thing I’m doing after I leave this interview is Googling ‘Jennifer Lawrence backlash.'” She’s not on Twitter, she says, adding, “My boyfriend is. I sometimes come up with things that I think he needs to tweet, like ‘Let the panda bears die’—you know, just to fuck with people—and he’s just like, ‘No.’ He never supports my ideas on his Twitter.”
Truth be told, a serious panda backlash is about as likely as a Jennifer Lawrence one. Besides, she’s not just famous for her red-carpet antics or kooky chat-show confessions, but also for her exceptional talent.
Lawrence grew up in the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky, with two older brothers. Her mother, Karen, ran a summer camp, and her father, Gary, worked as a contractor. It was a fairly idyllic childhood, she says, and one wonders how she summons the ferocious grit of characters like Ree Dolly of Winter’s Bone or Katniss Everdeen or even American Hustle’s Rosalyn Rosenfeld.
“It doesn’t have to do with my life,” she says. “It’s really just about empathy. Even when I was little, I used to be so emotional hearing stories, I would just be heartbroken.”
The Lawrences were a churchgoing family who said grace before meals. “I was brought up very religious,” Lawrence says, “and then I let go of everything that I had been taught and started with what felt right to me. I just kind of grew up and, for lack of a better term, grew out of it. I don’t know whose beliefs are right or wrong, so I just believe in everything, and I don’t believe in anything.” Which isn’t to say she’s renounced God altogether. “When I’m worried about something, like if Nick or anybody in my family is on a plane, I’ll say a prayer. It just makes me feel better to throw it out there to anyone—whether it’s to God, to the universe, to Allah—just please keep them safe.”
In some ways, she admits, fame is making it harder to be the person she was raised to be. “I’m a lot more closed off and frankly probably rude,” she acknowledges. “I mean, I’m from Kentucky. I used to be very personable and make eye contact and smile at people, and now all I do is look down. When I’m at dinner and one person after another keeps interrupting to take pictures, it’s like, ‘I can’t live like this.'”
In middle school, Lawrence suffered from mysterious abdominal pains that doctors chalked up to stress. “Socially, it’s so hard-core,” she says of being a teenager. “There are all these peers judging you, and you’re never cool enough, never wearing the right outfit, saying the right thing. You don’t get out of middle school. You don’t get out of high school. There are always going to be people saying you’re a slut because you went out on a date on Friday, or you’re a bitch because you didn’t call somebody back because you have a life. I want everyone to like me. Who doesn’t [want that]? But if they don’t, you’ve gotta move on. Then you grow up and become famous, and it’s the same thing multiplied by a billion!”
Indeed, during the press tour for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire late last year, the pains came back, eventually prompting Lawrence to bail on several TV appearances. “I was so freaked out, I called my publicist crying. I had to cancel Chelsea Handler. I was terrified to get on a plane to New York because I was convinced I had an ulcer that was bleeding. I went to the hospital. There was a bit of blood in my stomach, but they said it was nothing to worry about. I was like, ‘Really? Because I’m pretty worried!'”
When she made it to New York, she started getting panic attacks. “I was lying in bed and flipping through channels and I saw myself on some interview, and all of the sudden it was like getting hit by a train—this realization of how many people are looking at me, how many people are listening to me, how many opinions there are. I thought I was having a heart attack. The only thing I can do is work hard and do my best and be myself, mostly because I don’t have a choice. You reach that point of anxiety that you finally just go, ‘It’s out of my hands.'”
She eventually rallied—turning the “fulcer” (fake ulcer) experience into an off-color anecdote on Letterman—but the experience convinced her she was working too hard. After wrapping Mockingjay 1 and 2, she vows to take a break, though perhaps not the full year that Harvey Weinstein announced not long ago, prompting widespread panic. To be precise: Lawrence wants a year’s worth of rest, “however long that takes,” she says. “It might be a couple of months.”
Some of that time will be spent in the editing room with Mockingjay director Francis Lawrence, learning the ropes. The actress wants “really badly” to direct someday soon, and she’s asked him for a tutorial. She also hopes to finally put down some roots. After years of migrating from one hotel suite to another, Lawrence will start house-hunting. She’ll probably wind up in L.A., she says. “I rented a house in the Hills last year, and I liked being able to look down on everything. It made me feel better, like I’m away from everything.”
Of course, the area is swarming with paparazzi. They are advised to tread carefully. Lawrence still has Katniss’ bow. “I’ve dreamed about that,” she admits of the idea of taking aim at her tabloid tormenters. “That’s what I imagine when I’m doing target practice.” Picturing a would-be harasser, she draws back an imaginary arrow, fixes her gaze, and lets fly.
On realistic movie characters:”Show somebody who crawls into bed without washing her face and brushing her teeth because she’s hammered—then I can get on board. Show me somebody who just shaves her shins and not her thighs.”
On the death of The Hunger Games costar Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee):”I work very hard to forget that day. It just sucks. When you lose a friend, someone who you really like and who makes you laugh, it takes so long for it to sink in.”
On friendship:”I don’t trust a girl who doesn’t have any girlfriends. I have really close girlfriends, but they are guys like me—girls who eat and don’t know anything about fashion.”
On rumors that she’s jealous of Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult’s costar in the upcoming sci-fi romance Equals:”There was something in a magazine, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s hilarious,’ because Kristen and I are friends. I actually texted her a picture of it and was like, ‘Just so you know, this is absolutely true.'”
On being up against Lupita Nyong’o for the 2014 Best Supporting Actress Oscar:”I was very happy I voted for Lupita. It’s beautiful when you watch something good happen to somebody when it’s well deserved.”