Jennifer Lawrence is dressed in black jeans and a cozy gray shirt, her dark hair still damp from a hasty shower after mucking around all day in a jungle outrunning various forces of destruction. It's an early December evening in Waikiki, and Lawrence is shooting Catching Fire, the sequel to the blockbuster hit The Hunger Games, based on the second novel in Suzanne Collins' dystopian series. Following a quick baton toss last April from director Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), the film went into production in September and is now 11 days from wrapping.
The fate of society continues to rest uncomfortably on our heroine's shoulders. Katniss Everdeen, whom Jennifer Lawrence plays with fierce vulnerability, has survived the Games but will pay an ungodly price for the act of rebellion that saved her life and sparked a revolution. In Catching Fire (out Nov. 22, not yet rated), the Capitol demands that winners from previous Games be reaped yet again, this time to fight in a tropical arena ripe with treacherous surprises. Katniss must lean heavily once more on her staunch allies (Woody Harrelson's Haymitch, Josh Hutcherson's Peeta) while questioning the motives of new ones (Sam Claflin's Finnick, Jena Malone's Johanna).
Much has changed in Lawrence's life in the past year. She has a bodyguard now, who keeps a low-key presence in the Trump hotel balcony lounge throughout our interview. And a personal assistant, who's preparing Lawrence a scallop dinner upstairs in the actress' suite. And awards buzz roaring around her blistering performance in Silver Linings Playbook. But at heart the 22-year-old remains a ferociously talented, determinedly raw girl from Kentucky who seems unimpressed by fame and unwilling to conform to its demands. ''She is the least 'diva' leading lady ever. Ever,'' says producer Nina Jacobson. ''She's not spoiled, she's not precious, she's not needy. She's a goofball who is fun and funny. I love bringing stories home from the set because I get to tell my daughter, 'Look, here's someone actually worth looking up to.'''
And so, after ordering herself a Budweiser and sprawling across a banquette, Lawrence proceeds to do the one thing most stars never do: keep it real wildly real.How panicky were the conversations among the cast when you found out Gary Ross wasn't coming back?
I really love Gary and the movie that he made. He put so many layers into my character that still carry on now so I don't have to memorize my lines before I show up to work. [Laughs] Kidding! I thought that foundation would be gone and we would be starting from scratch. And then there was the Summit and Lionsgate merger, and there were lots of changes, and we all went through a phase where we were like, ''Dude, we have no idea what's going to happen.'' Tell me about your first conversation with Francis Lawrence.
Our first conversation was on the phone. I was in the bathtub, and I had to tell him that I was in the bathtub because I was afraid he would think I was, like, playing in the toilet when he heard water swishing around. [Laughs] Naturally, that's where his head would go...
I know, I can turn anything inappropriate. Anything. Okay, let's start again. Our first conversation: I was in Prague, because I was filming [the movie Serena], and we met on the phone and I liked everything he had to say. He's really smart, and he has a very gentle way about him. He's really passionate about the book. It didn't seem like he was just excited to make a huge movie. Then we had breakfast in Santa Monica, and I spit egg inside of his mouth when I was talking. Like, it went in. Into his mouth. [Laughs] In the process of finding directors, I was pretty involved. I usually never feel comfortable asserting my opinion; I'm very much a passive wimp. I have a hard time believing that.
No, I really am. I have a very deep voice, so it makes me seem tough and opinionated, but actually I'm a big pushover. But when it comes to these movies, I'm passionate about them, so I actually care. Normally, I don't care. [Laughs] Wait, let me start over. ''All my other movies, ehh...''
Yeah, all of the other movies I've ever done pffft! I'm kidding! It's almost like I subconsciously don't want to work anymore, so I'm trying to ruin my career. [Leans into the tape recorder] I'm pregnant! You literally cannot help yourself.
I know, I know. I did this to The New York Times. My publicist called me and was like, ''This is The New York Times, be serious.'' And then I found myself talking about orgies in three seconds.