TORONTO -- Jennifer Lawrence is either the most gifted actress alive, or she really is this cool of a person.
No disrespect to Lawrence's very evident and solid dramatic chops, which have already earned her Oscar nominations, but we'll go with the latter option.
Lawrence, currently operating on four or so hours of sleep, is lying on a chaise longue in a hotel bar, her gold blister-inducing stilettos kicked off. She's expounding on the virtues of Dance Moms and Black Box wine when, mid-sentence, she stops, raises her right arm, sniffs and makes a disgusted face. "Organic deodorant does not work. It's like rolling water up in there. I don't want to stink," she says with a grimace.
The actress, 22, is proficient at putting those around her at ease by cracking the perfectly-timed joke, or making a bitingly self-deprecating comment. Ask her about the surely life-altering experience of headlining The Hunger Games film franchise as reluctant freedom fighter Katniss Everdeen, and Lawrence replies that her fame, coupled with her lifestyle, make her an ideal target for photographers. "I never leave at night. I never go out. I'm a 9-5 job for the paparazzi. The only pictures they get of me is pumping my gas and walking to breakfast. People are still buying these? OK," says Lawrence, switching into self-mocking mode. "I'm a fascinating person. I get it. There are things about me that are special."
But in all seriousness, there's plenty about Lawrence that makes her unique among her peers. For starters, there's her career trajectory.
Lawrence, who was born and raised in Louisville, Ky., broke through two years ago as a tenacious, steely Ozarks teen who sets out to find her missing father and save her family's house in Winter's Bone. The stark, searingly simple film earned her Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Oscar nominations and established her as one to watch.
Of course, ask Lawrence about her breakthrough and she jokes: "I started sleeping with all the directors. It was totally helpful. I had to sleep with 98 per cent of the Academy to get the Oscar nomination. The other two per cent were dead."
Since then, she's segued from superheroes (X-Men: First Class) to horror (The House at the End of the Street) to intimate dramas (The Beaver). And she caps off her two-year surge with David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook.
This time, Lawrence is Tiffany, a mouthy dancer who befriends the bipolar loose cannon (Bradley Cooper) who becomes her partner. Lawrence, a longtime fan of Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter), hadn't read the script when she said yes to the film.
"I find it really amazing how he can take someone who is obviously crazy and not someone you look up to and turn them into someone charming and someone you want to be like," she says of Tiffany. "Your first instinct is to judge her but she turns it around. She's crazy and a slut and likes that about herself. There's so many dimensions to all of David's characters."
Lawrence won a Golden Globe for best actress, comedy or musical, for her portrayal of Tiffany, and is also up for an Oscar for best actress in a leading role. Talking to Lawrence, you get the sense she's as outspoken, sharp-tongued and quick-witted as Tiffany, with her same inability to suffer fools or be fake.
"I never compare my characters to me. Not really. I gotta figure out an answer to these acting questions. I guess like her, I can say the wrong thing," says Lawrence. "I'm a big believer in accepting yourself the way you are and not really worrying about it. I felt like I admired Tiffany more than I compared myself to her. You can dislike her. David gives you a choice. He's not a manipulative filmmaker at all."
Russell auditioned Lawrence over Skype, a first for him. He'd seen her in Winter's Bone and was impressed by her physicality and her on-screen maturity. And for their virtual confab, she'd put on heavy makeup and done her hair as Tiffany would. Russell, who's directed Christian Bale and George Clooney, was smitten.
"There was something about her that was very alive and very comfortable and she had a confidence that the character has in the film. We all wondered if she was too young, but she's someone who seems much wiser and older than she is. There's something you get from her eyes and her presence that's remarkable and soulful," says the director.
Off-screen, says Russell, she's equally captivating. "She's a good egg. She's a lot of fun and she enjoys her life. She's not neurotic. She's not anguished about stuff. She makes it feel easy and look easy. She likes people. She likes living. She likes food," says Russell, who says that between takes, Lawrence would joke around and chat with the crew. "And then, you think, 'Is she paying attention?' And the cameras go on and she knocks it out of the park."
Even during the dance scenes, which Lawrence is the first to tell you were brutal for her. She says she's the opposite of a gazelle: unco-ordinated and gawky.
To illustrate her point, Lawrence sits up, stiffly starts swaying her hips and snapping her fingers. "I look like a dad at prom. I have no control over my limbs," she says, adding two-stepping with Cooper did help them bond. "The best way to get to know each other is to learn how to dance. We had hours and hours sweating and touching. It sounds like a weird thing to say, but when you can be physical and sweaty, by the time you start shooting you know someone."
Perhaps the highest compliment Cooper could pay Lawrence is this: "She doesn't seem like an actor. She's not narcissistic and it's not all about her. Even in the midst of promoting a movie, she's the same wherever she is, which is awesome. She makes you happy no matter what. She spreads happiness wherever she is. She's got her priorities. She gets it and knows what's important. You meet her parents and you know why right away. She keeps her family close to her."
Her Hunger Games co-star, Woody Harrelson, calls Lawrence, simply, "a hell of a gal. I think it has to do with the way a person was raised. She was raised well. Her folks are really cool. A lot of times when people lose their head when they get famous, it's because they're insecure. She's not insecure. You'd think arrogance comes from thinking too much of themselves. But it comes from thinking too little. She doesn't need to put on any airs. Her folks, her family, are all very important to her and she's always including them in her life. Her friends are really cool people. She's got her head screwed on pretty good."
Yet for all her fearlessness, Lawrence did exhibit some neuroses. One thing that amused Harrelson during the filming of the second Hunger Games instalment, Catching Fire: Lawrence's very vocal arachnophobia.
"We had this real-looking spider. Josh (Hutcherson) came up behind her with the spider. She started screaming at the top of her lungs. We were on a big stage and she ran out screaming," says Harrelson, still laughing about the incident. "She's the funniest woman I know. I'm in a perpetual state of laughter with her, which is a pretty good way to be on set."
That's by design. Lawrence says acting is her job, not her life. She's never taken drama classes and attributes many of her achievements to simple good fortune. And while she understands the fascination with what she does, she's quick to point out she's paid to say lines, not resuscitate ER patients or pull people from burning buildings.
"I'm still in touch with reality and I see this business for what it is, which is a playground. I'm playing. I work at imagining things. None of this is real. None of this actually matters. I don't have a sense of superiority. I feel lucky but I don't feel special. I don't think there's ever a moment where I feel like I deserve it," she says. "The celebrity and fame thing and the acting part of it are two separate things. The celebrity part of it is so predictable. I'm not wowed by it."
Russell doesn't think Lawrence will end up on the topical young Hollywood burnout track, a predictable atrophy fuelled by rehab stints, sex tapes and drunken escapades.
"She went from being this somewhat anonymous girl to becoming this -- it's still happening with a great deal of propulsion. It's interesting to see it happen in real time, to see her start to feel her own presence. She's handling it very well. She's very clear about what she likes. She loves her work and she loves her boyfriend and she loves her family. That keeps it simple for her," he says.
Does she know her own net worth? No, responds Lawrence.
"When you go from indies to franchises, the first offer you get, you tell your agent, 'Don't ask for more!... Ask for less. That's rude.' I'm not actually sure how much money I do have. When I start looking for houses, then I'll know," she says.
-- USA Today