Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I've been having a staring contest with Jennifer Lawrence since last Friday.
That's when this issue of Entertainment Weekly arrived in my mail. It's been lying on the coffee table since, and it -- or more appropriately, she -- keeps catching my eye. And then it's an epic stare down.
Not really, but can't you tell this woman means business? In fact, she alone may be responsible for my sudden interest in The Hunger Games, a movie franchise I was ready to write off as another Twilight (partially because EW hyped it that way) until learning more about it recently -- learning that although it may involve teenagers, it's not a sodden romance meant to make 12-year-old girls swoon, and learning that some people whose tastes I respect have read the books and loved them. The first Hunger Games movie is due out next March.
I've had a developing fascination with Jennifer Lawrence over the four-and-a-half months since I first saw her in Winter's Bone. At first I was merely impressed by her acting, which carries an actor-heavy movie and doesn't for a moment seem false. Then, seeing her get cleaned up for awards shows, I was amazed at how she was able to disguise her natural radiance in Winter's Bone. I mean, hubba hubba. I'd thought she was an indie actress, someone with an unconventional beauty like Melissa Leo -- if you even want to call Melissa Leo beautiful. But no, she was a genuine looker, and had completely sublimated that part of her in order to play Ree in Winter's Bone. (The fact that the character never has anything to smile about might be partly responsible for that sublimation.)
My fascination kicked up a notch when I learned that she'd be playing the young Mystique in X-Men: First Class. Given that I already considered her something of a chameleon, just from the difference in her appearance between Winter's Bone and real life, the role of a shape shifter seemed to suit her perfectly. At about the same time last week, I saw the first pictures of her as Katniss Everdeen (the main character in The Hunger Games), a role for which she's dying her hair brown, and learned that she also plays a cheerleader in The Beaver, which I've been meaning to see. That's five roles (if you consider her real life to be a "role") in which she is completely different in each role.
It's so rare these days to find an actor -- especially a young actor -- who is capable of reinventing him or herself in every single role. Even most actors we consider to be really good don't necessarily have a huge amount of range. Just pulling out a random example, consider someone like Anthony Hopkins. Most people would say that he turns in award-worthy work in almost every film -- or at least he used to, before he was making the likes of Thor and The Rite. But even in his glory days, was Hopkins really demonstrating "range"? Or was every character he played some version of Sir Anthony Hopkins?
I realize this is sort of an unfair argument. Few successful actors are truly chameleons, because they get cast precisely for a trait they've displayed that makes them right for a certain role. And with Hopkins in particular, no, Hannibal Lecter is probably not a lot like Richard Nixon (though we Democrats might assert a similarity between them).
But there are two other names I always think of in this discussion, of actors most people like despite the fact that their range is minimal. I'm thinking of George Clooney, who's won an Oscar, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who's been nominated. Both of these guys are good basically every time out, but are they really different from movie to movie? Aren't they always some version, a very close version, of George or Jake?
I'm getting a little off track here, so let's return to the woman of the hour, Jennifer Lawrence. I'm concentrating on four films here, only two of which have actually been released, and only one of which I've seen. It's a bit premature to be discussing her range, especially praising her abilities respective to some of the indisputable titans of the industry.
But let's just say she's got my attention, and there's something about her presence that has me interested to see whatever she's going to do next. Lest you think I'm merely fascinated with her because she's pretty, please consider that I was raving about her after seeing her as an Ozarks redneck -- when I didn't even know whether she was attractive or not.
And something about those eyes -- this girl is intense. She'll stare you down. She'll make you take notice.
I might have to flip my Entertainment Weekly upside down before she starts making me feel uncomfortable.