February 18, 2011
Actress’ Kentucky upbringing lends authenticity to film
Jennifer Lawrence, nominated in the best actress category for her searing portrayal of an Ozarks teenager in “Winter’s Bone,” was indispensable to writer-director Debra Granik — and not just for her acting prowess.
Lawrence, 20, who was raised in Kentucky, played an important role in helping the New York Jewish director bridge the culture gap to bring the gritty Bible Belt tale to the screen.
During a break from filming her next role — as the mutant Mystique in the upcoming “X-Men: First Class” — Lawrence spoke about “Winter’s Bone” and of being a “breakout” star nominated for a 2011 Oscar opposite actresses such as Annette Bening and Natalie Portman.
Jewish Journal: Debra Granik told me she visited the Ozarks six times in order to get Ree’s world just right — and to not feel like such a stranger in a strange land. How did your own Southern background help with your understanding of the role?
Jennifer Lawrence: It helped immensely, because it wasn’t a world that was completely foreign to me, as it may be for a lot of people who have seen the movie. The location may be just hours away for some [viewers], but it’s looking at this world that people may have a hard time believing is real.
JJ: Your character is seen operating a wood chipper, and even shooting, skinning and cooking a squirrel.
JL: Again, being from Kentucky, I have an uncle who was able to teach me how to chop wood, and then my cousin cleaned out a .22-caliber rifle for me because he said anybody can spot a rookie right away, and I didn’t want that to be me. So I just carried around a cleaned-out gun and got really comfortable with it. And a hunter taught me how to skin a squirrel.
JJ: Granik told me that she doesn’t initially disclose that she is Jewish when on location, lest that affect how people might view her — and that was especially true of filming in the rural Missouri Bible Belt. She had some anxiety about that, even though it turned out that it was never an issue. Were you aware of her feelings during production?
JL: No, gosh, I didn’t know about that. It’s just one of those things that I would never in a million years think about. So sometimes you forget that other people might think about it.
JJ: I know a big concern of Debra’s was creating a world for Ree that was believable but not exploitative.
JL: Debra was so careful not to have anything in the film that wasn’t authentic; asking people, “Would you really say this? Would you really do that? What would you think about this kind of situation, and how would you handle it?” She asked a lot of questions of the real people who lived there, and that helped tremendously. Being in the local environment with plenty of local people around helped tremendously for me as well.
JJ: When you initially auditioned for the film, you were told you were too attractive for the role — but your tenacity won everyone over.
JL: I auditioned twice in L.A., and then they said I didn’t have the right look. But I just didn’t want to lose the role — I thought that was so unfair to lose a role like that. And I just kind of chased them; they went back to New York to continue auditions, and I followed them, flew out on a red eye, and then went into the audition the next day, like, “Surprise!”
JJ: Is it true you walked blocks in the snow before the audition to make yourself look more disheveled?
JL: I walked blocks in the snow just to get to the audition, not to make myself look more exhausted. You know, you can’t really change the way you look, so I don’t think I changed their opinion on the way I look. I think I just kind of convinced them it didn’t matter.
JJ: “Winter’s Bone” has been described as your “breakout role”; now you’re starring in a major studio picture and have been nominated for an Academy Award. How much do you credit Debra Granik for helping you advance to this place in your career?
JL: One hundred percent. Certain movies, [financiers] think are going to be so obviously successful, and other movies aren’t perceived that way, and it takes one or two filmmakers committing years of their lives to making that movie possible. So many people didn’t see the potential of “Winter’s Bone,” but Debra did, and I really credit her for that. O