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Appetite for destruction

(Agencies) / 24 March 2012

At 21, the actress is already a role model for young women

Jennifer Lawrence earned an Oscar nomination for playing a tough young woman in a gritty drug drama, but as she becomes a role model to young girls in her latest film The Hunger Games, the actress wants to clean up her act.                 

Lawrence, 21, is no stranger to Hollywood after being thrust into the spotlight with a breakout performance in 2010 indie hit Winter’s Bone, which yielded the young star rave reviews and an Oscar nod for best actress.          

She went on to play Mystique in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, expanding her fan base into a mainstream comic book film, and her latest role as Katniss Everdeen, the lead in The Hunger Games, will likely send her fame skyrocketing even more.          

“I’m now a role model for young girls, so my language has to change a lot,” Lawrence joked with reporters recently.           

“I know that would change a lot of decisions work-wise personally ... as far as my next roles, because there would be young girls watching what I’m doing and emulating.”      

The Hunger Games, based on the first book of a best-selling science-fiction series from author Suzanne Collins, sees 24 children sent to fight to the death in an annual televised event watched by the nation of Panem, a futuristic America. 

When Katniss’ younger sister is picked to participate, which would lead to certain death, Katniss volunteers in her place, thus beginning a series of events in which she rebels against Panem officials and becomes a beacon of hope for the oppressed.   

Coming to the role of lead heroine Katniss Everdeen as a fan of the books herself, Lawrence knew her performance would be scrutinised, and her challenge was finding a fine balance in making the role her own while staying true to Collins’ creation.    

“I wish that I was much more like (Katniss) than I actually am. I think the hardest part about her was that in the books, she doesn’t know how to get people to like her ... at the same time, you don’t want to watch somebody for two hours that you don’t like,” explained Lawrence.          

WINNING THE “GAMES”          The decision to cast Lawrence as Katniss came as an easy one for director Gary Ross, who drew parallels between the young actress and the 16-year-old book and movie heroine.       

“She’s brave, strong, self-confident, she knows who she is ... she’s very clear, there isn’t a great filter. Jen will kind of say anything, all of which can describe Katniss,” said Ross, who called Lawrence’s talent “unique in her generation.”      

The Hunger Games sees Lawrence put in several different situations as Katniss. She grows up in the desolate woodlands around her home, travels to the excessively opulent capital of Panem, and fights for survival in the Games arena.      

To get into the physical shape of Katniss, who has spent her life hunting with a bow and arrow in the wilderness, Lawrence began free-running, combat training, climbing, doing yoga and most importantly, archery.    

“It was exhausting, especially toward the end when we had six-day weeks for a month ... the adrenaline is real, the screaming I volunteer in fighting. Afterward, your heart’s still pumping,” said the actress.           

Lawrence found herself developing different relationships for her character Katniss, including her friendship with Liam Hemsworth’s Gale, romance with Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta and finding a mentor figure in Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch, which she found particularly interesting.           

“(Katniss) was always very hard on Haymitch and making fun of him but I love Woody so much that it almost didn’t come across that way, and there were some scenes where we ended up finishing each other’s sentences and laughing together, so she kind of softens Haymitch a little sooner,” said the actress.            

Lawrence’s co-stars shared anecdotes of the actress’ quirky humour off-screen and her captivating on-screen talent.         

“She’s extremely funny, not what you’d exactly expect when you think about an Academy Award-nominated actress. She just says whatever pops into her mind, and you’ve got to ... be ready to field whatever she throws at you next,” said Hutcherson.

For Lawrence, fame has brought the responsibility of being a role model, and it has also come with perks. The young actress said she finally realised she had made it when a roller coaster in Mexico was turned on just for her at an amusement park.   

“Walking down the red carpet at the Oscars was incredible and unbelievable, but it wasn’t until I was sitting on a Batman roller coaster at Six Flags ... that I realised I really have a blessed life,” she said.

Team player

Move over Edward Cullen and Jacob Black, there’s a new love triangle causing spirited debate and girls to swoon.

In The Hunger Games, fans tend to have a strong opinion about whether the story’s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, should be paired with her best friend Gale Hawthorne or her fellow Games contender, Peeta Mellark.

In real life, 19-year-old Josh Hutcherson, who plays Mellark, isn’t picking sides.

Instead, he joked he’s backing a romance between Katniss, portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, and her often-inebriated Hunger Games mentor, Haymitch, played by Woody Harrelson.

“Team Haymitch ...yeah, he’s the man,” Hutcherson said, laughing.

“Woody (Harrelson) just knocks it out of the park (in the movie) so ... Haymitch should win the heart of Katniss. Weirder things have happened.”

To prepare for his role, Hutcherson had to bulk up. He stepped up his workouts and changed his diet. He said the training wasn’t a problem, but the eating wasn’t very enjoyable.

“A lot more heavy lifting and a lot more like eating high-protein stuff, like very low carbs, which is not very fun. I like eating carbs much more than I like eating protein things,” he said.

Hutcherson said it’s a “big relief” to have the film come out.

“We can finally give people what they’ve been wanting for a long time,” he said, “and for me, you know, it’s very satisfying. I’m very proud.”

Hunger Games should satisfy fans

Fans of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trio of novels should be thoroughly satisfied with the faithfulness of Gary Ross’ film The Hunger Games, with its propulsive nature and vivid imagery: a mix of decadent costumes and architecture and harsh, unforgiving exteriors. At its centre is Jennifer Lawrence, an ideal choice to play this strong, independent young woman. There’s a youthful energy and even a vulnerability that make her relatable to the core, target audience of female fans. Lawrence is endlessly watchable, and she better be, since she’s in nearly every single shot of Ross’ film.

Ross may seem an unlikely choice to direct a movie about a futuristic, fascist world in which teenagers must fight each other to the death in an exploitative display of national loyalty and pride. He is, after all, the man behind such films as Dave, Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. The methodology of The Hunger Games may be more complicated but its darkly satirical message is unmistakable.

The script adheres rather closely to Collins’ novel — no surprise there since she co-wrote it with Ross and Billy Ray — although it does truncate some of the subplots that give the book its greatest emotional heft as well as soften the brutal violence of the games themselves, ostensibly in the name of securing a PG-13 rating.

A post-apocalyptic version of North America has been divided into 12 districts. Every year, a teenage boy and girl from each are selected randomly at the “Reaping” and sent to the opulent, art deco Capitol, where they’re made over, trained and primed to fight each other until one is left standing in the sprawling arena. Gamesmakers manipulate their surroundings, Truman Show-style; Wes Bentley, sporting fiendish facial hair, functions as a sadistic version of Christof in a control room on high.

Every minute of competition is breathlessly broadcast to the nation, with viewers rooting for and betting on their favourites. Even the programme’s host (Stanley Tucci in an upswept blue ‘do) has a huge personality but isn’t so outlandish that you couldn’t image him as the face of some top-rated primetime game show.

Katniss lives with her widowed mother and beloved younger sister, Prim, in the distant District 12, known for its poverty and mining. An expert hunter with a bow and arrow, she spends her days seeking food for her family in the forest with her best friend, the hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Some of the strongest moments in the film are not the big action sequences, where the effects tend to look a bit cheesy, but rather the quieter exchanges like the ones Lawrence and Hemsworth effortlessly share.

But when Prim’s name is called at the Reaping, Katniss springs into action to volunteer instead. Katniss’ male counterpart is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the baker’s sweet but bland son. Together they’re to receive mentoring from the frequently inebriated Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), the last winner from District 12. Elizabeth Banks is nearly unrecognisable as Effie, their garish, perky escort. They also undergo mandated makeovers from their stylist, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz in an inspired bit of casting).

There’s never any question as to whether Katniss will win — there are two more books waiting to be made into movies after this one — so the challenge comes from maintaining a sense of tension and immersion in this dystopian world as competitors drop off one by one, which Ross and Co. achieve. The Hunger Games is the rare film that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It could keep running as long as Katniss does, and we’d want to be right there every heart-pounding step of the way.


·         Movie: The Hunger Games
·         Director: Gary Ross
·         Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz
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