Jennifer Lawrence: the making of an "It" actress

Wed Jan 19, 2011 7:28pm EST
 
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By Jay A. Fernandez

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Jennifer Lawrence cried when "Winter's Bone" was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival a year ago.

The picture, set in the Ozark Mountains, might have been tiny, but the actress had recognized that the part of Ree Dolly -- a teen struggling to hold her family together and keep their home -- was a gritty role. So she pursued it with unabashed commitment, even taking a spontaneous red-eye flight to New York to press the producers for the part. At the time, her highest-profile role had been in Guillermo Arriaga's stark low-budget drama "The Burning Plain," for which she scored an award at the 2008 Venice Film Festival.

Lawrence expected maybe a dozen people would see "Bone," so its selection by Sundance was a splendid bonus for the cast, crew and co-writer/director Debra Granik. It was only a few days after its first screening that she realized that perhaps she had underestimated its impact.

"I got recognized on the street, and someone said, 'I loved Winter's Bone,'" the 20-year-old actress recalls. "And I was like, 'You saw Winter's Bone?'"

By now, Lawrence no longer is asking that question. The winner of the Dramatic Grand Jury prize at Sundance, "Bone" became a genuine indie hit after Roadside Attractions released it in June, grossing more than $6 million domestically. Lawrence herself was propelled into the awards melee: She will vie for the best female lead at February's Spirit Awards, and has a good shot at nailing an Oscar nomination when the field is unveiled on Tuesday (right in the middle of Sundance, where her new film, "Like Crazy," is set to debut).

Lawrence had been working the audition rounds for several years -- failing to win roles like Bella Swan in "Twilight" while slowly building a resume in indie film -- but that all changed once she was hailed as the latest Sundance breakthrough. Money may be the blood that pumps through Hollywood's veins, but it's that sudden sense of discovery that nurtures its battered soul. Indie film history -- and the Sundance Film Festival in particular -- is rife with actors who "popped" out of nowhere with standout roles.

Lawrence's name is now part of an impressive honor roll that Sundance has nurtured: Carey Mulligan in "An Education" in 2009 and Melissa Leo in "Frozen River" the year before; Amy Adams in "Junebug" in 2005; Ryan Gosling in "The Believer" in 2001 and again with "Half Nelson" in 2006; Aaron Eckhart in the 1997 drama "In the Company of Men." The enthusiastic chatter in Park City propelled all the actors forward with sudden momentum and an irrefutable credibility.

"It's always interesting when somebody who ends up being a genuine high-wattage talent emerges from those smaller movies," says writer-director Karyn Kusama, whose prize-winning film "Girlfight" introduced Michelle Rodriguez at Sundance in 2000. "The independent movies are generally more character-driven. So actors who are new to us, we get to see them really sink their teeth into something more than we would if it was a studio romantic comedy."   Continued...