The Verge: Jennifer Lawrence

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If I were a betting man, I might put a little cash down on Jennifer Lawrence, who's hotly tipped to take home a special acting prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival for her work in Debra Granik's Ozark drama Winter's Bone. The 19-year-old Lawrence has put in good work before in little-seen films like The Burning Plain and The Poker House, but Winter's Bone immediately announces her as a major new actress. As Ree, who struggles to provide for her brother and sister while investigating her father's disappearance, the magnetically somnambulant actress suggests Scarlett Johansson gone hillbilly.

Ree may be quiet, dirty and opaque, but in real life, Lawrence is an energetic stunner. Movieline sat down with her shortly after Winter's Bone premiered at the festival.

Now, how did this role get on your radar?

My agent Tracy called and she said, "I found it." I thought I left an earring at her house or something -- "You found what?" [And she said] "This is the one. I found the most amazing script with the most amazing role. Please don't mess this up." [Laughs] No pressure! And then I read it and felt the same way. I fell in love with it and I couldn't audition for it fast enough.

Was it the sort of part you'd been looking for?

I knew that it had to be me. I know that sounds so cocky, but roles are so much like soulmates. I'm not at the place where I can pick and choose -- I audition for the comedies, Disney and everything -- but it was Ree that chose me. The Burning Plain, The Poker House, those dark roles...it's the same kind of thing, that I was made for this role and I'm not going to let anyone else do it. I flew to New York and basically forced Debra to hire me.

What did you have to do?

You don't want to know. [Laughs] It was kind of an uphill battle. The first time I auditioned for it, they didn't want me because they said I looked too pretty. Which -- I can deal with that! If I don't get a role, that's a good reason. And then when I went to New York [for the next audition], I said, "I'm gonna do a red eye, I'm not gonna shower, I'm not gonna get any sleep, so if they say I'm too pretty this time..." And they didn't. They said, "She's fine. She's OK." [Laughs] It was the only thing that really stood in my way, and a red eye and a shower will take care of that.

You grew up in Kentucky, and while that's hardly the Ozarks, is there anything from your background you could draw on?

Yes, everything. The accent, the guns, the wood chopping -- not the gutting of the squirrel...

Well, you did it very convincingly on-screen!

Yeah, that I didn't do too much of. I had to learn how to chop wood actually -- I don't think my dad would have let me go chop wood in the backyard that growing up. I learned a lot about guns. My cousin cleaned out a shotgun for me and let me carry it around the house, because he said, "Anybody who knows anything about guns is going to know in a second if someone has held a gun before." I didn't want to be that person [who was unconvincing]. I wanted to be practiced.

Debra's only made two films, but they both have knockout female performances at their center. What tools does she use to help you as an actress?

Whips. She beats us. [Laughs] At the very beginning, to be honest...you know the people who are so smart, they're like the people who write instruction manuals for how to do things? I was like, "I don't understand this! You're too smart for me!" I would hear her talk and I was like, "Gosh, she needs to talk more in layman's terms." And then I realized, "No, I need to start listening so we can actually be on the same page. What she's saying is what I need to be listening to." The direction she would give, once I got over my own stubbornness, I realized how genius she is in every single thing she has to say.

This woman lives in New York, but she dedicated everything to staying with this [Ozark] family and asking them, "How do you do this? How do you do that?" She wouldn't put anything on camera without it being authentic. The directions she gave are the important things that people don't think about, like, "What do you think this other character thinks of you? What are you thinking about in this scene?" Questions, really. God, she's just so genius. She could make a monkey win an Oscar, probably, which doesn't say much for me. [Laughs]

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