The red carpet outside the iconic Arlington Theatre buzzed like a hot, electric field on the tenth of eleven nights of this year's Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Fans of all ages could hardly hold still with excitement at the chance to see their favorite movie star-- the talented, the beautiful, the up-and-coming Jennifer Lawrence. The anticipation in the air discharged like lightning as a black Escalade appeared and Lawrence stepped out. Lights, cameras, action, and hundreds of screaming fans greeted the young phenom who gladly signed autographs and posed for photos before entering the theater where she would accept the festival's award for Outstanding Performer of the Year. With past recipients like Colin Firth, Angelina Jolie, James Franco, and Kate Winslet, this award was designed to recognize an actor who, through an outstanding role, has achieved the best performance of the year. At only twenty-two years old, the actress has already made a mark in the film industry, having received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. Two years ago she was nominated for her powerful performance in Debra Granik's Winter's Bone and this year she received her second nomination and first SBIFF award for her dramatic performance in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook. Clearly this chick is good.
Moderator of the evening, Roger Durling, gave quite the introduction, calling Lawrence's character in Winter's Bone "one of the single most bad-ass female leads in history." He went on to compare Lawrence developing her Silver Linings Playbook character, Tiff, in a way similar to how Diane Keaton fleshed out Annie Hall in 1977. "Tiff is authentic, maddening, flawed, and totally new. She makes mistakes and makes peace with them." He also thundered that Lawrence is currently the highest-grossing action heroine, who has also proved she can master fierce, intense performances in dramas. She has made the jump from independent to mainstream cinema while holding onto her wits, skill and genuine substance. Finally, he praised Lawrence's rejection of a stereotypical Hollywood lifestyle ("think Lindsay Lohan") in favor of her own unpretentious lifestyle. "Calling her a star is an understatement and does her a disservice. She's a supernova… dancing to the beat of her own drum." Drum role, please, as our supernova enters the stage.
Just like that, she's under the lights, sitting in her chair, talking like any typical twenty-two year-old about finding her way along her career path. Lawrence claimed she's always been an actress, dressing up in costumes as a young girl and introducing herself as Lucille Ball. She was approached by modeling agencies while on spring break in New York City when she was just fourteen, which led her to meet with acting agencies. "Acting was the first time I was ever good at anything. It was the only thing I'd ever known, that I understood." Due to a lack of funds, she never took acting classes, nor participated in theater. She literally is a self-taught, naturally talented artist. Of this, she was humble, and at times, seemingly unaware.
In a very intriguing discussion of Lawrence's work habits, the actress divulged that she never prepares herself before filming. She doesn't read her lines in advance nor does she familiarize herself with shooting schedules. She described a night spent with a friend in which her friend asked her which scenes she was filming the next day. Lawrence shrugged and couldn't respond, prompting her to bring up this lack of preparation out loud; "maybe I should start doing that?" Her friend replied, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," and this has been Lawrence's modus operandi since. She also claimed to dislike preparing thoroughly for a performance because, "I don't like over-thinking it and feeling like I can't change it." She spoke highly of impromptu acting, asserting, "that's the only time I can really do it, or would want to do it." The moderator sat, dumbfounded, at the award winner's professed lack of preparation. Lawrence at last addressed her inborn talent, recognizing her gifts. "I can't write, I can't film, I can't photograph… everyone has different gifts… Fortunately mine's very lucrative."
Lawrence went on to describe what it is like working with such Hollywood stars as Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Jodi Foster, and David O. Russell. She stated positively that working with David O. Russell has been "to date, the best experience of my life," praising the director's strong ability to communicate clearly in all aspects of filmmaking. She also enjoyed working with Foster as a director who was a source of guidance. "She gave me hope. She showed me that I could do this and be a normal person. She's very free." Lawrence also admired Foster's directing practices, noting, "She doesn't tiptoe around actors like a lot of directors do." Lawrence compared acting to playing sports. "Just tell me what I'm doing wrong!" Sometimes bluntness is best. When asked what it would be like if Lawrence directed, she quickly expressed that she would love to direct someday and that, "it would be like Stepbrothers." The audience laughed and Durling looked curious. "Seriously, I saw that movie and was like, ‘why didn't I direct that?'" Perhaps we have a Lawrence-directed sequel to look forward to in the future.
As an actress who spends a great deal of time being the focal point on set, it is remarkable how uncomfortable Lawrence appeared as the center of attention on stage. She spoke quietly, and at times, not at all. On several occasions her only reply to the moderator's prompts was a soft smile that lingered across her face. On one occasion Lawrence literally choked on her words in an effort to respond. However, when she did converse, she was humorous and genuine, bringing the audience to laugh with her. She addressed her stage fright and relived how terrified she had been at events surrounding her first Academy Award nomination. She claimed to be just as nervous this time, but at least she knows she can get through it. "I'm honored but scared. I'm scared I'm going to live my whole life scared like a Chihuahua." The theater laughed as Lawrence continued to sweat. "I'm happy on set… I don't belong on stage. Put me on the red carpet or on stage and I turn into Chihuahua Jennifer."
This fear of attention can be epitomized by her remark that she almost turned down the leading role in Hunger Games (her big breakthrough into mainstream cinema) for fear of how her life would change. She knew that the film's success would raise her celebrity status to new heights and she didn't want this. Ultimately, ready or not, she did take the next step and, though she thought she would regret her decision, thankfully, she never has. She still feels awestruck about her new life. "It's been an overwhelming year, but in a wonderful way." She even laughed about how dazzled she felt pulling up to the Arlington and seeing her name on the marquee. "I took a picture of it. Hopefully no one ever sees that… I can live the dream for three hours and then I go home and it's over and I can go back to being normal." The actress again turned nervous before Durling soothed her saying, "It's okay to be told you're good and to own it." Words for what had been on fans' minds the whole night.
Silver Linings Playbook director, Russell, gave closing remarks and presented Lawrence with her award. A three-time Academy Award nominated director, Russell knows a talented actor when he sees one. He claimed that the understated way Lawrence talks about herself and her work reminds him of the way DeNiro speaks about himself. Russell continued to describe the way DeNiro favorably responded to Lawrence's first performance with him in the film, impersonating the high eyebrows, scrunched lips, and head nod that together create the infamous, pleased DeNiro face. More seriously, Russell touched on how talented Lawrence's acting truly is. As to her insecure attitude and seemingly obliviousness to just how good she is, he noted, "It's altogether fitting that you shouldn't be conscious of it. There's a firewall. That's how the alchemy happens. We can see it… It's a magical thing." With that, the talent, wonder, and mystique that lie within Lawrence came together. In the blink of an eye the actress accepted her award, hugged her director warmly, shouted "Thank you Santa Barbara!" and raced off stage in a flash. She's good; she just doesn't own it yet.