Who is Jennifer Lawrence now?


Visitors to the Greenwich Village gay bar Pieces can look forward to strong drinks and loud drag shows, but what they might not expect — what there simply isn’t a section for on Yelp — is the sight of Jennifer Lawrence, the most famous actress of her generation, tackling a friend to the ground after losing a very important game of musical shots. Oh, and the friend happens to be Adele.

For what it’s worth, Lawrence didn’t expect any of that to happen at Pieces, either. It all went down in March 2019, not long after she had begun dating her now-husband, the art dealer Cooke Maroney, and just a few months into Lawrence’s still-ongoing project of trying to move through the world like a normal human being again. At the white-hot height of her fame fronting the “Hunger Games” franchise, any night out in public would have required security guards, but Maroney often asked to meet Lawrence at dive bars, and she wasn’t about to spoil those places by showing up with two hulking bodyguards.

What she found, to her pleasant surprise, is that the world allowed her to re-enter it without being too weird. That was the lesson she tried to impart to Adele when the British singer texted Lawrence suggesting they go to a concert, the sort of place where they’d be ensconced in a VIP section away from the rowdy masses. Lawrence countered that she was already drinking at Pieces, where Adele should come meet her.

Adele texted back with one question: Are there people there?

Yes, Lawrence replied. There’s people everywhere. And that was kind of the point: To be in New York without ever finding yourself in a crowd wasn’t really like being in New York at all. And to make spontaneous plans to go drink somewhere unexpected — well, that was even better.

So Adele came. And sure, the two of them were recognised, and yes, people pulled out their phones to take pictures, but nobody was a jerk about it, the mood remained lively, and Adele even competed in an onstage drinking game (though her defeat caused the competitive Lawrence to bellow, “How could you lose?” and prompted that tackle). Then they sang karaoke, and Lawrence learned that casual pastime is a little more loaded when you’re doing it opposite one of the greatest singers on the planet.

But it was still a fabulous night spent on the other side of the velvet rope, the kind of thing that’s good for a superstar like Adele to experience now and then, and something Lawrence knows she needs plenty more of in order to continue being any good as a performer.

“I don’t know how I can act,” she said, “when I feel cut off from normal human interaction.”

Without that realization, it’s difficult to imagine Lawrence making a movie like Causeway, out on Apple TV+ this weekend, an intimate, understated drama in which she plays an injured military engineer who returns home to New Orleans for an uneasy convalescence. Causeway is the kind of human-sized indie the 32-year-old actress hasn’t really starred in since her 2010 breakthrough, “Winter’s Bone,” and it’s an effective reminder that when all the bells and whistles of big-budget Hollywood are stripped away, few people can forge as powerful a connection with the camera as Lawrence, who is readable even in repose.

“The line between her inner life and the lens is held so taut,” said Causeway director Lila Neugebauer.

In early October, when Lawrence met me for drinks at a bar in the West Village, she told me that some of her representatives had steered her away from smaller material like Causeway, warning that her audience wouldn’t understand. “I found out that a lot of filmmakers that I really loved and admired had scripts that weren’t even reaching me,” she said.

Eventually, Lawrence realized that too many people were involved in making the decisions that should have been hers alone, and in August 2018, as she wrapped reshoots for the X-Men film Dark Phoenix, she left CAA, the agency that represented her for 10 years.

“I had let myself be hijacked,” she said.

Lawrence has always had a gift for candor: Onscreen, she’ll show you things — and offscreen, tell you things — that other actresses, fortified by fame, tend to keep at a remove. Maybe she never had time to develop a protective shell. When “Winter’s Bone” was released, Lawrence was only 19; a year later, she was cast as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, and only two years after that, she won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook.

In an era when new movie stars have proven hard to come by, it’s no wonder that Hollywood grabbed onto Lawrence like a life preserver. Still, she could only remain buoyant for so long. In her mid-20s, as she finished up the Hunger Games franchise and moved on to films that were less warmly received, she could sense her fans’ dismay: “I was like, ‘Oh no, you guys are here because I’m here, and I’m here because you’re here. Wait, who decided that this was a good movie?’”

Was there a certain title that made her feel that way? “‘Passengers,’ I guess,” Lawrence said, singling out the lambasted 2016 sci-fi romance she starred in with Chris Pratt. “Adele told me not to do it! She was like, ‘I feel like space movies are the new vampire movies.’ I should have listened to her.”

Somewhere along the way, Lawrence’s career had become too manufactured, said Justine Ciarrocchi, a longtime friend who has since become Lawrence’s producing partner.

“Her default mode is gut over strategy,” Ciarrocchi said, “and when you reach a certain apex of success in Hollywood, the path can often become more about optics than intuition, which is totally antithetical to her natural way of moving.”

Jennifer Lawrence in London, Oct. 8, 2022. After a brief hiatus from acting, the Oscar-winning actress returns in the film “Causeway,” a departure from some of her previous big-budget work. (Robbie Lawrence/The New York Times)

But by that point, Lawrence had stopped listening to her gut and begun picking projects from a defensive crouch. “Everything was like a rebound effect,” she said. “I was reacting, rather than just acting.”

She followed the too-glossy Passengers with Darren Aronofsky’s ultra-harrowing Mother!, then made the sexy spy thriller Red Sparrow to prove she’d graduated from her young-adult roots. And though they produced diminishing returns, she kept starring in “X-Men” movies because hey, when you’re a movie star, aren’t you supposed to be making superhero sequels? Seemed like part of the deal.

But none of it was really clicking, and Lawrence could feel a backlash brewing: She had gotten way too big, and people were eager to bring her down a peg. Deep down, maybe she wanted to downsize, too. “I felt like more of a celebrity than an actor,” she said, “cut off from my creativity, my imagination.”

LAWRENCE HAS NOW spent more than half her life on TV and movie sets. “Jen’s been doing this since she was a teenager,” Neugebauer said. “You could blindfold her and she would find her mark.”

Lawrence considers the set to be a safe haven: “If you have a place to be every day, you probably won’t know that you’re suffering from anxiety and depression until it’s over.” Maybe that’s why she was so drawn to Lynsey, her character in Causeway, who returns from Afghanistan with a traumatic brain injury but still yearns to redeploy.

“I obviously cannot relate to risking my life for my country,” Lawrence said, “but I can understand, reading ‘Causeway,’ why I’m getting so emotional about somebody who doesn’t feel like they belong anywhere unless they’re on a schedule.”

Lawrence was moved to make the film her first producing effort, but in summer 2019, when she found herself on that New Orleans set playing Lynsey, she was surprised by just how exposed she felt. There was no accent to adopt, no fake nose to wear, not even studio highlights in her hair. It was just Lawrence standing in front of a patient camera, working through things that felt very mined from her life, and it reminded her of Winter’s Bone, when it was hard to differentiate between what was real and what wasn’t.

Lawrence has called Causeway her most difficult production, for a multitude of reasons: The already slim production schedule lost several days to heat waves, flash floods, lightning strikes and a full evacuation for Hurricane Barry. Since time was growing scarce and Lawrence had to leave at the end of the summer to get ready for her wedding to Maroney, everyone agreed to reconvene at a later date to finish filming. Then the new shoot, which was supposed to begin in March 2020, fell apart because of COVID.

“Twenty-four hours before I got on the plane, I got the call that it would not be happening,” Neugebauer said.

Best known for a theatrical directing career that included the recent Broadway revival of “The Waverly Gallery,” Neugebauer was making her feature directorial debut with “Causeway” and now she wondered if she might ever complete it. But there was an upside to the long, enforced hiatus: As Neugebauer edited the film, she became fascinated by the scenes that Lawrence’s Lynsey shared with James, a car mechanic played by Brian Tyree Henry who is wrestling with his own trauma. The chemistry between the two actors was so potent and compelling that it began to nudge its way more firmly toward the center of the film.

“Whenever I kept cutting away from their performances in the present tense, something was being lost,” said Neugebauer, who ultimately scrapped a series of Afghanistan-set flashbacks to devote more time to the present-day scenes with Lawrence and Henry. “You hear a lot about killing your darlings, and then you have to live it, and it’s painful. But the film was more concerned with showing how we grapple with trauma rather than the trauma itself.”

When the production reconvened in summer 2021, Lawrence and Henry worked closely with Neugebauer to craft fresh scenes and to vet every new line for honesty. That friendship became the beating heart of “Causeway,” and it’s hard to believe there was ever a version of the film without the seamlessly incorporated new footage, though Lawrence can spot the tells.

“I can detect it because I was pregnant,” said Lawrence, who gave birth to her son, Cy, in February. “I found out in New Orleans, and I can see it: I’m like, ‘Oh my God, my nipples are hard. My face is fuller than it already is.’”

When she first began Causeway in 2019, Lawrence was preparing to marry Maroney, but she could still relate to Lynsey’s fear of committing to anything or anyone. “When you don’t fully know yourself, you have no idea where to put yourself,” she said. “And then I met my husband, and he was like, ‘Put yourself here.’ I was like, ‘That feels right, but what if it’s not?’”

In retrospect, Lawrence realized she was having commitment anxiety, “and it was coming out of my performance in all these different creative ways, but I wasn’t conscious of it. Then I went back, and when I’m home with my husband making this family, I’m so happy I stayed. I’m so happy I didn’t freak out and cancel the wedding and run away and go, ‘I’ll never be taken down!’”

She felt the same way about committing to Causeway, and Neugebauer noted that plenty of people could have bailed during the protracted hiatus. Instead, they saw it through, and Causeway debuted to warm reviews during its September premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, a development that still throws Lawrence for a loop.

“I read one bad review when the movie came out that was like, ‘It all just seemed a little bit too easy,’ and that made me laugh,” she said. “Of all the bad reviews, I’m glad I read that one, because that one does not stick.”

You get the sense Lawrence is eager to fast-forward past her ingénue period. “Let’s be real, I’m only getting closer to 40,” she said, insisting that the pressure she used to feel “just doesn’t exist for an actress in her 30s.” She has spent fall shooting the comedy “No Hard Feelings,” which romantically pairs her with the young actor Andrew Barth Feldman, “and working with a 20-year-old is so depressing,” Lawrence said. “I’m like, ‘Well, when YouTube was first invented, you were born.’”

“No Hard Feelings” will be the second produced film from Lawrence and Ciarrocchi — “I just want to laugh for two hours and forget about the fact that America is slipping into autocracy,” Lawrence said — but plenty more are planned. She’s particularly excited about “Die, My Love,” an adaptation of the Ariana Harwicz novel that will be directed by Lynne Ramsay, and a biopic of the powerhouse Hollywood agent Sue Mengers, both of which she’ll star in.

She explained that the name of her production company, Excellent Cadaver, is from an old Sicilian phrase for a hit on a major celebrity. But does Lawrence feel like the target on her back has grown smaller over the last few years?

Yes, she said, now that she’s several years removed from The Hunger Games: “I’m not scared of 13-year-olds anymore. They have no idea who I am.” Her night out with Adele and her unbothered happy hour with me offered further proof of the change. “I can tell things are different by my interactions in the real world, just by the way that I can move about life,” she said. “There’s an occasional article about me walking out in Ugg boots, but other than that, the interest has lessened, God bless it.”

So who is Jennifer Lawrence, now that she’s done with all of her franchise commitments and can move around relatively unfettered? She told me that before she had signed on to The Hunger Games and had to radically re-envision her future, she pictured a life in which she’d work a lot and have a family but fly just enough under the radar to live normally.

“And now, full circle, I’m kind of getting the life that I imagined,” she said. At least she’s got that, even if tomorrow, the whole damn world could go to Pieces.

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