Jennifer Lawrence will absolutely crush you in an Instagram animal-off.
“I already have you beat because I have a (expletive) deer licking a kitten and I have a (expletive) wallaby eating some chips,” says Lawrence, 27, grabbing her phone at a corner table at the Beverly Hills Hotel after a mention is made of being attached to a certain baby hippo named Fiona.
There are zero cuddly moments in Red Sparrow, Lawrence’s new psychological thriller (in theaters Friday), in which she plays Dominka Egorova, a Bolshoi ballerina-turned-spy who is trained to seduce and ensnare her targets. The film is based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, a former CIA agent who wrote of a real Russian program called Sparrow School.
The film marks a major shift for Lawrence, who has spent years taking on emotionally dense, mature roles — think American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, the latter of which won her an Oscar — while steadfastly avoiding jobs that rely on sexuality and nudity.
The closest she’d come, she says, is during a moment from her last movie, mother!, in which her sweater is ripped by rabid fans who descend upon her home with Javier Bardem, representing the destruction of Mother Earth.
“(Director) Darren (Aronofsky) showed me the footage,” which revealed her bra underneath. “I’m like, ‘Well, that’s not violating enough,’ so I took my bra off. So that was kind of a moment for me, I was like, ‘My boob’s out! My boob’s out, I’m on set!’ But up until that point I had never really done anything that sexual.”
Francis Lawrence, who directed three of the dystopian films that launched Lawrence to international stardom, says he began to broach the idea of Red Sparrow during their last Hunger Games promotional tour in 2015.
“I remembered conversations we had when she was 21 or 22 making Hunger Games, when she said she wasn’t really interested in making movies with nudity or any sort of overt sexuality,” he says. “So as I was developing it and it was obviously clearly going to be a big part of this, I was very nervous that she wasn’t going to want to do it.”
They talked openly about it, and when the script was ready, so was Lawrence.
“Obviously, it’s very sexy, and I wasn’t quite sure yet where my head was on that, so I just wanted to talk about it (with Francis Lawrence),” she says. “We both knew I was going to have to decide to do the scenes as they’re written or another actress should do the role. And here I am. I’m still alive.”
The director showed his star the final cut of Red Sparrow before anyone, including producers and the studio, “so she had the right to yank anything out that she didn’t want to (show). … She never did it, but I gave her that option.”
Red Sparrow arrives in the middle of an intensifying Me Too movement, with conversations growing nationwide about consent. “It used to be normal if a man who was in a position of power (over) me, an executive, could put his hand on my leg. And now I feel like they won’t be doing that to young people,” Lawrence
She still has no idea why disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein, who produced Silver Linings, left her alone.
“You look at these women whose careers have been absolutely dismantled by Harvey Weinstein, because he picked them as they were coming up, before they were huge. And then he would spread rumors through the studios that they were crazy, and they wouldn’t get hired and their careers were being ruined and they had no idea why. I don’t know why them and not me. I don’t have, like, a predatory mind, so I don’t know what those (kind of men) are looking for.”
She’s clearly thinking: How would someone outside this life handle that? Lawrence sips her tea. “I just had to carve out a life that was better for me, with less anxiety.”
But trusting is tricky. The night before, Lawrence was at Ellen DeGeneres’ birthday party, cutting loose in a room of fellow A-listers. Unbeknownst to her, candid photos of Lawrence inside the bash appeared in a tabloid the next day.
Recently, Joel Edgerton, who plays the FBI agent seduced by Dominika, watched with annoyance when Lawrence was forced to explain she chose not to wear a coat over her Versace dress during a brief photo shoot with the cast last week in London.
“Does everything she says or does have to be turned into some kind of controversy?” he asks. “I think it would be a shame if Jen started to build a wall or put filters up. That’s just one part of her nature and her spirit that I think everybody loves. Now, it’s sort of mutated at times into the thing that people like to criticize, and I think they should all just shut up.”
Part of what’s grounding Lawrence right now, she says, is political action. She was “losing her mind” during the last presidential election. President Trump, she says, reminds her of men she encountered Hollywood. “I was just kind of flailing because I just know that guy. I’ve seen that guy a million times. … I’ve met the dude that’s going to point at you and be like, ‘I’m going to make you rich.’ And he’s lying.”
Now, instead of making another movie in 2018, the actress is spending the rest of the year traveling the country trying to get young people engaged with the non-partisan anti-political corruption group Represent.Us.
“What I’m trying to do and (the group’s) entire mission is bringing both sides of the aisle together on things we agree on,” she says. “We agree that corruption should not be legal in America. I think we agree on gerrymandering, I hope. It’s not a partisan thing.”
Pretty normal, right?
And then she gets a text from Jennifer Aniston. “Look how normal I am,” she grins.