When newly minted Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence tripped on the steps up to the Dolby Theatre stage on Sunday, you could hear the rumble in the tabloid Twitter-verse as Hollywood followers raced to call out the gaffe and smear Lawrence’s embarrassment all over the Internet.
To casual Oscar viewers and those whose attention to celebrity lasts as long as it takes for them to check out at the grocery store, Lawrence’s slip appears as a comical blow to her celebrity persona, but if you follow Lawrence and you’re a big fan of the rapidly blossoming 22-year-old starlet, you might actually wonder if it wasn’t a brilliantly calculated publicity move.
As a society we have a tendency to fixate on moments when our celebrities suffer something deglamorizing, when their waxed-on, photoshopped sheen receives a fat old smudge. We love any opportunity that reveals to us that they’re only human after all. Lawrence’s public persona, however, is not a pristine diamond necklace, but one strung with these kinds of grounding and often hilarious moments.
As 2012’s Best Actress, Lawrence has fully strode into the limelight these past few days, and as more people learn who she is when she’s not Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” films, the more Facebook and Twitter light up with pleas that Lawrence become their new best friend. Everyone would love to pal around with a celeb, but it seems people are unusually confident Lawrence could actually be their bestie.
Lawrence probably has the best friend thing covered — if you want to be BFF with Katniss Everdeen, best step in line — but that sentiment of “I really want to hang out with this girl!” that arises the more you watch her in interviews and talk show appearances is interesting because it’s not a common reaction to a celebrity.
For as much as we love to watch celebrities get flung down to earth, we also take a certain and maybe even greater pleasure in hating them, in pointing out flaws in their demeanor and actions, and judging them. The blogosphere is eating up everything Lawrence spits out, but on the other hand, you have her fellow Oscar winner and equal (if not superior) as far as talent, Anne Hathaway. Hathaway receives more ire from the Web than has ever been directed at any one human being before, enough so that “Hathahate” is a real word.
So what makes Lawrence’s sarcasm cute and not impolite, her self-deprecating humor hilarious as opposed to obnoxious?
A lot of it comes down to the science of body language and the way we interpret how she carries herself and says what she says, but her approach to fame has distinct characteristics suggesting that as much as she comes across so completely natural, she’s following a certain planned-out roadmap to the life of a hot young actress.
For one, Lawrence has stayed out of trouble and tabloid headlines. She had a romance with fellow “X-Men: First Class” castmate and current “Jack the Giant Slayer” star Nicholas Hoult for a couple years, but considering how little-known both were at that point, she managed to keep it mostly private. Compare her to fellow teen-movie-based-on-a-YA-novel superstar Kristen Stewart of “Twilight” and it’s night and day. Stewart’s personal life has been nothing but scandal and her body language is among the worst of any celebrity Hollywood’s ever seen. She looks like she never gives a crap and doesn’t want to be there, always appears uncomfortable during interviews and sends out a vibe that says she’s misunderstood but don’t ask her to clarify it. Lawrence, however, always appears poised and confident in who she is and never seems as though she has anything to hide.
If there’s a strategy at play, it’s that Lawrence wants to be seen as the celebrity who doesn’t think of herself as a celebrity. As an Oscar nominee at 20 years old, the media has approached her as this girl shot to fame and she’s played the part. She likes to tell stories and jokes so she comes off as this completely average person, someone impossibly chosen and given a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”-like privilege to dwell amongst the famous.
After the 2011 Golden Globes, she appeared on Jimmy Kimmel, who asked her about everyone she met, and she gushed over seeing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie among others.
The way she recounts this star-shocked experience makes her incredibly relatable. We imagine how we would be sitting at a table with Tilda Swinton and thinking and saying the same things. She treats the notion of celebrity just as we do, and it really humanizes her. You could almost ask yourself, “why are they interviewing this random 22-year-old on TV?” and forget she’s a two-time Oscar nominee and the face of what will be come a billion-dollar franchise.
I’m going to risk sounding shallow here, but a chunk of it also has to do with Lawrence’s looks. She’s not a “perfect specimen” as far as we’re used to seeing in Hollywood. She’s extremely attractive and a bonafide hottie (just do a Google image search for “Jennifer Lawrence in House at the End of the Street”), but she’s not what you’d consider typical Hollywood beauty, that ideal look. Truth is, it impacts how we perceive her.
That’s part of Hathaway’s problem — she’s perceived as a perfectionist and the more perfect we think a celebrity is (or the more we think they think that about themselves), the more inclined we are to hate them, partly because we want our stars to be humble, and partly because of some subconscious jealousy. Lawrence is beautiful, but her looks aren’t intimidating, and her goofy personality is perfectly paired with her appearance. She’s gorgeous, she’s a strong female figure and role model and she acts like us.
YouTube is loaded with clips highlighting the funniest Jennifer Lawrence moments, but they’ll all need to edit in this interview post-Oscars with George Stephanopoulos when she gets snuck up on by Jack Nicholson, whom she’s never met before. It’s the perfect example of her reaction to celebrity, her sarcasm and her overall sense of humor.
I want to be her best friend after watching that. Could be totally platonic too. I wouldn’t even need to visit her on days when she’s filming the rest of the “The Hunger Games” movies. No perks necessary.
Yet what takes it from a “I love her” impulse to the next “Let’s get brunch and go shoe shopping” level has to be her honesty and frankness. Sure, she could be lying about everything she says or exaggerating her feelings, but she delivers these comments with authenticity. Authenticity has nothing to do with what you say or do, and everything to do with how you say or do it and more importantly, how the public interprets it.
In a more recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, he asks about how she’s feeling and she talks about doing shots in the green room backstage followed by her concerns about the unevenness of her breasts.
Doesn’t it always feel like actors are hiding part of themselves in public? Lawrence lets it all out, and she really goes out of her way to do it. Perhaps she feels most comfortable when she’s taking digs at herself or sharing embarrassing stories. She definitely wants to take the focus away from her celebrity and prefers discussion topics and anecdotes that at best mildly connect with her work as an actor. She never discusses her work in some intellectual, abstract or esoteric way. Not that she’s incapable, but she never steers the conversation in that direction, preferring to joke with the people interviewing her and at times dominating the conversation rather than allowing for the typical back-and-forth, Q&A style of an interview.
She has a lot of fun with Ellen DeGeneres on”Ellen,” where she talks about a number of things including her cat that she thought was a boy for the longest time and an experience she had swimming with sharks and giant grouper.
Ellen is second only to Oprah at bringing out the most sincere version of her interviewees due to the respect she commands, but no effort is required to elicit that from Lawrence.
But will it all last? Lawrence is still a newbie to the Hollywood ringer, and life in L.A. is bound to jade her the more she hangs around. She has press to do for three more “Hunger Games” films that will keep her popular until 2016 at least, and she’s got plenty of other projects in the works too. Keeping the same charm once she becomes “part of the club” will likely be a challenge. How long can a star play the card of the bright-eyed girl seeing her name in lights for the first time and meeting the best actors in the business? She’ll certainly have to adjust if she wants to keep the best friend waitlist going.
With her star elevated with this Oscar win, Lawrence will also find it harder to lay low. The Internet has explicitly expressed its J-Law love, which means the demand for content about her goes up, which means more reporters and paparazzi tailing her on a regular basis. If she starts fielding more questions about her personal life and decides to conceal more from the public, it will undoubtedly impact her image as someone so open and sincere.
No one can deny that Lawrence has a long career ahead of her. She will be someone to watch not just in the movies she makes, but in the way she deals with celebrity and fame. Even 10 years from now she’ll only be 32 and entering her acting prime to be sure. There’s no question at some point she will be the Hollywood vet that causes some young actress to lose control over her tongue. How she carries herself and her journey as a celebrity being a star born in the throes of online entertainment journalism and social media will make her an interesting study for years to come.