Everyone loves a sleeper hit, especially the indie-scene. After snagging the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, Debra Granik’s adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel, Winter’s Bone, has swept the critical world by storm. Picked up by Roadside Attractions for a June 11 release, the film has swiftly generated early award-season buzz and thrust Jennifer Lawrence into sudden industry prominence. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Ms. Lawrence along with her co-star and off-screen close friend, Lauren Sweetser.
Check out their commentary on film below…
Both of you come from southern backgrounds. Was the Ozark lifestyle one you were familiar with?
Jennifer Lawrence: I was surprised. I’ve seen poverty, we all have. But I simply view the Ozarks as a lifestyle that is different from mine. I don’t feel sorry for them, I don’t feel sympathetic – this is their life. These are their families that are just different from ours. I was asked in an interview why Ree didn’t leave the Ozarks, and to be honest, I thought (and said) why would she? This is her home and this is her family, moving to a big city isn’t always the happy ending for everybody. Yes, we feel sorry that they live without nice cars and homes, but they get to have dinner with their families every single night. They maintain a fierce sense of loyalty that few people can understand. Again, it’s not worse, it’s not better. It’s different.
Lauren Sweetser: I’m definitely familiar with many aspects of the Ozark lifestyle because I grew up in the area. Still, there are many things I wasn’t so familiar with. Such as methamphetamine and excessive drug abuse. I was aware of the issues in that area, but have obviously not been personally involved. No general knowledge of the lifestyle could’ve prepared me for the reality of facing it for a month. We shot in the local homes, with the local families. We were totally immersed in this world.
Jennifer, what about Debra’s adaptation and Ree’s character specifically resonated with you?
JL: I like that she didn’t take no for an answer. She’s a fighter. I thought I’d be the only actor stubborn enough to pull off Ree the way she deserved to be pulled off. Debra’s adaptation was beautiful – it was bleak and powerful. She’s a brilliant woman. I would have given two limbs to work with her.
Lauren, Gail is essentially the only character that Ree allows herself to lean on. What about their relationship struck a chord with you?
LS: The Ree/Gail relationship is a special one. Their bond is strong and both of these young women were almost forced to be wise beyond their years given their living circumstances. They’ve undergone things that would terrify women twice their age. Their relationship is very sisterly at times, the kind that comes few and far between. Even the toughest of people have a soft side and need someone to understand that – that’s what Gail is to Ree.
You’ve developed a resume packed with dark characters whose story-lines often exceed the experience of a 20 year-old girl. Your performances are effortlessly honest. How do you develop such impressive on-screen affinity with these characters?
JL: I don’t know if I can say I “relate” to a girl who has been raped by her pimp (The Poker House), or blown up her mother in a trailer (The Burning Plain), or grew up in the Ozark mountains (Winter’s Bone) – but I can imagine. My imagination is the most crucial part of what I do. I can’t look for roles that are identical to me in any way. I want the creative flexibility to imagine a life outside of my own.
The Beaver with Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson, and Anton Yelchin is slated to premiere next fall. Rumor has it that Foster initially doubted your ability to play a more light-hearted character, forcing you to fight pretty relentlessly for the role, is that true?
JL: Yes! The epic journey to convince Jodie Foster to hire me. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. I auditioned on tape for The Beaver and rumors surfaced that I was Jodie’s first pick until she saw Winter’s Bone – she thought I was too dark and not remotely funny. My agent called and suggested a skype session to, well, exhibit my humor. I then called LAX, booked a flight to JFK that day, met her, and she quickly realized that I was in fact an idiot and hired me.
What else do you have coming up? Are you looking to break out of indie’s?
JL: I can’t exactly say what else is coming up because nothing is certain until you get your first burrito off the truck. Am I looking to break out of indies? I’ve never thought of indie’s as something to “break out” of. I love the films that I’ve done. Will it be nice to have a big trailer and make more money? Of course – but I’m going to do movies that I love. If they’re big studio’s, great. But that being said, I also understand that this is a business. In order to book more films I do have to become more “bankable” and to do that, you do studios. So, sure, studio films are in my future and I see nothing wrong with that.
You’re at a pivotal point in your career with the wave of industry attention, magazine covers, etc. What keeps your grounded?
JL: It’s easy to remain grounded – because the work is not about me, personally. This is my job. And the attention, the magazines – I worked my butt off to make good films, and the buzz comes with the territory. The media attention is a result of my movie coming out, not of me being “sooo cool!” There’s my life, and there’s my job. I will never confuse the two or define myself by my work. If everything falls apart tomorrow, I’m still me.
The film hits select cities nationwide on June 11th! Don’t miss Jennifer’s amazing performance!