Survival of the Fittest: Jennifer Lawrence and Winter’s Bone

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Published June 14, 2010

Set in a bleak, forgotten patch of rural America, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone (released Friday) tells the story of 17-year-old Ree Dolly as she stares down her family’s demons and protects her young siblings. Faced with losing the family home after her father skips out on his bond, Ree, played with piercing intensity by Jennifer Lawrence, sets out to find him, risking her own life in the process. Filmed on location in the remote Missouri Ozarks, Winter’s Bone walks the line between being chilling horror film and a family drama. Anchoring the project is the 19-year-old Lawrence, the picture of strength until a devastating moment in the film when she breaks down, and reveals the damaged teenager under the hardened shell. The actress spoke to us about filming in her native Kentucky, and what happens when part of your job is squirrel hunting.

GILLIAN MOHNEY: Can you tell me about getting involved with the film?

JENNIFER LAWRENCE: My mom read the book [by Daniel Woodrell], five, some six years ago. And when she read it she said, “Jennifer, if they ever make this into a movie, you’d be perfect for it.” And you know, I didn’t listen to her, because she’s my mother, but five years later I got the script and the audition.

MOHNEY: Obviously, Louisville, where you’re from, is not like the Ozarks, but did it help you at all coming from that region?

LAWRENCE: Yeah, in the way that I think it would have been a lot harder if I was from New Jersey. The lifestyle is different, but some of the sayings were the same. I was comfortable in the dialect.

MOHNEY: A lot of local people worked on the film. What was your interaction with them?

LAWRENCE: That’s all we did. I went up a week before and spent time with that family, and that’s how little Ashlee [Thompson] got cast, because she lives there.

MOHNEY: How long was the shoot?

LAWRENCE: We filmed for 25-and-a-half days; we were there about six weeks.

MOHNEY: That’s a long time to be in the Ozarks. Was it really as remote as it seemed?

LAWRENCE: Yes… honestly, they didn’t really dress anything. Everything’s real; there’s no set.

MOHNEY: Alluding to one gruesome moment in the plot, did you actually have to deal with the dead squirrel?

LAWRENCE: Yes. I actually cut that open.

MOHNEY: That was impressive.

LAWRENCE: Thank you. Oh my god, I can’t watch that scene. I was burying my face in my friend’s chest during that scene.

MOHNEY: You were so calm!

LAWRENCE: Yeah, that was major acting. That was big-time acting. I couldn’t eat spaghetti for a long time, and I love spaghetti—I was pissed.

MOHNEY: You’ve worked through your teenage years as an actress. Obviously [Ree’s] is much more intense experience, but she had to be a grown up early. Do you feel like you relate to that?

LAWRENCE: I felt like I related to having your own maturity level. Because I felt like the difference between me and other 19-year-olds is that I’m not smarter than other 19-year-olds, or more mature than other 19-year-olds. I just haven’t gone through the gradual maturing that happens when you go into grades. You move with your classes, and I didn’t have a class. I was with adults all day, mimicking them. So I just matured on my own, and I think Ree and I have that in common.

MOHNEY: Was there anything in the script that you ever changed a little bit to suit you?

LAWRENCE: Yeah, but it’s a really, really bad word. Now you’re excited. [LAUGHS] When Merab comes to get me and I’m like, “I’m not going with you, I’m not getting in that car. I’m bringing my gun… ” I turned around and put my gun inside and whispered, “Crazy cunt.” [LAUGHS] So, we shot like a million scenes, and they cut it out. I get it. It’s okay. They probably cut out a lot of Lauren [Sweetster] and my “That’s what she said” jokes, too.

MOHNEY: You’ve got The Beaver coming out in November. Can you tell me a little about making that movie?

LAWRENCE: I love it. It’s weird as hell and really dark, but funny. I mean this is the movie that I was making, and [still] thinking I would see it five times in the theatre. When I describe it, it has to be as a comedy, because it sounds ridiculous, but it’s dark. Mel Gibson is a manic-depressive schizophrenic who forms another personality through a puppet beaver that takes over his life… It’s going to be good, and it’s directed by Jodie Foster.

MOHNEY: You’ve got to work with some amazing female directors.

LAWRENCE: I have.

MOHNEY: Is that inspiring for you?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. I mean, I want to be a director.

MOHNEY: You’re only 19, you’ve got plenty of time.

LAWRENCE: I’m not in any rush, except for my plane ride yesterday, it was really scary, I thought I was going to die… I was coming back from Toronto. I’d just gotten over my fear of flights. It’s back, and stronger than ever. But anyway, it has been inspiring for me to see really powerful, smart, strong women doing just as good of a job.