A Look Back at Jennifer Lawrence’s Bizarre Pre-‘Hunger Games’ Career

The Poker House Jennifer Lawrence
Courtesy of Phase 43 Films

Jennifer Lawrence’s career can be divided into two distinct parts: before and after Katniss Everdeen.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” opens on Friday, concluding the series that has guaranteed her global attention, in which the digital world has recorded each sentence, movement and rumor (95% of them not true).

Her work before the first film in 2012 was also pretty interesting, though less scrupulously documented.

She grew up in Louisville, went to New York during spring break at age 14, and persuaded her parents to allow a summer there to explore acting. On July 17, 2007, Variety‘s Brian Lowry reviewed a new Bill Engvall sitcom, “The Bill Engvall Show,” which was hoping to tap into his “blue collar comedy” audience. The standup comic played a family counselor who couldn’t control his own family, including a teen daughter (Lawrence). Lowry wrote that the show was a “decidedly slim and rarely funny,” and there was no mention of the actress beyond the credits.

However, things started to pick up quickly: On June 30, 2008, she won an award at the L.A. Film Festival for her work in Lori Petty’s directing debut, “The Poker House” (in photo above). On Sept. 8 of that year, Lawrence won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for young performers for Guillermo Arriaga’s “The Burning Plain.” Accepting the prize, she thanked her mom; at a press conference afterwards, she said “This is my best 18th birthday present ever.”

But her biggest boost was the 2010 indie “Winter’s Bone,” as a backwoods teen trying to find her missing father. The project had begun in May 2005, when Anonymous Content’s Alix Madigan-Yorkin read an unpublished manuscript by Daniel Woodrell. She passed it along to clients, producer Anne Rosellini and writer-director Debra Granik, who quickly optioned it. They shopped it around, but were told it was too dark. “I was given a list of high-profile actresses that I was told (could secure financing),” said Rossellini. “We weren’t super-psyched about the women. And half the actresses they brought were like 27.”

Eventually they raised $2 million through funders with no industry ties. It won the top jury prize at 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

On the basis of that, Variety picked Lawrence as one of its 10 Actors to Watch. Lawrence had never taken an acting class, but explained how she prepared for the role: “My brother’s friend came over with a squirrel he’d shot and we skinned it in my backyard.”

The film earned four Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actress.

She was on her way. On March 14, 2011, Variety‘s Justin Kroll broke the story that Lawrence was about to be signed as Katniss in “The Hunger Games.” A few months later, director Gary Ross said her audition “was so powerful that it was sort of stunning.”

The following year, the film opened to spectacular box office (nearly $700 million worldwide). Lawrence also starred in “Silver Linings Playbook” in 2012, the David O. Russell film that scored her a best actress Oscar.

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  1. Kevin Weindorf says:

    Her last movie Serena where she was lead opposite bradley cooper was a massive bomb critically and financially. Now this time around it’s head to head against Leos new oscar vehicle. She is popular in franchise films x-men and hunger games but now shes the lead in a regular film again. As for lead role w brad she’s 0-1 and with bradley as the lead she’s 2-2.

  2. Bern Cohen says:

    THE DEVIL YOU KNOW (2009) starring Rosamund Pike and Lena Olin, in which I play Olin’s agent, went no place for years until it was recently learned that the talented JLaw has a bizarre pre-Hunger games 30-second role, no lines even, as an adult character’s flashback to their teens. It then got several distribution on-demand offers and is available.

  3. Andrew Turner says:

    @timgray_variety you didn’t mention Lawrence’s exuberant and endearing performance in a bit part in an episode of Monk. The beautiful Jennifer spends most of the time encased in a cougar suit, performing as a mascot at a high school girl’s basketball game. Even though you cannot recognize her, the performance is pure Jennifer Lawrence—boisterous and charming and delightful. Oh I am so hopelessly in love with her. She is a fine actress of great craft and can really disappear into a role. I think Winter’s Bone, where I first saw her (except in Monk when I didn’t know who she was) is one of the best films I have ever seen.

  4. Mac says:

    With reference to some earlier comments about “bizarre” or not, “Bizarre” is a catchy word to get us to read the article :) I was hoping to read something bizarre about JLaw ‘s career path or past movies , but as it turned out, it was quite normal.

  5. as stated below, i would separate her career in pre-winters bone and post-winters bone, too.
    furthermore, to my ears, “bizarre” has a slightly negative touch (if you consider her nominations and her awards, even more). but maybe it´s only me. i´m not a native english speaker and maybe “bizarre” can be positive in some way. at least in german, it´s rather not.

    • WillyG says:

      I’ve never used nor heard of the word Bazaar being used in a positive fashion. The basically means unusual for no apparent reason . I am A Lifelong America who is native English speaker

  6. Tina Sparkle says:

    You forgot that crap horror film “House at the end of the street”

  7. asskickmcgee says:

    Once she showed everyone on the Internet pictures of her vaj and bung she got super popular. Let that be a lesson to you girls out there!

  8. BOLDista says:

    Jennifer Lawrence earns more than any other woman in Hollywood, thanks to her signature role as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” trilogy. Those films proved Lawrence’s box office brawn as a female action hero and helped her negotiate a very favorable share of the more recent films’ profits. Outside Panem, Lawrence is reuniting with her “Silver Linings Playbook” costar, Bradley Cooper, for the comedic drama “Joy.” Lawrence supplements her silver screen income with a lucrative Dior contract.

  9. mo says:

    her career is pre-winter’s bone, post-winter’s bone. hunger games is post winter’s bone

  10. Bill B. says:

    One sort of has to wonder a bit about parents that let a 14 year old go to NYC alone, but first, I’m glad she out of Kentucky and secondly, it sure did work out well. She does not need a minute of acting training from what I’ve seen. No matter if it’s serious work (Winter’s Bone, American Hustle, Playbook) or the two popcorn series she has been in, she is instinctively talented and accurate in all of her portrayals. She has been truly impressive in nearly every way.

    • Sam says:

      I believe her mom was with her the whole time or she stayed with people she knew. i know she didn’t stay by herself I just cant remember the story completely and could also be getting it confused with someone else.

  11. therealeverton says:

    Yeah, Because X-Men: First Class and the return to quality in that series, di nothing for her career and international profile. and wasn’t the first film a massive number of people saw her in.

    The quality of her work was likely added to to by the impending exposure that film was going to bring to make her a perfect choice. Almost a star at not a star price

  12. Wonder why no one ever mentions Serena, the “bog FLOP” in the room.

    I wish JLaw would get as far away from pervy Russell as quick as she can, he will be the ruin of her career. She’s so much better in indie films, that’s where she shines. She’s done nothing of interest since Winter’s Bone.

    • therealeverton says:

      Well her Oscar and Box office would give the lie to your statements. You may not find the films she has done since Winter’s Bone of little interest, but you’re in the minority. From Silver Linings to X-Men: Days of Future Past, I ad millions of punters and critics find much of her recent work very interesting.

  13. malexz7 says:

    1. What’s so bizarre about this career?
    2. How and why was this Wikipedia article posted on Variety?

    • Grace says:

      I know! There is nothing about this that is any different from most up and comming actress. Pretty typical actually! And I actually watched her in the movie “The Poker House” and not only is she really good in that a very young Chloe Grace Moretz is amazing!! It is pretty dark movie.

    • timgray2013 says:

      1. I didn’t write the headline. I think her early career was interesting, but not bizarre. 2. I got all the info from Variety’s Archives, not from Wikipedia.

      • therealeverton says:

        Good pints, I take it you also think the headline is a little odd? More importantly, why did you leave out the box office watershed of her career, X-Men: First Class?. Her first real “hit”a and the film that millions people likely saw her in for the first time

  14. Carlos T. Jackal says:

    If only she could walk

  15. john says:

    Jennifer Lawrence is amazing. Incredible talent. I can’t imagine the idea that she could get better with time…

    • Grace says:

      I know. She is exciting to watch because she is so good in every performance, and brings something different to every role. It is refreshing and exciting to see her grow to become the next Streep I believe.

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