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

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 The project had begun in May 2005, when Anonymous Content’s Alix Madigan-Yorkin read an unpublished manuscript by Daniel Woodrell.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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