Jennifer Lawrence: Girl on Fire

“You think nobody has the full 100 points – talented, nice, funny,” Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence says of his star.

“But she does.”

At 23, she’s an Oscar winner, the star of one of Hollywood’s highest-grossing movie franchises and a no-fuss personality colleagues describe as “hilarious,” “grounded” and yes, even “a good kisser.” But Jennifer Lawrence isn’t a natural at everything. Shooting The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in Hawaii, “there was one scene where she had to eat raw fish, and we got a chef to bring in sushi-grade snapper, and still she only wanted to do a couple of takes – she couldn’t hack it,” says director Francis Lawrence. As for gracefully sweeping into a key scene in an elaborate gown? “When she first walked out, she stumbled,” says producer Nina Jacobson. “Jen was the one rushing to watch the fall over and over again on video. She’s very willing to laugh at herself.”

This is, after all, a woman who tripped on her way to accept her Academy Award last February, then endeared herself to a room full of power players – and fans everywhere – by promptly cracking a joke about it. (“You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell,” she said from the podium.) Her talent and real-girl charm have made her the most successful actress of her generation—and she’s about to have another stellar season. “In one moment Jennifer can seem like the world’s smartest 40-year-old, and in the next she will be cracking fart jokes like your 19-year-old son,” says David O. Russell, who directed her Oscar-winning turn in 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, a ’70s drama out Dec. 13 in which Lawrence again showcases her versatility. “You get both, in all their glory, and she jumps between them with amazing speed.” As for the supersonic speed of her Hollywood rise, “I still haven’t really fully digested it,” she says. “I think maybe I shouldn’t.”

Besides, who has time to digest when there are blockbusters to be made, red carpets to be walked and a brand-new pixie cut to flaunt? Like her fiercely independent Games alter ego, Lawrence has distinguished herself from many of her peers with her often uncensored, iconoclastic views – including her refusal to get superskinny onscreen. “It’s called The Hunger Games – [Katniss] is from District 12, she’s obviously underfed, so she would be incredibly thin,” Lawrence recently told the BBC. “But I just kept saying, ‘We have the ability to control this image that young girls are going to be seeing. Girls see enough of this body that we can’t imitate … and this is gonna be their hero.'”

She wasn’t always so self-assured. Growing up in a tight-knit, Louisville, Ky.-based family – including parents Karen and Gary and older brothers Ben and Blaine – “I was hyperactive, curious about everything,” Lawrence recently told French magazine Madame Figaro. Then, when she started school, “the light went out,” she said. “We never knew what it was, a kind of social anxiety. I went to see a shrink; nothing worked.” But as a teen she found an outlet in acting. SaysCatching Fire producer Jon Kilik: “Her parents and brothers support her and allow her to be herself.”

When it comes to her love life, Lawrence is uncharacteristically tight-lipped. She and British actor Nicholas Hoult, 23, who met while costarring in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, broke up last January but started stepping out together again while shooting the sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past (due this spring). He was at her side at Catching Fire‘s London premiere party on Nov. 11. In a recent interview with Vogue, Lawrence described herself as a “big homebody” and longed for a life outside of the spotlight. “It still makes me a little emotional, just to see how quickly everything kind of changes,” said the star. “But I think eventually, one of these days, when the next franchise starts and I’m not in it, and the new Jennifer Lawrence is born, then I’ll be able to go outside.”

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