Thursday, May 26, 2011

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It's a shock to see Jennifer Lawrence with dark hair. Earlier this spring, when Lionsgate announced that the actress would anchor The Hunger Games, the first in a series of films based on Suzanne Collins'wildly popular dystopian trilogy there was a predictable outcry from some young fans.

They feared that Lawrence, the 2O-year-old who earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in last year's harshly beautiful indie Winter's Bone, was too old, too blond, too tall, too pale, too pretty to play the part of a teenager fighting to the death in a brutal government- ordered competition. And yet here she is in early May at a Los Angeles archery range, with one intense week of training left before she's due on the North Carolina set. And she looks every bit as fierce as fans would demand of their Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence's dark tresses are scraped back into a ponytail, her skin tawny from long mornings in the sun. "I think I just have to stay tan," she tells me of adjusting to her new hair. "Or I'll look like the girl from The Ring!'

For over a month, Lawrence has been enduring a grueling training pro- gram consisting of archery track work, stunt drills, and yoga. She says that her archery coach, a four-time Olympian from Eastern Europe, spent weeks bemoaning her lack of skills. Apparently, it was only after the woman declared her "helpless!" that Lawrence gritted her teeth and hit the bull's-eye. "What happened?" her coach cried in surprise. Lawrence turned to her and growled, her Southern accent making a rare appearance, "You pissed me off!"

Today, Lawrence holds a large bow aloft as her eyes narrow on the target. When her arrow thwacks into the bull's- eye, she smiles and-as she would do when she scored a basket for her child- hood basketball team in Louisville, Ky.-- launches into cartwheels.

Lawrence needs to be in peak condition to embody Katniss, the 16-year- old girl plucked from her district to battle other unlucky children in a reality TV death match. Gary Ross, who's directing The Hunger Games (in theaters March 23,2012), stressed to her trainer that while he by no means wants her gaunt when shooting begins on the PG-13 film later this month, she does have to portray a girl desperate for food. (Meanwhile, costars Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, who'll play Katniss' staunch District 12 allies Peeta and Gale, are busy bulking themselves up in a weight-training regimen. 'Apparently I'm the only one in the district who's starving," jokes Lawrence.)

When Lawrence officially signed on to play Katniss, some fans may have complained, but the revered author of the Hunger Games series (nearly 10 million copies and counting) was elated enough to call and offer her congratulations. "I feel like when you said yes, the world got lifted off of my shoulders," Collins told the actress. That weight has now been shifted onto Lawrence, who must personify the grit and private vulnerability of a most beloved heroine. "Don't worry about Jen " says Ross with an admiring laughter. "She's a very very powerful person."

After archery, Lawrence is due across town at the Santa Monica College track for an hour of speed drills. Before getting into her white Volkswagen, she turns back with a girlish grin.

"Let's race there!" she says.

She wins.

Read the entire transcript here
CHECK OUT THE SCANS at The Hunger Games Nation

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