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The Acting Personality: Just How “Authentic” Is Jennifer Lawrence?

The Acting Personality: Just How "Authentic" Is Jennifer Lawrence?

Last Sunday, Jennifer Lawrence, the twenty-two year old actress and star of Silver Linings Playbook, won her first Oscar for best actress. In addition to the credit given her work on the big screen, much attention has been paid to the refreshingly “authentic” way Lawrence handles the press, fame, and herself–in particular, her witty and down-to-earth Oscar speech, in which she poked fun at her fall on the stairs, and her droll backstage comments about winning her award. Yet despite her obvious appeal, is it possible that Lawrence, prized for her acting prowess as well as her refreshing candor, quick wit, and lack of guile “off”-screen, is simply very good at acting real; at not acting like other actors; at not acting the things that other celebrities would and do act through; at not
hiding the things that actors are trained to hide, which is to say,
Lawrence does not cover things up. (Instead of downplaying her spill on
the stairs during the Oscar ceremony, she highlighted it.) As a young
star, Lawrence, who called acting and making movies “stupid” in a recent
Vanity Fair profile, does not pretend in the space(s) in which we have grown accustomed to hearing and seeing pretense. Nor does she act “female” in the way that we have come to expect young female celebrities to act today—hyper-sexual, truistic, ditsy, mollifying.

I have always been interested in the difference between acting and authenticity, trying to determine whether there was ever a difference, and whether there still is. Because moving images are everywhere now, in addition to the acting we see an actor do on a movie screen, there is also the acting an actor does on all the screens that constitute celebrity culture in our post-digital world. Some actors handle the reality and fiction of their celebrity better than others. Some go to great lengths to hide what they can’t handle, and some show it by acting out their struggles publicly. While we love some actors for their TV and movie roles, we dislike them as people, and vice versa. Additionally, there are actors, like John Cusack, who have made careers out of playing and inventing “themselves.” In Cusack’s case, “himself” is the perfect lover.

The thing that makes acting so fascinating and mysterious, is that while it is a talent for some, acting is first and foremost a human tendency rather than a vocational ability. Thus, in today’s surround-sound media culture, the real question is: where does acting happen, and is it ever not happening? If acting is a condition of life, it is hard for any of us to know not only what is real and what is fake, but also the relation between the two.

Our first instinct is to interpret Lawrence’s raw personality as a break from artifice and facade, which it may very well be. But being that the nature of artifice is precisely the mystery of acting, we can never know for sure. We crave feeling the tension between acting and not-acting, honesty and dishonesty, real and fake, spontaneity and pre-mediation because it makes us see the contrivance, and by extension, the authenticity. Most importantly, it makes us believe (belief being the operative word here) that not everything is contrived, in our non-stop media culture.

Lawrence is almost the inversion of another actor I like off-screen, Kristen Stewart, who while not as gregarious or self-possessed as Lawrence, doesn’t quite have a handle on the Actor script either. By today’s standards, as a public figure and sex symbol, Stewart is shy and uncomfortable in her body. She averts her gaze during interviews and when she’s in front of cameras. She mumbles wryly and has a kind of introverted quality that we rarely see in young actresses today. With both Lawrence and Stewart, the seams still show.

In the case of her post-Oscar interview, are Lawrence’s responses to the press too quick-witted and unpredictable to be contrived? Acting is partly about mediating—filtering, calibrating, programming—one’s responses. And conversely, not-acting is about not filtering, premeditating, fashioning. We have become so used to stock answers, camera poses, airbrushed bodies, faces, lives—that when something or someone is even slightly different, we are excited and relieved. We like Lawrence because she does not appear to be faking it in “real life”—only for a living. She seems real as far as our definitions of authenticity are concerned. But sometimes what one doesn’t do is an equally self-conscious project—the flipside of straight artifice. As Paul Schrader put it about Robert Bresson’s “perversion of film technique,” “Pretending not to manipulate is another form of manipulation.”

On the most basic level, Lawrence perverts some of the key tenets of being a contemporary celebrity—by celebrity I mean fame in the all-encompassing sense—by going off script, poking holes in some of the veils and mores of stardom. However, while any industry breach is always refreshing, given our profoundly reflexive and self-conscious time, disclosure and confession can be equally perpetuating—yet another way of masking and maintaining the mask. The writer David Shields notes (in lines he appropriated from the poet Ben Lerner): “What is actual when our experiences are mediated by language, technology, medication, and the arts?” Actual and acting are analogous, for what is actual when acting is not just a condition, but a daily requirement, of being human? Fame is high-risk and fundamentally incompatible with artlessness. An actor’s job is to calibrate the fiction and master the presentation of a public persona, and usually the longer one acts, the more one acts. An actor, said Bresson, who used non-actors (“models”) in his films, “can’t go back. Can’t be natural. They just can’t.” According to Bresson, only automatism allowed for truth, and models did not act, they were “automatic.” Yet despite what Bresson chose to call it, the difference lies partly in the reformulation: humans acting rather than actors acting.

People, both famous and un-famous, change for all kinds of reasons. We never know exactly how or why. But we do know that almost everyone is irreversibly altered (usually for the worse) by power and fame, especially when it comes fast. Fame today is simply too profound and invasive a phenomenon. So why do some actors handle certain aspects of stardom better than others? Why do some actors maintain distance between public and private, while others blur the line completely? Is fame different for different people? And is that difference something you can control? Some celebrities insist that fame becomes invasive and destructive only when one participates in a certain kind of paparazzi-inducing lifestyle: the kind in which the camera rules and where everything is arbitrated by the camera. Conversely, it also backfires when a star rejects their fame completely, à la Michael Jackson (post-sexual abuse scandal), Greta Garbo, and Marlon Brando (famous people who were also famous for not wanting to be famous. Interestingly, I can’t think of a contemporary example). Most stars never start off like Lawrence, let alone stay like her. When it comes to most celebrities, being naïve and real is something you either pretend to be, or pretend not to be. Now, more than ever, with our contemporary experience of aesthetics, fame, and subjectivity in such radical flux, who’s really who, and what’s really what, continues to be the great mystery when it comes to all of us.

So will it last? Will Lawrence stay this way? Down-to-earth, open, self-deprecating, unaffected? Attention comes with an expiration date, so, in a sense, “are you afraid you have peaked?” is the right question to ask a young Oscar winner. It is celebrity, not just celebrities, that we revere. “The top” is a dangerous place to hit, both creatively and culturally, and one should think about what it means to hit it, especially when one does it so quickly and at such a young age. Where stardom is concerned, particularly female stars, shelf life is an old parable. So while it might be a buzz kill to bring a star down to earth with a question about peaking, it is more than fair to ask one, as well as ourselves, not just what success and fame might bring, but what it might take away.

Masha Tupitsyn is the author of LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film (ZerO Books, 2011), Beauty Talk & Monsters, a collection of film-based stories (Semiotext(e) Press, 2007), and co-editor of the anthology
Life As We Show It: Writing on Film (City Lights, 2009). Her new book, Love Dog, is a multi-media collection forthcoming with Penny-Ante Editions in April 2013. Her fiction and criticism has appeared in numerous anthologies, as well as The White Review, BOMBlog, The New Inquiry, Fence, Bookforum, Berfrois, The Rumpus, Sex Magazine, Boing Boing, Keyframe, Animal Shelter, The Fanzine, Make/Shift, and San Francisco’s KQED’s The Writer’s Block, among other venues. She has written video essays on film and culture for Ryeberg Curated Video: http://www.ryeberg.com/curated-videos/lost-highway/. Her blog is: http://mashatupitsyn.tumblr.com/.

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Comments

Lola

I love how you all protect when in 5 years you’ll see she was in fact overrated and had a phenomenal pr team. I hate how we can’t judge her but we can judge any other artists and it’s fine. The article isn’t a waste it’s a prediction of the future.

Steve

I guess you can take the girl out of Kentucky, but you can't take the Kentucky out of the girl. This is why rednecks shouldn't be allowed to become celebrities.

Anne Hathaway

I can't stand Jennifer Lawrence. She's white trash, and she's tremendously annoying as well.

Chris

Sincerity is important. Once you can fake that you've got it made. Jen really did seem authentic around the time she was in Winter's Bone and the entertainment industry saw the potential to exploit her and milk that authenticity for all it was worth.

Kim

This article is so accurate. I'm glad I'm not the only one who realizes the forced authenticity of Jennifer Lawrence.

C

What amazes me is that the only "real" and "authentic" personality is one that is care-free and and clumsy. Who's to say that someone isn't genuine just because they are serious?

Jess

All of this negative energy towards one woman is hilarious. The ones who claim to hate and dislike her really need a lot of a love themselves. Get a life folks; your jealousy and resentment aren't attractive.

Tiffany

I believe Jennifer Lawrence's personality is authentic, authentically annoying.

Justin

Jennifer was voted most talkative in middle or high school so I think she is being real

zai

I met her long time ago, she is exactly like that. That's her real personality, her entire family are the same, one of her aunts is just like Jen. Beautiful, down-to earth family. Jennifer is like a child in side of a woman.
Lawrence family have a ranch-camp for kids in Kentucky, I worked there for 6 months that's how I know them.

ADavies

My impression is that Lawrence is authentic, maybe too authentic for her own ultimate good. I think that she may also be unusually bright (although not yet necessarily wise) and will gradually learn to 'act down' her mischievous inclination to tease and flirt. I hope she does, as the longer she's high profile in cinema, the better. I fear that she may be (even) more vulnerable than most actresses to personal crit. She may be forced into compliance by changing her public 'act' even though (in my opinion at least) it isn't one.

TrueL

Although this article isn't meant to only bash Jennifer Lawrence, I must admit its nice to read these other comments to see I am not alone in how I feel about her. I'm not that loser that goes around saying I hate a celebrity, but I have had it up to here with this "normal person" bullshit I continuously hear about this girl. She is just as pretentious as they come. This "adorably stupid" persona she put out is an utter act to seem endearing. I can't believe the low intelligence people who eat this shit up.

JJ

This is a joke right? This whole omg, J-Law is so refreshingly honest bit? She is one of the most forced and insincere people to have come down that red carpet in a while. Worse than Kristen Stewart and Megan Fox. Ugh. Her whole down to earth personal is manufactured because she is just desperately needy to be liked. She takes every opportunity to draw attention to herself, wears more makeup than anybody I have seen in a long time and has practically her entire boobs exposed for the last 4 years or so at every single event. C'mon, how can people be so gullible? It's like the masses want to be fooled.

Joe

Her entire doe-eyed, innocent personality is an act. What person normally talks about farting and eating Cheetos? It's an act designed to make her likeable in and out of Hollywood.

It's time for Hollywood to get over it's love affair with Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams. They are good actors, but give me a break. They aren't that great. It's also time for Hollywood to stop giving every great female role to the same 8-10 actresses. There are many actresses who are capable of doing great work, but never get the chance because they keep giving them all to Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Cate Blanchette, etc.

John

I have to honestly tell that, I first started to like J-Law from her interviews, without having seen any of her movies. I'm certain that we all know someone as 'hyper' as her and it gets annoying really fast. Most of us mature and learn to control that nervous energy – therefore become FAKE in order to fit in. She deserves a lot of credit for not doing that, because of the message she puts out there. (this can be a source of inspiration or give hope hope in some weird way) How many celebrities have you heard telling that they would be useless in a normal society, instead of moaning how much they have to 'work'?
We can also empathize with her insecurities, which she deals with Matthew Perry-like self criticizing/making fun of herself defence system.

My point is
We do like our entertainers but somehow the roles have changed, the jokers have became kings. But some jokers don't get caught in all the hype and realize where they came from.

COCLUSION
Entertainers only exist when WE put money in their pockets. And WE decide weather to jump off the bandwagon once they decide to steal our money. Every actor puts out a bad movie that is written badly and can never be above that, but can be sold using their name. I'd call that stealing.
Jennifer Lawrence is no different, the horror flick she put out is rubbish from the core. But it's only natural, because she's doing her JOB and after all its about selling a product. In an early interview she said that being likeable and selling the product is part of her job.

I'm not saying that we should hate on her but let's be real: she has been getting pointers and tips after every interview for the past 8+ years. She is just creating a marketable persona based on herself. It would be naive to think that she's any more authentic than the fans allow her to be.

Great article, has some depth to it, KUDOS

Lisa

Great article. I think Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress. Acting is a form of lying and being so smooth about it, it seems real. That's what you win Oscars for, right? If you know how to act, you can act on and off screen. Let's just leave it at that.

Veronica

I am perfectly with you in this article. But you kind of misconstrued what you really wanted to express. Instead of using Jennifer Lawrence or Kristen Stewart as it embodied your article, you unconsciously badmouthed Jennifer Lawrence's "authenticity" when she was just one of your examples.

For us who understand your point it's no-brainer but for those who do not like Jennifer Lawrence, they deliberately twisted your whole meaning. Without meaning to or not, you gave them a fully loaded gun to criticize her and her personality.

I love that you wrote this but you were being obtuse with your headline.

Mckenzie

No talent

June

Fat ugly skank

Loki

I honestly despise Jennifer Lawrence.
I find her personally irritating, childish, immature and crass. After watching a couple of interviews I found myself twitching with annoyance because of her dull sense of 'humour', her bloody annoying laugh and generally conceited nature.
Worse than her are her fans. Go to tumblr and you'll see swarms of people claiming her to be their 'Queen' of tumblr, or 'perfect' 'omg no one could hate her she is perf! Luv her 5eva!'
It's sickening.
I watched the Hunger Games, and was a bit disappointed. She we straight out the wrong choice of actress for Katniss Everdeen. Who in the books is described as starvinglu thin, not Lawrence who isn't what you would call slender…
Not only that but she is a severely overrated actor. Most of the film was taken up with her either churning out every line in a low, grated monotonous tone. Or shrieking like a possessed banshee. Jesus Christ does the girl get on my nerves.
Especially in Catching Fire where two instances come to mind….first the "OMG PEETA, I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!!!??!1!" shriek. Sob. Cue more shrill hysterical sobbing.
And when she tore off like a demented terrier shrieking her god awful lungs out like a bloody dingbat. "PRIMMMM!!!?1!" *cue everyone's eardrums imploding*
At least on the positive side it's certain her career is soon to fizzle out. I can barely wait for such small mercies!

Kate

Just read the other comments below. I feel like people have totally misunderstood the intention of this article. It was an exploration of acting/authenticity and not intended to rip on Jennifer Lawrence, necessarily. Chill out people!

Kate

Wow! Great article. Thanks for writing. I especially like this line: "The thing that makes acting so fascinating and mysterious, is that while it is a talent for some, acting is first and foremost a human tendency rather than a vocational ability." I've been thinking about this for awhile now.

Tay

Thank you so much for writing this! This is something I've thought a lot about too, particularly in regards to Lawrence. I think the negative reaction to it sort of confirms exactly what you're saying.

Her fans love her because she portrays what they see as "human" and "real," but as soon as someone points out the fact that being human and real means potentially having negative traits, even for Jennifer Lawrence, it's not okay. I think that's a really toxic way of thinking or viewing anyone, especially a celebrity because celebrities are, by default, national and cultural leaders. To blindly follow them or accept their actions without question just because they can tell a funny joke on Leno is ignorant.

tara

cool

Lapadite

Hahaha IndieWire writer erased my comment from a few weeks ago. Was it too honest? I guess the writer didn't like me challenging her shallow and pretentious points.

Winston

Of course she is just being herself. Either that or Jennifer Lawrence is really Keyser Söze. Ha.

Robin Van Dam

I just read some of the comments posted. It's amazing that these readers chose to only see the surface of your article. A surface that is not the issue of the article itself. I did not feel your article attacked, liked, or disliked any one particular person, only addressed what is "Percieved" as "authentic" may not actually be authentic in reality. Each person's perseption of reality is different. Proof in the pudding is my perception of this article vs. the perception of a lot of your readers. The difference is very wide indeed.

Robin Van Dam

Very interesting and contimplating. You've touched lightly on a subject that I have been thinking about that concerns this issue through the back door. Yes, has she peeked? Is she truly "authentic"? I like Jennifer Lawrence, very much and for all the reasons you mentioned, Kristen Stewart as well. With that said, I must ask, are we contributing to these young, "authentic" actor's shelf life shortening by awarding them, at such young stages in their chosen career, with such prestigeous awards like the Oscars? Are we conditioning them, molding them into the pretentions we want by awarding them without giving them the opportunity to grow and learn within that field, not to mention the opportunity to prove themselves truly worthy of the award? The Oscars have been around for a long time. Within that timespan there have been many performances by actors that have not been awarded this prestigeous award that should have been. Actors that have put in their tenure and proven their ablities time and time again. It makes me ponder who is really pretending and manipulating who? Has the Oscar become an advertising tool to promote the young, up and coming actors, manipulate the public to watch and follow their careers, rather than award them for a truly spectacular, unforgetable and realistic performance? Has the Oscars become the largest "actor" of them all, appearing to be "authentic" because they do as Anne Hathaway, give the audience what it wants and as Jennifer Lawerence & Kristen Stewart, buck the audience with their pretense of surprise, as much suprise as the audience? As you said, "Who is really who and what is really what will continue to be the great mystery." Not just to us as humans, but as to what we project in what we do and accept as humans.

jigrat

Methinks you're all a bit too harsh on the writer of this article. Contemplating the meaning of "authenticity" in a world built on artifice is worthwhile. The author isn't badmouthing JL as much as she's reflecting on how we interpret personality and the very nature of "true" identity. We're all actors in a way, but that doesn't make us (or Jennifer) a cold and sinister, calculating person. It's interesting to consider the idea that JL chooses to perpetuate her goofy "I don't care about celebrity" image because it is well received. She may not be doing it consciously, but there's little doubt that her choosing to be so candid and open comes about as a result of the positive responses to similar behavior. Our experiences shape us, and we shape our experiences. I think it's plausible that JL isn't any "more real" than anyone else in Hollywood. We just happen to like her version of it a little bit better.

Kevin

Wow, we all just wrapped up complaining about how misogynistic the Oscars were and now waste no time complaining about … how likeable Jennifer Lawrence is … or seems to be? Can't we just enjoy this? The thought of a genuine actress with likeable qualities. Anne Hathaway gets slammed for being on the other end of the spectrum and we can't just be happy with J-Law's demeanor — it all must be an act!

M4

Wow….how cynical. So, the gist of the article is, no one is that honest? so, it is just an act?. Those of us who have followed Lawrence since the begining of her career could point out that her guest appearances, interviews have changed very little…it would be very difficult to maintain that kind of personality all the time if it wasn't reL. I would also point out that those who have worked with Lawrence whether famous or not, in front of and behind the camera have never reported anything different than what we as fans have grown accustomed to over the last few years. You have taken an academic approach to analyzing someone you have never met, but assume cannot be that authentic simply because you believe that no one is that real. The thing is, after all the hyper articulate, pseudo intellectual baloney, it's really just a very shallow observation.

Victor

It's pretty pathetic how you felt the need analyze and over analyze a personality – a natural one at that.

On top of all we've seen of her, THIS is the epitome of her quirkiness: http:// www . youtube.com /watch?v=0V6pif48pw4

HERP DERP

When you are around your friends do you act differently than you do around your grandparents? There's your answer.

Orson

she's so obviously fake

NIA

If all her answers and quotes are fake (acting) then she must be the most talented (and clever) actress ever. We should give her an OSCAR every year, just for her interviews!

Selma

One of the worst articles ever written. Do you even answer your own question? How do you find time in your life to even think of these things?
Like any other sane person, I thought the question the reporter asked about peaking too soon was idiotic. Yes, maybe she is peaking too soon, I mean, yes she is. She, like all 22 year old girls, don't even know what they want in life. It's a rude question and it's insulting.

Media is so wrong these days. She is truly scrutinized all the time. Every single move she makes, every single word she utters is being watched and that people know question your authenticity? Ridiculous! Why aren't people looking into Kristen Stewart's "authenticity"? Is she really shy and weird? Since she is scoring so many married directors and hot boyfriends, maybe it's all an act. No, we don't.

Write an article about why Kim Kardashian chose Kanye West or if Joaquin Phoenix is real. This article deserves as much of attention as those types of articles. They don't belong on Indiewire.

JR

The pressure an actress like Lawrence is under is intense. She is scrutinized at all times, has no privacy and every syllable she utters gets parsed and dissected. Maybe the only intelligent way to handle it is to admit that it's over her head and accept her own faults and shortcomings. As to whether she peaked, I'm not sure she truly likes being this famous. She started as an indie actress and I think she will be happy when the spotlight fades and she can just be a working actress again. It has to fade eventually.

Craig Simpson

Considering how much time and space seems increasingly devoted to scrutinizing the purported substance of actor or director interviews – or, worse, shoehorning into reviews and critical essays random soundbites as "evidence" that the performance or movie is good/not good – I enjoyed reading Tupitsyn's piece. It's a healthy reminder that creative artists should not automatically be trusted, especially the talented ones.

rlc

what a stupid ass article.

Galadriel

What a waste of internet space. All musings and no attempt to even quantify or qualify the question.

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