By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jennifer Lawrence earned an Oscar nomination for playing a tough young woman in a gritty drug drama, but as she becomes a role model to young girls in her latest film "The Hunger Games," the actress wants to clean up her act.
Lawrence, 21, is no stranger to Hollywood after being thrust into the spotlight with a breakout performance in 2010 indie hit "Winter's Bone," which yielded the young star rave reviews and an Oscar nod for best actress.
She went on to play Mystique in 2011's "X-Men: First Class," expanding her fan base into a mainstream comic book film, and her latest role as Katniss Everdeen, the lead in "The Hunger Games," will likely send her fame skyrocketing even more. In fact, as the movie heads to theaters on Friday, it already has.
"I'm now a role model for young girls, so my language has to change a lot," Lawrence joked with reporters recently.
"I know that would change a lot of decisions work-wise personally ... as far as my next roles, because there would be young girls watching what I'm doing and emulating."
"The Hunger Games," based on the first book of a best-selling science-fiction series from author Suzanne Collins, sees 24 children sent to fight to the death in an annual televised event watched by the nation of Panem, a futuristic America.
When Katniss' younger sister is picked to participate, which would lead to certain death, Katniss volunteers in her place, thus beginning a series of events in which she rebels against Panem officials and becomes a beacon of hope for the oppressed.
Coming to the role of lead heroine Katniss Everdeen as a fan of the books herself, Lawrence knew her performance would be scrutinized, and her challenge was finding a fine balance in making the role her own while staying true to Collins' creation.
"I wish that I was much more like (Katniss) than I actually am. I think the hardest part about her was that in the books, she doesn't know how to get people to like her ... at the same time, you don't want to watch somebody for two hours that you don't like," explained Lawrence.
WINNING THE "GAMES"
The decision to cast Lawrence as Katniss came as an easy one for director Gary Ross, who drew parallels between the young actress and the 16-year-old book and movie heroine.
"She's brave, strong, self-confident, she knows who she is ... she's very clear, there isn't a great filter. Jen will kind of say anything, all of which can describe Katniss," said Ross, who called Lawrence's talent "unique in her generation."
The "Hunger Games" sees Lawrence put in several different situations as Katniss. She grows up in the desolate woodlands around her home, travels to the excessively opulent capital of Panem, and fights for survival in the Games arena.
To get into the physical shape of Katniss, who has spent her life hunting with a bow and arrow in the wilderness, Lawrence began free-running, combat training, climbing, doing yoga and most importantly, archery.
"It was exhausting, especially toward the end when we had six-day weeks for a month ... the adrenaline is real, the screaming I volunteer in fighting. Afterward, your heart's still pumping," said the actress.
Lawrence found herself developing different relationships for her character Katniss, including her friendship with Liam Hemsworth's Gale, romance with Josh Hutcherson's Peeta and finding a mentor figure in Woody Harrelson's Haymitch, which she found particularly interesting.
"(Katniss) was always very hard on Haymitch and making fun of him but I love Woody so much that it almost didn't come across that way, and there were some scenes where we ended up finishing each other's sentences and laughing together, so she kind of softens Haymitch a little sooner," said the actress.
Lawrence's co-stars shared anecdotes of the actress' quirky humor off-screen and her captivating on-screen talent.
"She's extremely funny, not what you'd exactly expect when you think about an Academy award-nominated actress. She just says whatever pops into her mind, and you've got to ... be ready to field whatever she throws at you next," said Hutcherson.
For Lawrence, fame has brought the responsibility of being a role model, and it has also come with perks. The young actress said she finally realized she had made it when a roller coaster in Mexico was turned on just for her at an amusement park.
"Walking down the red carpet at the Oscars was incredible and unbelievable, but it wasn't until I was sitting on a Batman roller coaster at Six Flags ... that I realized I really have a blessed life," she said.
(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy)