In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen comes out of nowhere when she volunteers for the titular event, but she quickly makes an impression on Panem pundits, who give her fantastic odds to survive and thrive. Could the same be said for Katniss’s portrayer, 21-year-old Jennifer Lawrence? With an Oscar nomination already in her quiver, The Hunger Games is poised to make her a household name, so we thought it high time to ask Hollywood insiders Vulture’s perennial question: If Jennifer Lawrence was a stock, would you buy, sell, or hold?
Stock History: After leaving high school two years early to pursue an acting career, Kentucky native Lawrence quickly found TV work as a teen, and was even a regular on TBS sitcom The Bill Engvall Show. Indies like The Burning Plain and The Poker House won her plaudits, if not eyeballs, and then her lead role in the 2010 drama Winter’s Bone came like a bolt out of the blue, making her the second-youngest woman ever nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.
Lawrence spent 2011 in a trio of supporting roles — she popped up occasionally in The Beaver and Like Crazy, and had much more to do in X-Men: First Class — but 2012 will really be her year. Aside from The Hunger Games, she’s got the long-completed horror movie House at the End of the Street coming this fall, and then the juicy female lead opposite Bradley Cooper in David O. Russell’s The Silver Linings Playbook.
Peers: Formerly competitive with fellow Best Actress nominees Carey Mulligan and Rooney Mara — and ahead of other respected up-and-comers like Mia Wasikowska and Felicity Jones — Lawrence will see her studio cachet skyrocket after this weekend, when The Hunger Games is set to break box-office records. One manager we spoke to predicts that Lawrence is about to “become the hottest star around” (and he’s hardly alone in thinking so), and as such, she’ll be vying for parts that until today would have gone to her once-betters (and elders) like Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams.
Market Value: Yet to be written, since The Hunger Games is really the first movie to be sold on Lawrence’s name since people started learning it in 2010. That said, Games should give her one of the highest-grossing credits any female lead has ever had.
What Hollywood Thinks: Gushed one agent we spoke to, “She has indie cred, and the most box-office bang you can get for the buck. And after this she’ll have massive commercial appeal [and] she’ll be able to do whatever she wants to, because she couldn’t be in a better position: She’s been nominated for an Oscar; she’s in the biggest new franchise in some time; and she’s talented.”
“She’s going to be a superstar. I think that this movie will give her a bazillion chances,” agreed a second agent, who made the inevitable — and favorable — comparison with another female lead of a major megafranchise. “She has the accessibility to the audience that Kristen Stewart lacks. She feels like she’s a bit of an Everywoman who’s gotten a shot. I just think girls will be able to identify with her more than Kristen Stewart.”
The third agent we spoke to was a little more muted in his praise: “She’s a very naturalistic actor; she was very well-cast in Winter’s Bone. You can take the journey with her, but it’s a very low-octane journey.”
Still, it’s clear that most reps are high on the young actress, even if a top publicist we spoke to advised Lawrence to lay low after her flashbulb-soaked worldwide tour promoting The Hunger Games. “When you’re supersaturated as she is now, it’s time to go home — and stay home,” said the publicist. “Disappear. You now have to be the person who doesn’t come out [for a red carpet] unless it’s very meaningful.” Added the rep approvingly, “But the great thing about her is she was like that anyway.”
The Analysis: The next few years are fairly assured for Lawrence: Barring a franchise collapse, she’ll be starring in two or three additional Hunger Games sequels (depending on whether Lionsgate proceeds with an unofficial plan to split the last book into two movies, à la Harry Potter and Twilight), and she’ll be required to spend plenty of time promoting each one of them. Meanwhile, Fox may exercise its option on Lawrence for another X-Men film; certainly, the studio seemed so-so on a sequel until Lawrence’s star began to skyrocket. If they do go ahead with one, expect the newly recognizable Lawrence to be more valuable out of blue Mystique drag than in it.
After that, the next major milestone will be “to prove that she can carry a commercial vehicle by herself,” per our first agent, who quickly adds, “But that’s after the second Hunger Games movie. Right now, she can afford to take her time and build her audience. She needs to do some cool independents, and not just become a ‘studio bitch’; just go work with a great director and be good in it. And that’ll be hard, because she probably wants to get paid.”
A fourth agent agreed, suggesting, “She needs to go do the smallest, smallest, smallest movie — with a great director.” (“A Bennett Miller movie, or a Kim Peirce film, maybe?” offers our third agent.) One promising development along those lines: Lawrence is attached to the Susanne Bier–directed period drama Serena, which would again pair her with Bradley Cooper. We might also suggest a curveball comedy at some point, since Lawrence is a candid, funny presence in interviews with the self-deprecating charm of Emma Stone.
The Bottom Line: The Hollywood games can be even more vicious than The Hunger Games, but right now, Jennifer Lawrence is poised to come out on top, and she’s doing it in a role with the same arc as her career: We’re always told that Kristen Stewart is an indie-leaning tomboy miles away from her Twilight character Bella Swan, but Jennifer Lawrence and Katniss both feel like a regular, woodsy girl destined for big things. Like Katniss, Lawrence will play the game well and wear pretty dresses when necessary; let’s hope that she’s also got Katniss’s ability to retain her strong sense of self in an unpredictable, unforgiving field.
Buy/Sell/Hold: “Buy, of course! Why would you not?” says our third agent. “If you’re playing the odds, how do you not?”