Jennifer Lawrence is back. The Oscar winner, once the self-deprecating crown jewel of the Hollywood scene, has been moving in the shadows over the last couple of years. Now, she's slowly stepping back into the spotlight as she stars in the upcoming film Don’t Look Up. In The Hunger Games star’s first major interview since her conscious exit from the public eye, it's clear that the weight of the public’s scrutiny has shaken her.
“I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I’d gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn’t do anything right,” she tells Vanity Fair. “If I walked a red carpet, it was, ‘Why didn’t she run?’… I think that I was people-pleasing for the majority of my life. Working made me feel like nobody could be mad at me: ‘Okay, I said yes, we’re doing it. Nobody’s mad.’ And then I felt like I reached a point where people were not pleased just by my existence. So that kind of shook me out of thinking that work or your career can bring any kind of peace to your soul.”
I just think everybody had gotten sick of me... I felt like I reached a point where people were not pleased just by my existence.
The interview is littered with pauses, with Lawrence considering the weight of her words. “I’m so nervous. I haven’t spoken to the world in forever,” she tells interviewer Karen Valby.
The toll of being one of the world’s most visible women (considering that in early 2018 she was one of the highest-paid actors in the world, and her private nude photos were leaked in 2014), has left her more reserved than ever. It’s an important choice for the pregnant star to not divulge too much about her baby — after all, the boundaries of her private life have been crossed many times.
Comedian and TikTok user Keara Sullivan has her theory, one she calls ‘The Jennifer Lawrence Pipeline’. This is when a widely beloved or relatable actress eventually loses their public support. Sullivan points out a few key signs when a female celebrity is falling down this pipeline. One is when there is a film genre change — typically starting in comedy and then changing direction (for Lawrence, the reverse is true). Second, the drawcard for many celebrities comes from their off-screen personalities.
“I think because so much of a woman’s success in Hollywood depends on her persona off-screen, a fall from grace is a lot more frequent,” Sullivan says. “We, as a public, demand a lot more emotional labour from women; we demand to know them a lot more personally. We form our opinions on them not based on their acting work, but them as a human being.”
Through interviews and public appearances, these celebrities are put through the media spin cycle and audiences are presented with an overload of coverage. Once they provide us with the level of visibility and intimacy we demanded, we grow tired of them, calling them out for being narcissistic or attention-seeking.
The consequences of these consistent jabs continue to erode Lawrence’s self of sense today. “My biggest concern [when on the set of Don’t Look Up] was I did not want to annoy Meryl Streep,” she tells Valby. “That’s my worst nightmare. So, I will only speak if spoken to, and I will be the least annoying person in the room.”
We put women up on pedestals without their permission and then bash them with the same hands we applauded them with.
She was the living and breathing emblem of Gillian Flynn’s ‘cool girl’ trope. “Being the cool girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size two,” Flynn writes in Gone Girl.
Of course, this non-existent and damaging expectation of women sets them up for failure. We put women up on pedestals without their permission and then bash them with the same hands we applauded them with. We give them no choice but to disappear, to stay quiet. Only after that, they can dare to re-emerge, a meeker and more cautious version of what they once were.
Yes, Lawrence has returned — but her disappearance in the first place speaks volumes.