Jennifer Lawrence finds her true grit in Winter's Bone

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      Jennifer Lawrence has skinned a dead squirrel on film, and she has appeared in tiny swimsuits in a well-known men’s magazine. In her “A Woman We Love” pictorial for this month’s Esquire, Lawrence, a 19-year-old actor, poses damp-haired and pouty-lipped. In her new movie, Winter’s Bone, she wears baggy jeans and a wool hat pulled low, and she shoots a bushy-tailed rodent before pulling out its innards as though she’s been doing it all her life. “Somebody went out hunting and dropped off a Ziploc baggie of frozen squirrels to the set,” says Lawrence. Uh-huh. And? “I skinned the squirrel.”

      Watch the trailer for Winter's Bone.

      Backwoods wet work was possibly the least of Lawrence’s responsibilities in Winter’s Bone, the gritty, gripping Ozark Mountains–set film that grabbed the grand jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Her character, 17-year-old Ree Dolly, must track down her missing methamphetamine-cooking father before her family loses the house he put up as his bail bond. This requires Ree to navigate a network of tight-lipped kinfolk who lack the friendly gene when it comes to anyone threatening their wrong-side-of-the-law livelihoods. This required Lawrence to be in every single scene of the movie, which opens in Vancouver this Friday (June 25). For “25-and-a-half” days of filming she tramped about rural Missouri in the dead of winter. And she got “fake beat-up”.

      “I’m sorry, I’m eating a Snickers,” Lawrence says on the phone from Toronto, sounding like someone—with what turns out to be a light Kentuckian accent—doing just that. At 2008’s Venice Film Festival she received the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young emerging actor, for her performance in Guillermo Arriaga’s The Burning Plain—in which, incidentally, her character kills birds with a slingshot. But despite the fact that she’s now on the brink of certain heady fame, she comes off much like the gutsy, self-possessed teenager she plays on-screen. “Ree’s and my personalities are similar, you know—I’m very stubborn and competitive,” she says. “I’m fascinated with people that don’t take no for an answer.”

      Because she now lives in actorland, Los Angeles, Lawrence went home to Kentucky for shooting, wood-chopping, and disembowelling-small-animals lessons. Upon meeting her first stew-destined squirrel, “I ran back inside the house.”

      It helped that several Missourian nonactors were cast, including Ashlee Thompson and Isaiah Stone, who play Ree’s young siblings and with whom Lawrence shares startlingly naturalistic scenes. “Yeah, the squirrel thing was not weird to anybody,” says Lawrence, laughing. “I was kind of looking around like, ”˜Does anybody—no? All right. Okay.’ Ashlee, who grew up on the property where we shot, wasn’t fazed at all. She was like, ”˜You gotta get your little fingers in there.’ The way of life was such a theme of the movie. We weren’t coming from a judgmental place. We wanted to represent the people the way they were.”

      Just don’t ask her how to do a serious scene with a bad baby. “I’m telling my friend how the sheriff came by to see my dad and I have to get down to the Arkansas line. We had the baby lying there and the baby was farting,” she says. “I was laughing so hard. The baby was totally unprofessional.”