Jennifer Lawrence, at this year’s Golden Globes, seemed stunned to have won her second prize there in two years. “HFPA, you really are, just, too kind!” she said to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, thanking her “American Hustle” director and fellow nominees before saying, “I’m sorry I’m shaking so much — don’t ever do this again! It’s so scary!”
She seems to have meant it. The 2013 Golden Globe and Oscar champion, Lawrence has put absolutely no effort into campaigning for a second Oscar — one that would make her only the sixth person in history, and the first since Tom Hanks, to win in consecutive years. Lawrence seemed nonplussed and anxious to have won at the Golden Globes; she skipped the BAFTAs (Britain’s equivalent of the Academy Awards), at which she won, as well as the Academy Award nominees luncheon; she has done next to no press as a nominee.
The official reason, here, is not solely pique (as it is in the case of Lawrence’s “Hustle” costar Christian Bale) but the contingencies of Lawrence’s filming schedule, one that “Hustle” director David O. Russell called “12 years of slavery.” Hooked into the “X-Men” and “Hunger Games” franchises, Lawrence’s life is largely composed of long, action-packed shooting days; that she was able to get away to shoot “American Hustle” is a function of the fact that the role is a long cameo.
It’s a short, funny role — and Lawrence’s main competition in the best supporting actress race is Lupita Nyong’o — the likable new star whose performance in “12 Years a Slave” is riveting and heartbreaking. For all Lawrence’s accolades, Nyong’o, who won the Screen Actors Guild Award and seems to be the critical favorite, has gathered as many.
They’re a picture in contrasts: Lawrence, at 23, has already scooped up three Oscar nominations and the big prize. Nyong’o, at 30, waited for “Slave” to make her film debut (she’d previously been getting a drama degree at Yale). If Lawrence wins, it won’t necessarily be undeserved — she’s quite amusing in “Hustle” — but will document just how much easier it is for an actress who looks like Lawrence to triumph generally. There simply aren’t nonwhite actresses who have won multiple Oscars, ever, let alone before their 25th birthday.
And, to her credit, Lawrence, who asked the Hollywood Foreign Press to never honor her again, seems to know that. She seemed uncomfortable with the trappings of awards season even before she had an Oscar: Last year, she was the front-runner throughout Oscar season up until a brief, late surge by “Amour” actress Emmanuelle Riva, and still seemed stunned by her Oscar win, wishing Riva a happy birthday while forgetting to thank many people she later said she’d wanted to. To a degree unusual for an incredibly popular star, she’s always seemed uncomfortable at awards shows when she isn’t joking around on the red carpet in a manner usually considered too undignified for a potential winner.
And she has real reason to be, this year: A second Oscar in two years, on top of her general celebrity, is a good recipe for the sort of backlash it’s hard to rebound from — and that’s before one takes into account that Lawrence would be beating one of the most striking new stars in recent memory. Given that Lawrence gave a special shout-out to Riva, her most formidable and widely loved competitor, last year, it’s easy to imagine that she’d say something kind about Nyong’o in her speech. And it’s hard to imagine that’d calm down the people annoyed that the Oscars didn’t spread the wealth.
There’s nothing wrong with being successful; indeed, plenty of performers campaign for second and even third Oscars. But Lawrence’s willingness to take a back seat during Oscar season has been admirable — she’s bailed on the events it’s too hard to get to as a result of her extreme career success, courting the possibility it might lead to someone else winning an Oscar. If she wins the prize on Sunday, it’ll be in spite of her work to signal that she’s doing fine as is. And in that event, any backlash should be directed at the Oscars, not at her; short of retiring from acting, there’s little more Lawrence could do to avoid acting honors.