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Johanna Schneller: Fame Game

‘Thanks for raising me, but I’m going to take it from here’

Johanna Schneller | Columnist profile | E-mail
From Saturday's Globe and Mail

And on working with director/co-star Jodie Foster on her next film, The Beaver: “We both walked away thinking the same thing: ‘I’ve never met anybody who reminds me of me more.’ As far as methods go, neither of us have one. Like me, she doesn’t take any of it to heart. We both think of this as a job, and don’t understand why you suddenly have to become an a-hole when you become successful at it. We’re both perfectly fine with technical directions: ‘Hunch your shoulders more, lift your head up higher.’ And we both hate b.s. directing, like, ‘Imagine your puppy just died.’ If you want me to cry, just say cry.”

At 14, Lawrence convinced her parents to take her from her native Louisville, Ky., to New York to audition for talent agencies. “They said it was the best cold read they’d ever heard from a 14-year-old,” Lawrence said. “My mom told me they were lying.” She laughed. “My parents were the exact opposite of stage parents. They did everything in their power to keep it from happening. But it was going to happen no matter what. I was like, ‘Thanks for raising me, but I’m going to take it from here.’”

Lawrence’s parents made her a deal: She could try acting if she graduated from high school first. She did, with a 3.9 average, two years early. “I never considered that I wouldn’t be successful,” Lawrence said. “I never thought, ‘If acting doesn’t work out I can be a doctor.’ The phrase ‘If it doesn’t work out’ never popped into my mind. And that dumb determination of being a naive 14-year-old has never left me.”

Lawrence got work immediately, first in commercials, then on TV shows including Monk and Medium. She co-starred in the cable series The Bill Engvall Show, and landed her first independent film, The Poker House, at 16 (she played an abuse victim). Lawrence summed up her rise thus: “From 15 to 16 I sucked, because I had no idea what I was doing. Then I slowly stopped sucking. I never think I’m above reality or exempt from disaster. But I’m a hard worker, and when I set my mind to something, it usually happens.” She now lives in Santa Monica, Calif., with her dog, a Yorkie. Her next goal is to direct. She’s convinced she’ll be good at it.

Only once did Lawrence sound like a regular 19-year-old – when she told me how her high-school nemesis, Meredith, once asked her to hand out a stack of invitations to a birthday party she wasn’t invited to. “Who does that?” Lawrence asked. “You’re just outing yourself as mean. Even the Nazis didn’t do what they did simply to be evil.” She guffawed. “I’m so happy I’m comparing Meredith to a Nazi. I hope she reads this.”

Unlike lesser mortals, however, Lawrence coolly responded to Meredith’s goading in the moment. “I started whistling,” she said, “and I walked over to the trash can and I dumped them in. Then when I had a birthday party, I invited her. I won.”

I'll say. As if Meredith ever stood a chance.