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The filmmakers of upcoming horror ‘House at the End of the Street’ scored a major casting coup when they selected Jennifer Lawrence to play Elissa. Lawrence, whose career has skyrocketed in the past two years, had already starred in the searing independent drama ‘Winter’s Bone’, for which she would be nominated for an Oscar at age 20. But she had not yet been cast in the role that would propel her to stardom, Katniss Everdeen in the action blockbuster ‘The Hunger Games’. Still, according to Aaron Ryder, her potential was unmistakable.
“The minute you meet Jennifer, you realize this girl has a very long career ahead of her,” says the producer. “She’s incredibly talented. Her work in ‘Winter’s Bone’ was one of the best performances I’d seen in a long time. She walked into my office on a general meeting before we even read the script and I couldn’t figure out if she was 30 years old or 18. She has a maturity and wisdom about her that is rare. Some people are just naturally confident, and that’s certainly the case with Jen. She’s exceptional. She’s a superstar in the making and we’re lucky to have her.”
The filmmakers cast Lawrence shortly after the release of ‘Winter’s Bone’. “With ‘The Hunger Games’, she became huge,” says Tonderai, the director. “But at the time, it was a risk. It obviously paid off. Jen seized the part and made a difficult, complicated role her own.”
Lawrence had only a handful of films under her belt at the time and the idea of taking on a horror-thriller for the first time was immensely appealing. “This was something completely different for me,” says Lawrence. “I had never worked in this genre before and it was an amazing experience to do something so completely out of my comfort zone. But I really liked that it wasn’t about scaring people with blood or what I think of as ‘boo’ elements. The characters are very well developed and you find yourself getting scared for them in a personal way. You are both invested in the love story and afraid for Elissa. It is a very sophisticated way to frighten an audience.”
The actress says she also responded to the way the script deals with the idea of how we make choices about other people. “We constantly tell ourselves to listen to our instincts,” Lawrence says. “But what if you go out on a limb listening to your gut and then you end up being wrong? There are so many twists in the characters that you never know who you can trust. You spend the entire movie wondering.
“I love horror movies,” she admits. “I love scary shows like ‘Celebrity Ghost Story,’ which is not supposed to be scary but scares me to death. I’m like a five-year-old. My imagination is out of control.”
She credits Tonderai with making the fear factor real and visceral by keeping the focus on good storytelling and realistic characters. “I had faith in Mark,” she says. “He always saw it as a character piece, with no cheap scares, just humans being frightened, because we can’t trust ourselves. He’s the most inspiring person I’ve worked with. He really cares about what he does, which you see in things like the bible. He broke down the entire movie, including each character. It helped us get a better perspective on everything.”
The role, with its complicated action scenes, required more physicality than the young actress had ever handled before. “There was a lot more thinking on my feet than I had done previously,” Lawrence says. “In a big emotional scene with another actor, we can always rehearse it. But how in the world are you going to rehearse running upstairs, screaming and crawling on the floor? I would sit there before Mark called action playing it over and over in my head, but it could turn out completely different in the moment. You don’t know what can happen until you do it.”
Because her character is a budding musician, Lawrence got the opportunity to return to a passion she had abandoned. “I love to sing,” she says. “But once I became an actress, I shut it all down. It was so much fun to go to the studio with Benji Hughes and Steve Lindsey, who are absolute geniuses. We recorded music for hours and hours.”