Jennifer Lawrence charms at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Photo: Michael Kovac/WireImage

“It’s exhausting and an honor. It’s an exhausting honor,” said “The Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence while on the red carpet at the Arlington Theater in downtown Santa Barbara this Saturday. Though last week the 22 year-old actress was reportedly suffering from pneumonia, she looked terrific in her off-the-shoulder Stella McCartney pant suit. Behind her was a throng of squealing teenage girls who would periodically shout her name in unison.

A frontrunner for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” Lawrence was in town to receive the “Most Outstanding Performer of the Year” award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival; one more prize to put on her increasingly cluttered trophy rack.

Yet when Lawrence sat down with festival director Roger Durling to reflect on her short but insanely successful career, she seemed remarkably candid about her own shortcomings and irreverent about her chosen profession. Though Durling’s questions were as fawning as they were inarticulate, she completely charmed the 2000 plus audience.

It’s clear that Lawrence is still processing her sudden, meteoric rise from being a teen in Louisville, KY to being an internationally famous movie star. “I had never really thought of acting [growning up.] It was never really a possibility. Now looking back at it, I know that I was an actress since birth. Dressing up in different outfits. And I’d introduce myself as Lucille Ball. So now it’s starting to make sense.”

After a scout spotted her, she and her mother ventured from Kentucky to New York to meet with agencies. “In the car from the hotel to the modeling agency I decided that I didn’t want to be a model that I was only going to be an actress. And that I’d only sign with an agency that would let me act. And so I was turning down all these agencies and my mother thought I was an idiot.”

Lawrence did get signed and soon she was landing small roles in movies and television. Her 2010 turn in “Winter’s Bone” proved to be her breakout role, landing the young actress her first Academy Award nomination. But it wasn’t until she signed on to be Katniss Everdeen in the huge popular “Hunger Games” series that she was thrown into the realm of A-list celebrity. It was a decision she agonized over.

“It’s really rare that saying ‘yes’ to something will completely change your life. I was happy with my life. And I always had this imaginary future where I’d be a soccer mom. It just didn’t fit with taking on a giant franchise.”

Lawrence, who had previously done mostly independent movies, maintained that she judged a project on its story and the character she played, not the scale of the production. She finally took the part after her mother called her a “hypocrite.”

When Durling asked her about being a role model for millions of people everywhere, Lawrence said, “It’s a great feeling. Fortunately, I don’t have a secret life I have to worry about getting out, so I can enjoy it.”

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