'Dude!" Says Jennifer Lawrence into her cellphone. "I'm lost as fuck! I've been driving around for, like, 10 minutes. Where the hell is this place?" She's looking for a horse stable. We have plans to go horseback riding in the canyons above Malibu, but neither of us can find the place. I tell her to pull over and I'll come find her.
The most talented young actress in America is idling on a side street in her white Volkswagen, in blue jeans, a gray T-shirt and designer shades. Her naturally blond hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail, and her elbows are sticking out the open window.
She's famous for playing vulnerable young women with wills of steel, as with her Oscar-nominated turn in Winter's Bone, or as the bow-and-arrow-toting Katniss Everdeen in the just-released Hunger Games. Right now her face says she means business.
"I have to pee so bad."
We drive a little more and find the stable, which, it turns out, isn't a stable, just a red-dirt parking lot where a horse trailer is parked. Lawrence jumps out of the VW and is off like a flash, running off down the trail in search of a bush. Two twentysomething hiker babes in sunglasses and sports bras, SoCal trail chic, do a double take as she sprints past. Was that . . . ?
Lawrence, 21, has a way of making a first impression. Woody Harrelson, her Hunger Games co-star, still remembers their first meeting. "I was on my bus," he says, "and on my bus I have a yoga swing. Jennifer comes on, and she goes, 'Hi, Woody, I'm J – is that a sex swing?' Her first sentence to me."
Josh Hutcherson, also from The Hunger Games: "When I got cast, she called me up for one of those five-minute 'Excited to work with you, blah, blah, blah' things. The conversation started with her saying, 'Think about a catheter going in – ouch!' and then turns into a 45-minute rant about zombies and the apocalypse."
And here's Zoë Kravitz, who appeared with Lawrence in X-Men: First Class and who is one of her best friends: "I'd met her a few times, and she was like, 'You should come over and we'll hang out.' So I go over to her apartment, and she opens the door in a towel. She's like, 'Come in, sorry, you're early, I was about to shower.' And she drops her towel and gets in the shower, and starts shaving her legs, totally naked. She was like, 'Are we here yet? Is this OK?' And I was like, 'I guess we're there!'"
Lawrence finishes peeing in record time ("I'm the fastest pee-er ever," she says later. "I'm famous for it") and starts heading back down the trail. She's barely had time to button her jeans when the two hikers stop her. "I'm sorry to bother you," one says. "But could I get your autograph? My niece is 15. It would make her year."
Fifteen-year-old nieces are Lawrence's sweet spot right now. The Hunger Games trilogy is the biggest teen juggernaut since Twilight, with 24 million copies of the books in print. And since its post-apocalyptic action-packed love story appeals to boys as much as girls, experts are predicting the movie to make approximately a gajillion dollars, with three sequels already in the works.
Back in the parking lot, we meet up with our guide, Jasmin, who introduces us to our mounts for the day. Lawrence gets a white mare named Nay-Nay, who Jasmin says had a cameo in HBO's Band of Brothers. "Oh!" Lawrence says, petting her on the nose. "You're famous!"
Jasmin hands out liability waivers – Lawrence puts her mom as her emergency contact – and helmets, and I get a panicked mental image of the linchpin of Hollywood's newest billion-dollar franchise tumbling headfirst into a ravine. But it passes as soon as Lawrence hooks her boot into the stirrup, and, in one fluid motion, hops up in the saddle like a pro.
Lawrence's family owned a horse farm when she was growing up. Her first horse was a pony named Muffin: "She was cute," Lawrence says, "but she was a mean little bitch." After that she graduated to a couple of males, Dan and Brumby. "Those two hated each other, but then one day there was a big storm and they spent the night huddled in the barn together, and suddenly they were inseparable. The sexual tension finally boiled over." Last came Brandy. "So white-trash," Lawrence says. "That was during my tube-top phase."
We start up the trail, an 1,800-foot climb into the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. We ride past oak and willow trees and coastal sage scrub. Lawrence says she doesn't get to ride in L.A. often. "I did ride once, in some arena," she says. I ask what it was like. "It was like a big building," she says with a grin, "with a roof?" We climb some more. "I can see your horse's ass," she says. "It's sweaty. I can see its sweaty ass juice."
She talks a lot about throwing up. Recently she was back home in Kentucky and caught a bad flu. "I was throwing up everywhere," she says. She also has a vivid memory of the time she ate some bad salmon. "I threw up for, like, two days that time. Now I'm on a salmon vendetta." But she doesn't throw up from drinking, at least not anymore. "I've learned my lesson there. Now I stop before I get blackout. Anyway," she says, "when's the last time you barfed?"
Bradley Cooper, who recently finished a movie with Lawrence, says she's "the person you want on set with you at 4:00 in the morning when you're losing your mind." "She'll say anything," agrees Hunger Games co-star Lenny Kravitz. "Anything." (He also says she insisted on calling him "Mr. Kravitz," because he's Zoë's dad.)
Slow and steady, we wind our way to the top of the canyon. Stretched out before us is a Cinemascope view of the blue Pacific, with the white mansions of Malibu dotting the cliffs below. We reach a shady spot and slow the horses to a walk, and mine starts eating some grass. "Don't let him do that!" Lawrence says. "It's not good for him – he has a bit in his mouth."
But then a few minutes later, I look back and see Nay-Nay bent over, nibbling on some sagebrush. Lawrence is draped over her neck, whispering in her ear.
"OK," she's saying. "Just a little bit."
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