It is safe to say that in her 32 years on planet Earth, Jennifer Lawrence has never struck anyone as the country-club type. So I was surprised to learn that for our first meeting, she wanted to go golfing. “Does she golf?” I asked her publicist over the phone. The publicist wasn’t sure. “I’ll leave that for you to unpack,” she said with a laugh.
I was still trying to figure out what sort of shoes a first-time golfer wears to a driving range when I got word that Lawrence had changed her mind. She no longer wanted to go golfing. I learned she wanted to have an unconventional spa experience, “like when they spank you with those leaves,” she said. With two days to look, I couldn’t locate a spa that offered Russian venik massage in private enough quarters. So we settled on Tikkun, a small, intimate spa in Santa Monica.
I met Lawrence there on a drizzly Friday summer morning. She arrived wearing a pink sundress, brown leather sandals, and an oversized printed cardigan she calls her “Big Lebowski sweater.” Her blond hair was longer than I could ever remember seeing it in photos, almost down to her waist. More immediately striking, Lawrence, who had a baby in February with her husband of three years, the art gallerist Cooke Maroney, was wearing the unmistakable aura of new motherhood—that mix of euphoric new love, sleep deprivation, and a certain wide-eyed rawness that comes with having your world cracked open.
We were in a suite with side-by-side massage tables, showers, and a candlelit hot tub. Flute music played overhead. I remarked that, given the weather, it was probably for the best that we didn’t go to the driving range. Lawrence nodded. “Also, like, I’m a mom,” she said. “I need to just lie down. This is the only time I could come to a spa and not feel guilty.” Moments later she added that she’d gotten a spray tan the day before, feigning the dotty tone of an eccentric shut-in: “I was like, I’m meeting somebody from the outside! I hope she doesn’t think I’m pale!” A spa employee appeared and invited us to make use of various communal areas—a Himalayan salt room, a Korean clay room, a cold room. As the woman spoke, Lawrence fiddled with breast-pump gear that she would later wear into one of the rooms.
If it’s awkward-slash-comical to undress and go into a sauna with someone a few minutes after meeting them, it is even more awkward-slash-comical to conduct an interview in that situation. Wrapped in flimsy sarongs, we made small talk in the heat, the red light of my audio recorder glowing between us. I felt an impulse to ask Lawrence about her baby, about giving birth—all the things two women might normally discuss in a sauna when one of them is a new mom. But I’d been warned that Lawrence was still finding her footing with the topic, boundary-wise. Conversation turned instead to her new movie.
Causeway is the first film directed by Lila Neugebauer, who comes from the theater world. (Her Broadway restaging of Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery in 2018 was nominated for the Tony Award for best revival of a play, and its star, Elaine May, won for best actress.) Lawrence plays an American soldier who returns to her hometown of New Orleans after a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan. On one level it’s a movie about acute post-traumatic stress. On another it’s a homecoming story, about being adrift in the fraught territory of one’s family. The most central narrative involves a relationship that Lawrence’s character, Lynsey, forms with a mechanic, James, who fixes her broken-down truck, played by the supremely talented Brian Tyree Henry.
The various threads are weaved into a meditation on trauma, but an unusual one, in ways I couldn’t put my finger on. It does not invite comparisons to other movies that deal with war and post-traumatic stress, such as The Hurt Locker. It’s quiet and meandering, a trauma plot unconcerned with Plot. It seems less interested in what happened in the past than with the question of what to make of it. There are no flashbacks.
It’s the first movie Lawrence has done with her production company, Excellent Cadaver. (The company name refers to a Sicilian mafia term for a hit job on a high-profile person. “I will have a target on my head every time I make a film,” Lawrence joked.) This fact interested me. Lawrence is a force in Hollywood, a four-time Oscar nominee and a best-actress winner of record-breaking financial might, most known for big, loud comedies (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Don’t Look Up) and even bigger, louder franchises (The Hunger Games, X-Men). In its subtlety and attention to substantive emotional matters, Causeway has more in common with one of Lawrence’s first movies, Winter’s Bone, in which she played a teenager scraping by in the Ozarks. I was curious: Why this story?
“At first I didn’t know,” Lawrence said. “I think I was just off-the-bat drawn to the rhythm. I like a fast-paced Marvel movie as much as the next person. But I do miss the slow melody of a character-driven story.” After reading the script, she moved on it immediately. “I was like, We have to make this. Let’s make it now.” There’s usually a deeper reason Lawrence gravitates to a role, one that doesn’t become clear until later. “I don’t really know why I’m making a movie or why I’m drawn to make a movie until it’s in retrospect.”
They shot some of Causeway in late 2019. Then, because of the pandemic, production stopped. They weren’t able to shoot the rest until late 2021. A lot happened in those two years. Lawrence got married. She slowed down. Without the set schedules of big franchises—a structure that had always made her feel safe—she had the space to ask herself: Who am I? What do I want to do? By the time they resumed shooting, Lawrence was pregnant, and the more subterranean thing about Lynsey had come into focus. “Her untenable home, her inability to commit to one thing or another because of these internal injuries that are completely invisible but huge—I think I connected with that at that specific time in my life,” she said. “So much was going on with me at that time that I didn’t realize. Until I was back, pregnant, married, making it. And I was just like, Oh, this is a woman who is scared to commit.”
We moved to the cold room. I told Lawrence that I’d wondered if there was more of a story behind this choice of film. “It’s very personal,” she said. “I get emotional every time I watch the movie. Not just because of what I said about getting married and stuff. It’s too personal to talk about.” In one way or another, she is always revisiting the same ground, she added. “I have had a pretty consistent theme in all my movies since I was 18. I’m curious if, now that I’m older and I have a baby, I’ll finally break out of that.” Assuming she meant the young, maternal, Joan-of-Arc-in-the-wilderness thing, I suggested that it didn’t apply to all her movies. Certainly her role in Joy, as Miracle Mop inventor and infomercial mogul Joy Mangano, was a little different. “Yeah,” she said. “But not. Not in terms of the theme that I’m thinking.”
It was time for Korean body scrubs. This took place in separate rooms. Afterward, we met back in the suite for reflexology. Lawrence announced that she’d thought about it and now had a more specific answer to my question: “Art more often than not is about one’s mother. I hesitate to say that because I would hate for somebody to go back and watch my movies, or watch this movie in particular, and think that that is the way that I’m painting my mother. My mother is a wonderful person. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still things from my childhood that I’m working out.”
The subject of motherhood was starting to feel less like an elephant in the room than a giant woolly mammoth. Eventually, as we both lay horizontal on the dueling massage tables, I broached it. Lawrence said she was willing to talk about her own experience, but that she would be drawing a boundary around her baby and husband. (She did share that the baby is a boy, and that his name is Cy, after the postwar American painter Cy Twombly, one of Maroney’s favorite artists.)
Lawrence spoke deliberately, with, as I read it, a keen understanding that she was approaching a third rail. “It’s so scary to talk about motherhood. Only because it’s so different for everybody. If I say, It was amazing from the start, some people will think, It wasn’t amazing for me at first, and feel bad. Fortunately I have so many girlfriends who were honest. Who were like, It’s scary. You might not connect right away. You might not fall in love right away. So I felt so prepared to be forgiving. I remember walking with one of my best friends at, like, nine months, and being like, Everyone keeps saying that I will love my baby more than my cat. But that’s not true. Maybe I’ll love him as much as my cat?”
But she did fall in love right away, and it does seem she loves her baby more than she loves her cat: “The morning after I gave birth, I felt like my whole life had started over. Like, Now is day one of my life. I just stared. I was just so in love. I also fell in love with all babies everywhere. Newborns are just so amazing. They’re these pink, swollen, fragile little survivors. Now I love all babies. Now I hear a baby crying in a restaurant and I’m like, Awwww, preciousssss.”
“It’s very personal,” she said of Causeway. “I get emotional every time I watch the movie”
She went on. “So many of my films in the past have been about my mother, my childhood. I wonder what will happen now that I’ll be witnessing somebody else’s childhood. And I wonder what he’s going to be talking about with his therapist. She wouldn’t put me down. She kisses me on the mouth. She asked me not to go to college.”
It was the best thing ever, and yet totally terrifying. “My heart has stretched to a capacity that I didn’t know about. I include my husband in that. And then they’re both just, like, out there—walking around, crossing streets. He’s gonna drive one day. He’s gonna be a stupid teenager and be behind the wheel of a car. And I’m just gonna be like, Good night! You know? Like, who sleeps?”
In late June, I drove to Lawrence’s house in Beverly Hills. She greeted me at the door in a knee-length gray robe and fluffy white slippers. She had just finished a fitting for this photo shoot, and given the dress code of our first meeting, saw no need to put on more clothes. “I was like, She’s already seen me naked, so who cares.”
Lawrence led me through a sunken den to a large outdoor dining area that was screened in, Southern-style. As she uncorked a bottle of white wine, she warned me that she was in a mood. Not a bad mood, exactly. But a consistently emotional one, brought on by the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade a few days earlier.
Much of her disappointment was directed at certain relatives back in Louisville, Kentucky, where she’d grown up, including her father. The 2016 election had torn open a rift in her family. Repairing it was an ongoing process. Particularly since having a baby, she had been trying to heal. She even discussed with her therapist the recurring nightmares she has about Tucker Carlson. “I just worked so hard in the last five years to forgive my dad and my family and try to understand: It’s different. The information they are getting is different. Their life is different.” Lawrence had a haunted look in her eyes. She would stop at times to apologize or make a self-deprecating joke, then get visibly overtaken by emotion again. I felt like I was watching a real-life version of whatever it is that happens when she acts. “I’ve tried to get over it and I really can’t. I can’t. I’m sorry I’m just unleashing, but I can’t fuck with people who aren’t political anymore. You live in the United States of America. You have to be political. It’s too dire. Politics are killing people.”
The reversal of Roe was reigniting all of it. She had not been entirely in Hillary Clinton’s corner, but still found it incredibly upsetting that the country elected Donald Trump. “It breaks my heart because America had the choice between a woman and a dangerous, dangerous jar of mayonnaise. And they were like, Well, we can’t have a woman. Let’s go with the jar of mayonnaise.” And now, thanks to Supreme Court justices appointed by that dangerous jar of mayonnaise, the unthinkable had happened. “I don’t want to disparage my family, but I know that a lot of people are in a similar position with their families. How could you raise a daughter from birth and believe that she doesn’t deserve equality? How?”
Growing up in a conservative home, Lawrence thought of herself as Republican. But it was almost a cultural thing, like sports or something. She had the notion that there were two teams and that the Republicans were her team. Then one night when she was 16, she was watching 30 Rock and Liz Lemon said something along the lines of, I’m not a crazy liberal. I just think people should drive hybrid cars. It made sense. It seemed rational. Later, when she made movies in other countries, she saw how money always tended to concentrate at the top, not just in the United States, how it rarely trickled down to working people. She gathered more perspective the more money she made. To her, “Republican” had always meant: Why should my taxes pay for your haughty lifestyle? Now she saw holes in that logic. “Nobody likes to see half their paycheck go away, but it made sense to me. Yeah, for the greater good, I guess it makes sense.”
Just as the professional inevitably mixed with the personal, the personal inevitably mixed with the political. The persistent pay gap between her and her male costars, for example. (The hacking of Sony Pictures computers in 2014 revealed that Lawrence’s compensation for American Hustle had been considerably less than that of her male costars. More recently, Vanity Fair reported that she earned $5 million less than Leonardo DiCaprio for Don’t Look Up.) She knows all actors at her level are overpaid, but the discrepancy is still bothersome. It reflects the pay gap between men and women writ large, and it delivers the same insult: “It doesn’t matter how much I do. I’m still not going to get paid as much as that guy, because of my vagina?” The hacking and leaking of her nude photos felt punitive, as though it was because she was one of the highest-paid actresses in the world that someone thought: Strip her clothes off.
Roe was hitting especially hard. Lawrence herself got pregnant in her early 20s. She one hundred percent intended to get an abortion. But before she could, “I had a miscarriage alone in Montreal.” She got pregnant again a couple years ago, while shooting Don’t Look Up. By then she was married and very much wanted to have a baby. She had another miscarriage. The second time, she had to get a D&C, the surgical procedure by which tissue is removed from the uterus. To imagine children and 18-year-olds in any sort of situation with limited options was simply too much to bear. Even more so now that she does have a baby. “I remember a million times thinking about it while I was pregnant. Thinking about the things that were happening to my body. And I had a great pregnancy. I had a very fortunate pregnancy. But every single second of my life was different. And it would occur to me sometimes: What if I was forced to do this?”
And how on earth can anyone have children and not want to restrict access to guns, she wanted to know. “I’m raising a little boy who is going to go to school one day. Guns are the number-one cause of death for children in the United States. And people are still voting for politicians who receive money from the NRA. It blows my mind. I mean if Sandy Hook didn’t change anything? We as a nation just went, Okay! We are allowing our children to lay down their lives for our right to a second amendment that was written over 200 years ago.”
At one point I asked Lawrence if there was still open communication about politics with her family, if she still broached the subject with her relatives in Kentucky. “I broach the subject in the sense that I unleash text messages. Just: Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. They don’t respond. And then I’ll feel bad and send a picture of the baby.” At another point I looked down at my list of questions about her movie and her acting career and started to laugh. It felt absurd to segue into all that. Lawrence read my mind instantly and started to laugh too. “Yes, I did make a movie. I worked really hard on it. It was the hardest shoot of my life. It was three years. I hope people see it. But if not, we’re all going to die anyway so who cares.”
Causeway has three writers attached to it—Elizabeth Sanders, who wrote the short story on which it is based, “Red, White, and Water,” and the novelists Ottessa Moshfegh and Luke Goebel, who helped turn it into a screenplay. But the movie that will come out in November bears only a passing resemblance to what any of them wrote. Why is a longish story, best told from the beginning.
Around the time that Excellent Cadaver received the script, it was also sent to Neugebauer, by the producer Scott Rudin. Lawrence and Neugebauer discussed the project over dinner. “We were just completely on the same page creatively and aesthetically,” Lawrence said. “I knew that she was the right person for it, regardless of her being a first-time film director. I felt like whatever obstacles come with that are worth it for her insight and instincts.” Neugebauer was certain too. “The feeling for me was not just that I can do this with this person, but I sort of have to,” she said. “There are no games. There’s no fortress. She’s present and she’s in it with you and she’s game, as a person at a dinner table and a person on a set. That’s who she is, and it’s apparent immediately.” (Rudin exited the project last year after The Hollywood Reporter published accusations detailing an alleged history of bullying and abusive behavior.)
Neugebauer had known Lawrence’s costar, Brian Tyree Henry, since their student days at Yale (when she was an undergraduate and he was in the graduate drama school). “The scope of Brian’s range, his remarkable ability with language, his creative imagination, his depth of spirit, his magnetism—that has been apparent to me for a very long time,” Neugebauer said. When Henry saw that Neugebauer was directing the movie, he signed on right away. “I absolutely jumped on it the minute that I saw it was her,” he said. Lawrence and Henry had an instant rapport on set. “They had once-in-a-generation chemistry,” said Justine Polsky, Lawrence’s producing partner and best friend of 14 years. “Even when they called ‘Cut,’ we just hung around each other,” Henry said. It became even more apparent in the edit room. The scenes with Lawrence and Henry were the most compelling.
During lockdown, everyone began to wonder if they should be making more of that chemistry. There was a shared feeling that something was missing, a longing for something more. Henry was living not far from Lawrence in Los Angeles. Together with Neugebauer they started workshopping the script. “We just broke this thing apart,” Henry said. “We really just got together and busted this open the best way we could.”
Henry thought there might be more to explore in the familiarity found in trauma. He told Lawrence and Neugebauer something to the effect of: “I am a native of New Orleans in the movie. I’ve suffered a great trauma. I feel like there’s something to be said about trauma-bonding, especially when you have this Black man and this white woman who come from the same area but are trying to figure each other out.”
Henry did not want the connection between the two characters to become romantic. He did not want them to find each other through lust. Nor did he want it to be any sort of savior relationship. “I’m always really conscious of what the relationships look like when you have a Black man and a white woman in this society,” he said. What if it was a friendship, but with a familial aspect to it? “There’s something about when somebody sees another person for who they truly are because of what they’ve lost. And you lean into that. And you’re like, Oh, well, I’ve lost too. Are we going to continue losing together? Are we going to build each other up?”
Neugebauer also recut some of the war-related stuff. The rehabilitation scenes stayed. (Neugebauer spoke to numerous experts in the field of traumatic brain injury and numerous veterans groups, especially the VA in New York and the VA down in New Orleans. “The way they opened their life stories to us,” she said. “The movie wouldn’t exist without those people.”) But the Afghanistan flashbacks had to go. The photography was great. The scenes just didn’t feel right. “Lila was like No—the whole movie will be in the present,” Lawrence said.
The workshopping continued through the reshoots. Some scenes were rewritten until the day of. When Lawrence and Henry weren’t sure where a scene should go, they would improv. “I could tell that that’s her pocket,” Henry said. I asked Henry to describe Lawrence’s acting process overall. “It’s just human,” he said. “It’s just fucking human.” Moments later he said it again. “She’s just human. And I would like to believe that is something I possess. Put us both in a room, it’s just going to be human as hell.”
Lawrence was in the early stages of pregnancy when they shot the rest of Causeway and very pregnant when she started doing press for Don’t Look Up toward the end of last year. (“Imagine promoting that movie seven months pregnant. Yeah, the world’s gonna end!”)
She was going up the back stairs of her house in L.A. when her water broke, “like in the movies.” She’d written down a bunch of inspirational quotes that she wanted Maroney to repeat to her when she was in the throes of labor. “And then obviously once you get there and you’re having contractions, that’s just, like, not the vibe.” At one point Maroney came over to her in their hospital room. “He was like, Do you want me to say any of this stuff? Doesn’t seem like you want me to.” She didn’t. Lawrence was on the ground, leaning on an exercise ball and repeating a more helpful affirmation that she’d come up with on the fly: Don’t be a pussy. It’s not that bad. Don’t be a pussy. It’s not that bad.
Lawrence will start making movies again this fall. First she’ll be shooting No Hard Feelings, a Harold and Maude–type comedy based on a Craigslist ad in which a mom was seeking someone to date her son before he went to college, directed by Gene Stupnitsky. (It was Stupnitsky who introduced Lawrence to Maroney. She had a question about art, so Stupnitsky gave her Maroney’s number, and then Maroney showed her some art. “I was like, Do you know how gorgeous you are? I didn’t say that, but I was like, Is this a joke? Is this a prank?”) Then she’ll be shooting Sue (working title), a biopic about the Hollywood agent Sue Mengers directed by Paolo Sorrentino. “There is almost, and I say this with love and admiration, a sociopathic tendency that I think sometimes I’m jealous of,” Lawrence said of Mengers. “I kind of covet the heartlessness that I have no doubt she had to have.”
For the moment, Lawrence was preoccupied with the midterm elections. In the days and weeks after the interview at her house, she kept thinking of more things to say. There were multiple calls, one on the Fourth of July, and at least one voice memo. She would send long, thought-out, fact-filled paragraphs—mini op-eds—via text. Later, on the phone, emotion would pour out.
She was upset about Kentucky’s trigger laws banning abortions immediately after the Supreme Court decision, and how the overturning of Roe was sure to affect poor people most. (“Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, a woman of means is always going to be able to get an abortion.”) She was demoralized by the anemic response of Democratic leaders and what she felt was Biden’s toothless executive action. (“If anybody ever needed proof that our two-party system is a failure.”) She was beside herself that a conservative-majority court could take away a right that roughly 85 percent of Americans believe in, and that the so-called party of small government didn’t view this as overreach. (“Get the government out of my snatch. Okay? Pull quote! On the record!”) She was enraged that male politicians and male talking heads would weigh in on the matter at all. (“It’s too personal to a female’s existence to watch white men debate over uteruses when they from the bottom of their hearts can’t find a clitoris.”) She was incensed by the Court’s decision expanding gun rights after the school shooting in Uvalde, and its decision limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions, and the average age of politicians in general. (“We have to live in the future that they’re creating. These people are fucking old. They’re a hundred. McConnell was alive and well and thriving when schools were segregated.”) She was heartened by all the union-organizing in the news, but appalled that J.D. Vance, the Yale-educated author of Hillbilly Elegy, was running in Ohio for Senate. (“He’s not a hillbilly if he wrote a huge book. Rich twat. I mean, I’m a rich twat, but I’m not running for office pretending that I’m not.”)
Lawrence would rethink and revise and rewrite, then go quiet for a bit, and then fire off more texts. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. She seemed to be animated by a faith that if only she found the right words, she could reach certain relatives in Kentucky, and perhaps all women in all red states. She was convinced that the way many people vote, or don’t vote at all, has nothing to do with what they actually believe. That it was all a misunderstanding. That the real divide was not between right and left, as so many politicians would have us believe, but between those at the top and everyone else at the bottom. That most Americans had more in common than not.
Amid all this was the daily miracle of Cy, and the heart-exploding amount of love Lawrence felt for him. He just started smiling a couple of months ago and was now “on the precipice of laughing,” meaning he would smile so hard that the smile itself would become overwhelming and he’d have to roll his little head around to accommodate it. He recently tried avocado for the first time and she couldn’t stop crying. She jokes that her baby is her little voodoo doll, because everything that hurts him hurts her. “I mean the euphoria of Cy is just—Jesus, it’s impossible,” Lawrence said. “I always tell him, I love you so much it’s impossible.”
In this story: hair, Jenny Cho; makeup, Fulvia Farolfi.