"There's just no imagination" in Hollywood, she said. "I wanted to show people 'Winter's Bone' for the performance, but it ended up having the opposite effect. People were like, no, she's not feminine, she's not sexual."

Lawrence endured a good heap of criticism for what many saw as an exploitative play, but it worked. "A lot of people said, 'Oh, now we have a great actress come along and she's showing her boobs.' But that's exactly what I had to do so I could keep working. Honestly, that photo shoot is what helped me get 'X-Men,'" she said, referring to the comic-book blockbuster"X-Men: First Class"in which she played the sexy mutant Mystique.

For "The Hunger Games," Lawrence returned to her "wilderness girl" persona, with she and the rest of the film's cast and crew enduring a particularly brutal shoot in North Carolina last summer, a six-day-a-week schedule fraught with intense humidity and run-ins with snakes and bears. She said she found the experience of shooting the action scenes for the PG-13 film to be physically exhausting, but she responded well to the emotional demands of the script, which Ross adapted with Collins and Billy Ray ("Shattered Glass").
FOR THE RECORD: In the March 18 Calendar section, a profile of "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence says the movie was shot in South Carolina last summer. It was shot in North Carolina.
Hutcherson ("The Kids Are All Right") said he found working with Lawrence refreshing and especially appreciated her authenticity. "When you are acting with her, when you look into her eyes, you see that she is being that character," he said. "There is no lying."

Ross echoed those sentiments, comparing her audition to what it must have been like the first time a basketball coach watched Michael Jordan play ball.

"It was stunning to me," said Ross, who had Lawrence read the scene when she says goodbye to her sister Prim. "It's almost hard to characterize. It was a powerful performance, with such strength and clarity in it. She was being so strong for her sister at that moment, yet at the same time there was a layer of vulnerability under that. She showed so many different colors, so subtly, with such control, that it was really remarkable."

Lawrence said her favorite scene to shoot in "Hunger Games" was opposite Stanley Tucci inside the opulent Capitol — the nation of Panem's power center where the government operates and its citizens flounce around in garish dress and makeup. She said she loved sparring with Tucci, who plays Caesar Flickerman, the Hunger Games emcee, a sort of wildly flamboyant, futuristic Ryan Seacrest, with bright blue hair and brilliantly capped teeth, who interviews the contestants before the event begins.

"It was ... the moment when Katniss realizes that she has to play the game," Lawrence said.

Lawrence, too, understands that she now needs to play the game. With her face plastered on billboards across the country and fans lining up to see the film — which is on track to open to more than $100 million at the box office, according to early estimates — the actress says she is excited to play Katniss as the character takes a more active role in the fate of her nation in the three upcoming "Hunger Games" sequels.

But she's also taking pains to keep her independent streak alive. She's set to appear opposite Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in David O. Russell's "The Silver Linings Playbook," due out in November, before re-teaming with Cooper to star in Danish director Susanne Bier's "Serena," based on Ron Rash's novel about ambitious Depression-era newlyweds.

"Susanne emailed me yesterday and I saw her name and I started giggling," she said, sounding like a giddy teenager when speaking about the respected filmmaker ("In a Better World"). "Susanne Bier has my email. I love her."

Even as the rest of the world discovers her, she is expecting her loved ones to help keep her grounded. Prior to the film's March 12 premiere, she'd been cleaning her house and stocking up on new sheets and air mattresses to prepare for her family's visit to Los Angeles. No matter how much fame Katniss Everdeen brings her way, Lawrence says she'll never be able to pass off a snooty movie star pose with her parents and her two brothers.

"Could you imagine [if I said to them], 'Follow my assistant around, I'm too famous'?" she says with a laugh. "I could have an out for almost anything. 'Will you go to the store and buy me this? I'm too famous. Sorry guys, I can't make dinner, I'm too famous.' Then everything I say will be used against me."

nicole.sperling@latimes.com