Can Steven Spielberg Reinvent Jennifer Lawrence? Her Full Acting Range Has Yet To Be Truly Explored

What’s next for Jennifer Lawrence? Whether you’re a fan of the actress or not, the question is an interesting one. Ordinarily, with an actor as young as Lawrence is, those of us adhered incurably to the pop culture world are inclined to espouse career projections. When will this talented newcomer land her first big hit? When will she win her Oscar? When will she release her inevitably unappreciated masterpiece? And when will she permeate the superhero circuit?

But she’s done all that.

At only 24 years old, she’s amounted a Best Actress Academy Award (for the lead female role in Silver Linings Playbook), a billion dollar film series (the extant The Hunger Games quadrilogy), lasting presence in a Marvel Comics superhero franchise (the last few X-Men movies), and critical revere for an under-the-radar drama (that gem called Winter’s Bone). So, what is next?

Believe it or not, there still might be room for evolution for this impossibly accomplished 24-year-old. What’s more, the opportunity for such might be presenting itself rather promptly: Lawrence has signed on for Warner Bros’ adaptation of war photographer Lynsey Addario’s memoir It’s What I Do, a project directed by Hollywood’s veritable Henry Higgins (without the effete elitism), Steven Spielberg.

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Spielberg has launched, expanded, and transformed more acting careers than any director we can think of. The filmmaker, who in fact has a good handful of projects on the horizon at present, might have his sharpest canvas in some time with Lawrence, an impeccable talent yet too young to have realized every avenue of her potential.

Memory traces back to a Spielberg of the ’90s, one prone to thrusting yet untested actors into terrain of unparalleled gravitas. In 1993, Spielberg offered through Schindler’s List a new vantage point of Liam Neeson, an actor best known for softer dramas, comedies, and the unforgettable Darkman. In 1998, he did the same with Tom Hanks — then only first graduating by the graces of Philadelphia to the screen stature we know of him today — in Saving Private Ryan. Already, we see the permanence of Spielberg’s hand as conditional at best: Neeson has since shifted gears to bona fide “action star,” while Hanks rode the train of dramatic bravado almost exclusively for quite some time before peppering comedy back into his arsenal just a few years back.

But Spielberg hasn’t committed only to “reinventing” established genre and comedy figures. Heck, the man once cast French New Wave director (and virtual non-actor) Francois Truffaut at the head of his sprawling alien invasion picture Close Encounters of the Third Kind, delving from him one of the most creative “language barrier performances” in cinematic history.

And better than just about any other modern filmmaker is Spielberg when it comes to deriving genuine performance out of child actors. Paving the backdrop of Close Encounters or handling the steering wheel in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Spielberg’s young stars always blossom with character.

The latter especially might be considered Spielberg’s kingly moment of child direction, resulting in the careers of Henry Thomas and — of course — Drew Barrymore. Managing from the lot a degree of humanity that most filmmakers fail to afford to their younger stars, Spielberg showcased a potential in his central performers that carried far beyond affectionate cuteness and into bona fide acting talent.

Now, the construct of youth (or at least youthfulness) can carry you a long way in Hollywood; although Lawrence has more than exhibited her own dramatic prowess, she is young enough to have yet evaded the pinnacle of her capabilities, falling victim to some degree to the grip of Hollywood’s perturbing preservationism.

By the good graces of Spielberg, accessing her own yet untapped devices, Lawrence will have a chance to become something new.

Popular as the Hunger Games films are, they commit Lawrence to behavioral stoicism, plot-induced bouts of hysteria, and a large spread of action acting. Impressive though her Oscar win might be, we can’t believe that Silver Linings Playbook is the height of Lawrence’s skill set. Heck, we’ve seen her do better than David O. Russell’s fairly lightweight rom-com — a treat by anyone’s standards, but hardly a bombastic display of creative acumen.

Spielberg has worked with actors like Lawrence — like any of the facets of Lawrence, in fact. Action stars, Oscar winners, and those too young to have yet shown off their truest colors. Though not without his weaker entries, Spielberg has shown to be an adept actor director — a filmmaker who knows how to mine his central parties to show off everything they’ve got.

Not just in his movies, but for the rest of their careers.

Images: Getty (2); Universal Pictures; The Weinstein Company