Jennifer Lawrence for Vogue US September 2013

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Whether lighting up an indie or fronting a blockbuster franchise, Jennifer Lawrence is the most electric talent to hit Hollywood in a generation. Jonathan Van Meter meets America’s favorite heroine.

Leave it to J.Law to choose the Odeon, a restaurant she plucked from a list because she liked the sound of its name. It opened on a corner in Tribeca long before Lawrence was even born and defined a genre: Execute everything perfectly, but don’t take it all so seriously—an apt description of Lawrence herself. Indeed, Odeon has lasted for 30 years because, while it cares about great service and good food, it is committed above all else to being fun. In fact, I myself had so much early-nineties fun there that when I walked in at 1:00 p.m. on a Friday and sat down, I had a reaction that can only be described as Pavlovian: I ordered a vodka.

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Jennifer Lawrence—unlike, say, Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Lopez or Jennifer Garner—never looks the same. It’s one of the reasons writers struggle to find words to describe her, and often resort to unfortunate ones, like chameleon. David O. Russell, the man who directed Lawrence to an Oscar in Silver Linings Playbook, remembers bumping into her during awards season, 2011. “I would see this tall blonde at events, and I never understood who she was,” he says. “She looked like an Orange County girl—or Malibu Barbie. And I was like, ‘Who is that?’ And someone would say, ‘That’s Jennifer Lawrence,’ and I would say, ‘The girl cooking a squirrel on a stick in Winter’s Bone?’ I never recognized her! She always looks different.”

So different, in fact, that even after one of her two bodyguards comes into the restaurant to tell me that her arrival is imminent, when she finally walks in the door, I still don’t recognize her. To be fair, she has on pitch-black Tom Ford sunglasses, and her hair is wet; she recently had it cut off into a Karlie chop, one that is half blonde and half brown. (“Too skunky?” she will ask me later. “I think I need to make a decision.”). But before she even reaches the table, I can hear that raspy voice—the deep rumble of so much nervous energy. Yup, that’s her.

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Lawrence, who is wearing a blush-colored sleeveless top (purchased an hour ago at Topshop), slouchy black pants, and a pair of slip-on mules, immediately notices that I have a cast on my foot and a cocktail in front of me. After sheepishly explaining how I broke it (fiftieth-birthday party, dance floor, 3:00 a.m.), she fixes her blue-gray eyes on me with a face that is adorably sympathetic, sure, but is also contorted from trying to hold back a laugh. My foot is the reason all of the outdoorsy stuff we were going to do together—horseback riding, walking around Central Park—got nixed. My suggestion of going to an arcade in the West Village to shoot pool or play video games was rejected because, Lawrence says, “That’s my exact demographic.” So here we are. “Should we just get drunk?” she asks as the waiter sets a beer down in front of her. Perhaps it’s the specter of Odeon’s past—a place made famous by Jay McInerney’s novel of eighties excess, Bright Lights, Big City (which she has never heard of)—that launches us into a seven-hour bender. In any case, you could do worse as the setting for such decadence.

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