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  • How to Launch Your Career Correctly (And Why Jennifer Lawrence’s Reps are Brilliant)

    February 27th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    Ask any agent worth their salt and they will tell you that there is a right way and a wrong way to start, build, and grow a career in Hollywood. Sometimes it takes a perfect storm of variables to make it happen, sometimes it’s dumb luck and good timing, and sometimes it’s about having a winning strategy and having something special to offer.

    This week, the young, talented and ridiculously beautiful Jennifer Lawrence, 22, won her first Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. And it solidified what I have believed for a couple years now, which is that Lawrence’s reps are some of the best in the business and her rise to stardom and success is EXACTLY the model that should be used not just with actors, but writers and directors as well. Whether you’re a representative or fledgling talent, there’s something very valuable to learn from Jennifer Lawrence’s career.

    Before we get to the actual process of her success, let’s stipulate that the person trying to break in has to actually BE talented and trained. That goes without saying. It also obviously helps that Jennifer Lawrence is model gorgeous! If she wasn’t, would she have the success she’s has? Probably not, at least not in the same way. But good looks doesn’t guarantee you anything in this business – beautiful girls are a dime a dozen in Los Angeles.

    If you have seen Lawrence in interviews or her hilarious Jack Nicholson meeting after the Oscars or have read her quotes on her IMDB page, you know there is much more to her than a pretty face and acting chops. This is a charming, witty, funny, sarcastic, intelligent woman who knows how to handle the media and more importantly – knows how to handle herself and the pressures of Hollywood with humility, humor and honesty.

    I don’t want this to turn into a total love letter to Jennifer Lawrence (those I keep in private), but what makes Jennifer Lawrence difference from many of the other gorgeous actresses in Hollywood is that she has that special THING. That special QUALITY that extends past beauty and makes her relatable and versatile. She has great innate comic timing, but she can do drama or horror or action as well (and has). And one of the reasons her reps are so fantastic is because they recognize how versatile she is and have lined up different types of movies to show off her many different talents. She’s the actress version of Allan Loeb (look him up).

    When describing actresses, you often here the saying “Girls want to be her and guys want to fuck her.” And, yes, those are true with Lawrence. But what she has that doesn’t come along too often in Hollywood, is that both guys AND girls want to get a beer with her and hang out. Why? Because she seems cool and unaffected. The type of girl next door who could kick your ass, chug a beer and then put on a dress and win an Oscar. And that’s what guys love and girls respect.

    There are very few actresses whom you not only want to sleep with, but also want to be their FRIEND. Sandra Bullock, Emma Stone, Cameron Diaz, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Chelsea Handler – they have that quality (in my opinion). It’s that thing that Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Stewart, Nicole Kidman, Katherine Heigl, Megan Fox, and others, still lack. And you can’t fake relatability too long – you either are or you’re not.

    Same with writing – either your stories and characters and conflicts have that THING that just engrosses you and makes you care, or they don’t. And if you try to force it (usually thru exposition and overwriting), it becomes painful and obvious and makes one care even less. There has to be something connectable and relatable about your writing.

    Possibly the most respectable thing about Lawrence, is she is a TRUE movie fan. She throws out quotes and movie references like a 50 year old critic. She’s a fan of what she does – and what other people around her do – and that makes for a great actress, much like it makes for a great writer or director.

    But let’s see beyond the looks, the talent and the likability factor and examine the way she and her reps have positioned her career. Whether you’re an actor, director or screenwriter, the key to breaking in and making it big, is about breaking in the right way at the right time to be able to capitalize on one’s success and become a star.

    Jennifer Lawrence was about 19 when she filmed Winter’s Bone. And if you remember, she wasn’t the only actress to burst out on the scene a couple years ago. Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit, Shailene Woodley from The Descendants, etc. And what have you heard from them in the last year? Not much.

    The problem with breaking into film at 15-17 is that you are too young for most of the good, adult, meaty roles that win awards and get critical acclaim so people will take you seriously. But you’re too old for the tween roles that launch huge followings and make you a teen star. And so if you aren’t at the top of your game at that age, you don’t get the few great roles out there and your career stalls. Jennifer Lawrence happened to be at the tip top.

    Actors (and writers) often feel like if they haven’t landed a starring role (or sold a script) by the age of 19, they will never make it. But it’s the actors who don’t find their big break UNTIL they are adults who are the ones who stick around and have real careers. Olivia Wilde, Emma Stone, Teresa Palmer, Elizabeth Olsen, Rooney Mara, Anna Kendrick, etc. Now look at the actresses who hit it big as young teens – Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, Olsen Twins, the High School Musical kids, etc. Sure there are exceptions – Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Saoirse Ronan, Mia Wasikowski (though the last two are Irish & Austrailian, so it’s a bit different) – but sometimes it’s the maturity to know oneself and one’s talent and goals that make one ready to truly break in. And most don’t have that before they’re 20 years old.

    Look at Jennifer’s career in comparison to the other franchise lead and young superstar, Kristen Stewart. She’s not a bad actress, but she was a child actor from a very young age, so by the time she was 18, she was so jaded and cynical about the industry she could barely force a smile when cashing her $10M checks. And people hate her.

    Writers are the same – they try to rush it, try to force it, try to insist that they are ready when they just aren’t mature enough on the page (or in the room). And they try to break in by doing the wrong types of material, and that’s why their career stalls. Or they refuse to pay their dues and work for nothing starting out, which will stall a career before it ever starts.

    Jennifer started as many young actresses do – modeling and doing commercials. She did a few crappy commercials, got a couple small TV roles, and that led to her moving out to LA and finding a part that meant something to her and she fought for it (Winter’s Bone). She didn’t snub her nose at the tiny budget or harsh shooting conditions or the hell she had to go through to nail the role.

    She paid her dues and got discovered the hard way. Of course once Winter’s Bone (and her Oscar nomination) happened, she was snatched up by CAA and then the strategy begins. She did a couple more high-profile indies (The Beaver, Like Crazy), then a mainstream horror movie, got a supporting role in a huge blockbuster to increase her public profile and bankability (X-Men First Class), then landed a franchise lead role of her own with Hunger Games, which they knew would be huge based on the success of the books (and Twilight). And in the middle of Hunger Games madness, she returns to the smaller side of things to do Silver Linings Playbook.

    And now she has an Oscar, a 4-film franchise, plus a larger role in the next X-Men Days of Future Past, and her pick of any movie, director and co-star she wants.

    It’s actually the same type of career trajectory that Halle Berry attempted. She broke in the hard way, doing small roles and TV jobs, then got supporting roles in bigger movies (Last Boy Scout, Flintstones, Executive Decision), then did a smaller passion project that she felt connected to and loved and fought for (Dorothy Dandridge on HBO), which got her critical acclaim and led to her Oscar-Winning feature role in Monster’s Ball. She capitalized on her success with big roles (but not lead) in major blockbusters to increase her public profile and relatability (X-Men, X2, Die Another Day, Swordfish). And then she got what could have been her own major franchise – Catwoman. And that’s where things went sour. When that went horribly awry, she tried to increase her likability by doing a few thriller/horror movies (Gothika, Perfect Stranger, Dark Tide) – all of which bombed. Her upcoming The Call is tracking softly, and she’s had personal issues in the tabloids. So now she’s trying to reboot her career again, returning to big budget projects like the new X-Men. It just goes to show that it’s all about picking the right projects at the right times.

    Writers can actually learn a great deal from this career path.

    –          Learn, train, practice, grow, move to where the jobs are (if necessary).

    –          Pay your dues and take any writing job you can, even if the money sucks.

    –          Write material (or take roles) that bring out and highlight the natural sides to your voice and personalities (all of them). Something that means a great deal to you. I would suggest smaller, commercial projects (thriller, horror, action, comedy) or really unique indies that show off what you can do. Do not write the billion dollar trilogy franchise action movie FIRST.

    –          Get discovered by an agency or manager who thinks you have promise.

    –          Win a couple contests, maybe option your first project for little money, build a bit of buzz and get whatever exposure you can.

    –          Get discovered by a bigger agency who poaches you from first agent and understands your vision for your career and supports it, while always thinking outside the box.

    –          Be versatile and eclectic and get as many logs in the fire as possible, but never veer from doing what speaks to you.

    –          Write bigger, visual, commercial projects that can sell on a larger scale and that can get packaged within the agency and impresses everyone. Hopefully one gets produced.

    –          Get hired on big rewrites and projects that expand your public profile.

    –          Once it’s paid off and you’re in demand, go back to where you started and do a great indie or drama or project that will gain you critical acclaim and awards.

    –          NOW it’s time to write or adapt that big franchise.

    –          And through the whole time, be collaborative, courteous, courageous, humble and witty. Luckily, writers don’t have to be gorgeous. But never forget that you chose this profession because you love it. Those who choose it for other reasons, don’t last too long.

    While sitting at your computer typing up a new idea, you might not think you have anything in common with my future wife, Jennifer Lawrence. But think again. Because breaking in and igniting a successful career is all about talent, timing and tenacity whether you’re an actor, director, or screenwriter. But it’s also about having that X factor and choosing the right projects and the right people to have your back who can see the bigger picture. And always remember, the material comes first.

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