Jennifer Lawrence Talks New Russian Spy Film in D.C.

by Catherine Douglas Moran

The actress, her onscreen love interest and the director talk politics and “Red Sparrow” at the Newseum.

The “Red Sparrow” team poses on the red carpet at the Newseum (Photo by Catherine Douglas Moran)

Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, actor Joel Edgerton and director Francis Lawrence discussed our current political climate and their upcoming film last Thursday evening at the Newseum.

“Red Sparrow” tells the story of a Russian spy (Jennifer Lawrence) who falls in love with a CIA agent and considers becoming a double agent. After emerging as the most dangerous “sparrow” from Sparrow School, a sadistic training program that teaches young people how to use their minds and bodies as weapons, she meets CIA agent Nathaniel (played by Joel Edgerton) who tries to win her trust.

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 The film is based on former CIA operative Jason Matthews‘ 2013 novel of the same name.

Jennifer Lawrence, one of the highest paid actresses in the world, took a swipe on the red carpet at President Trump, whom she has criticized in the past. When asked which political character she would want to portray in a movie, she told The Hill’s Judy Kurtz, “I could play Sen. [Elizabeth] Warren as Pocahontas,” referencing the incident where Trump called the senator, who claims Native American ancestry, that name. She declined to say who she might support for election in 2020.

Director Francis Lawrence talks to reporters on the red carpet (Photo by Catherine Douglas Moran)

On the red carpet, Francis Lawrence told us that he is unsure of how moviegoers will react to the film in the current U.S. political climate with investigations into Russia potentially meddling with the U.S. 2016 election. “I can only imagine that people are going to see some kind of reflection in some of our sub-themes in the movie in terms of the political connection between the U.S. and Russia,” he said.

Politics were not as pertinent when they started working on the movie three years ago, he said. “We had a conversation with the studio where the studio said, ‘Hey listen, maybe you should think about how to make this movie a little more relevant because U.S.-Russia just feels a little bit passé and nobody has really seen or done that in a while. But over the course of the production of the movie, it’s become more and more topical.”

Francis previously directed Jennifer in three installments of the “Hunger Games” series.  On working again with her, he said: “She’s the same. That’s why we enjoy working with one another. I think the movie benefited from the relationship being as good as it is because we know each other well.

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We trust one another. I think that helped with some of the subject material that was in the movie.” Francis said that he and Jennifer no longer have the “standoffish” relationship typical with actors and directors working together for the first time.

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As for favorite scenes, the director has a few. “There’s one in Sparrow School where Jennifer’s character humiliates one of the cadets that I really, really like. It’s really unique. I think it’s a powerful and brave performance Jen gave in that,” he told us. Another top pick for him is the “very intimate and quiet” scene where Lawrence’s character wakes up Edgerton’s character’s apartment and music is playing. “I like that scene a lot, because I like the performance. I like the way it looks. I like the chemistry between the two of them,” he said. “And then I like some of the dark stuff too – some of the torture scenes and knife fights and stuff like that.”

Joel Edgerton on the red carpet (Photo by Catherine Douglas Moran)

Edgerton also likes the apartment scene that takes place after a “weird sex scene that was pretty funny.” “I like some of those tender, softer moments,” he said. “Sometimes when you get to do a scene one on one with another actor you get to connect with them.” Edgerton’s connection with Jennifer off-screen included mischief. “She’s a fun person. She’s a bit of a character. She likes to laugh and so do I, and she doesn’t take life too seriously,” he said.

He shared a moment with Jennifer’s dog Pippi, who reacted to a torture and knife fight scene involving a German character. “On that day, Pippi decided that Jen was really in trouble and decided to tough up and have a go at this German guy. That was pretty funny.”

Edgerton said that he loved the location in Budapest for filming and the director’s selection of “architecturally incredible locations.” Edgerton said he realized “if people got bored by my performance, they could just look at the incredible architecture behind me and that was going to make me look better.”

One of the film’s producers, David Ready, told us that the movie is pretty faithful to the book but has a surprise ending.

“The locations have changed, but the story about being a ballerina going to Sparrow School and being brought into the spy plot is all based on the book. Some of the character stuff, some of the plotting is different,” he said. “It’s a great adaptation by Francis Lawrence of the book, and the author has seen the movie several times and loves it.”

The actress and director joined Jonna Hiestand Mendez, a former Chief of Disguise at the C.I.A. who worked with Matthews on the book, for a discussion on female empowerment, Russian espionage and double-dealing at the Newseum. New York Times reporter, national security expert and former Moscow correspondent Scott Shane moderated the discussion as a part of his paper’s TimesTalks series.

“Red Sparrow” hits theaters March 2.

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