Jennifer Lawrence’s Awkward Conversation

Young Actress Celebrated at the Arlington on Saturday Night

Sunday, February 3, 2013
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Maybe the audience loved Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe America loves Jennifer Lawrence. And I don’t doubt SBIFF director Roger Durling loves Jennifer Lawrence. But the interview format imposed on the 22-year-old two-time Academy Award-nominated phenom unquestionably did not love Jennifer Lawrence. In the end, even granting a number of thrills and revelations, it must be said that the film fest’s Outstanding Performer of the Year award presentation was a painful ordeal for nearly everyone involved.

Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet of the 2013 SBIFF Outstanding Performer of the Year (Feb. 2, 2013)
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet of the 2013 SBIFF Outstanding Performer of the Year (Feb. 2, 2013)

Part of the responsibility for Saturday night’s awkwardness derived from a format that usually reviews lifetime art achievements of its celebrated guest. There just wasn’t enough story for that kind of love. Without question, Lawrence has done great things — Winter’s Bone and Hunger Games alone would make a proud career. And her star shone brightest this year in David O. Russell’s brilliant revisionist screwball comedy, Silver Lining Playbook.

But for some strange reason, the fest producers decided to review Lawrence’s work backwards. After an excessive torrent of introductory praise — Durling called her a “supernova” which some wag nearby whispered meant burnout — the show never seemed like it could go anywhere. And it mostly didn’t.

Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet of the 2013 SBIFF Outstanding Performer of the Year (Feb. 2, 2013)
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet of the 2013 SBIFF Outstanding Performer of the Year (Feb. 2, 2013)

Durling’s enthusiasms were clear and his affection for her obvious, but he never seemed to recover from an early gaffe asking her about high school performance years, seeming caught off-guard by her denial of ever performing outside of choir. “I did church stuff,” she said, then produced a gush of apologies. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I could start coming up with stuff.” His lavish compliments through the evening left her uncomfortably silent too.

The night was not bereft of pleasures or insights. The duo settled down after a second set of clips speaking more easily about working with Robert DeNiro — a connection later reinforced by David O. Russell in the actual award presentation portion. But it kept hitting obstacles: Lawrence’s assertion that she was lazy and never really ran her lines before working on a set made Durling question her self-deprecations. “I just have a talent,” she said at one point, then listed a number of things her friends could do — write songs, direct, or photograph — that she was completely incapable of performing. There wasn’t much anybody could reply to that.

Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet of the 2013 SBIFF Outstanding Performer of the Year (Feb. 2, 2013)
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet of the 2013 SBIFF Outstanding Performer of the Year (Feb. 2, 2013)

The evening ended with good words about Hunger Games, the joys of seeing your name on a marquee, and a nice quote about the advantage of being a second-time Academy Award nominee. “I’m still scared,” she said, “but now I know more people.”

It was an unenviable job with some momentary levities. Lawrence claimed that she didn’t belong on that stage, even though she loved the praise. Later, when presenting her award, Russell praised her “alchemy” while describing the “firewall” she had built around it. We saw too much of the guarded person, the one that Russell described as able to “stop your heart a little when she walks onscreen.” Up on the Arlington stage last Saturday, however, it was not the good kind of heart-stopping we got to see.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

I'm 100% positive that it was the fault of the interviewer and not the interviewee that the conversation was awkward. Durling stammered like a dope through the entire thing. Somehow, Lawrence has a slew of perfect, adorable, and well-spoken interviews, even long ones, like DP/30 (see YouTube.) I think this was the result of an under-prepared host. IE: he clearly hadn't done his research - had he read one article he'd know her childhood and her discovery - had he paid attention to the Hunger Games franchise, he'd know better than to refer to Gale as her character's boyfriend.
He was the mess. And she did the best she could.

divinechaos31 (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2013 at 12:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

To place the "awkward" on Jennifer is ridiculous. Someone on stage was awkward... but it wasn't the actress! Uncomfortable, yes, but so were the rest of us. You had a young actor who talks freely in every interview she has ever given without the self importance of many in her generation. She is a breathe of fresh air. But Mr Durling insisted in throwing out such lauding as, "She is more than a star - she is a super-nova!" Miss Lawrence would probably prefer star over "giant burn-out", but then we could forgive Mr. Durling's poor astrophysics knowledge if he had conducted a better interview in the area of his expertise.

In fact, It could have been a great evening if a conversation was ever started. The fault was with Durling who insisted on proving to the audience that he was well versed in film history and imposed his awkward manner on the entire interview. To start Mr. Durling didn't really follow the first rule of an interviewer, "Ask open questions." Instead he summarized his opinion of her performances, her directors, her co-stars and then asked, "So was it like that?" while he swirled his hands about. It was equal parts awkward and annoying. She was able to answer most of his "questions" with a polite "Thank you." The audience around me was so frustrated with his poorly prepared questions, I overheard "Oh wow, he finally followed up on something she said!" Rule #2 Mr. Durling, "Listen to your guest." He seemed so undone when she gave a self-depricating answer or disposed some poor research he had conducted, he could hardly move forward. David O. Russell had the great line of the evening as he introduced her award, "Since neither of you are comfortable talking..." Thank you David, we were all thinking the same thing. Bottom line - Jennifer Lawrence should get an apology AND the Academy Award.

J_Hunter (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2013 at 12:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Exactly!!! I've never seen a more poorly composed interviewer in my life. There were little girls on the red carpet that night who interviewed her better.
And frankly, even if you are in hollywood, there is NO excuse for not doing your homework before an interview. If Ellen and Kelly Ripa can do it, so can you. Not to mention, this isn't a 5-minute talkshow thing. She was the honoree of the night. It wouldn't kill you to check out a few things on the internet before you sit down with the poor girl. These days, with all of the internet and ease-of-access and knowledge, there's no excuse. He could have found an in-depth bio in two taps on his tablet.

divinechaos31 (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2013 at 4:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

How can they let this happen year after year? Roger Durling has always been a horribly awkward interviewer (Nicole Kidman comes to mind) and last night was his worst. Everyone around me could not stop fidgeting and making side comments because it was just so uncomfortable and hard to watch. PLEASE SBIFF, listen to these comments and do NOT let Roger ever interview again!! It takes a certain talent to know how to interview someone properly and make them feel comfortable enough to open up and Roger clearly does not have it. Don't get me wrong, I am glad I got to see Jennifer in person, but I can't help but feel like it was a complete waste of time and money because the only thing I learned from that night is how much Roger (creepily) loves Jennifer. Such a wasted opportunity to hear from an actress who is at the very beginning of an amazing career. I will not be surprised if Jennifer never comes back to Santa Barbara. She did the best she could with the "questions" Roger gave. And yes, I was with those young girls on the red carpet interviewing Jennifer and they did more research and a much better job than Roger

kmcool2007 (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2013 at 7:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The second they announced who the moderator would be for the event my heart dropped and I knew what a disaster we were in for, and yet it was even worse than I could have imagined. If only they had brought back Dave Karger from the Virtuoso Awards on Tuesday night, we would have had an evening full of laughter and amazing anecdotes, but no. We were left with Roger Durling, who can't ask a good question to save his life, or bother to do more than 10 minutes of Google research. He should be ashamed of himself, and the board of the festival should be ashamed that they let him do this year after year. I feel so bad that Jennifer Lawrence had to endure that awkwardness, she is such a charismatic and hilarious woman and he stifled that with his self-serving rambles and inarticulate blathering. I agree with previous comments, I doubt Jennifer left with a very good impression of Santa Barbara and she will probably never come back, and that is such a shame. Every single person was saying the same thing as we left the theater, and I hope something changes next year.

freakoutincolor (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2013 at 9:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

At least David Russell didn't punch anyone.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2013 at 9:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What Durling lacks in interviewing and speaking, he makes up for in heart. Simply put, he is too much of a fan to interview the actors. By heaping on the hyperbole at the beginning, he set himself up for failure. When Lawrence said she didn't memorize lines until she showed up at the set, he should have responded by asking her what she DOES do to prepare (e.g., discuss the role with the director). It's a disservice to her to let her appear that lazy, and it's a disservice to him because he came across as an interviewer who was too afraid to challenge his subject or dig deeper.
I agree with the commenter who said bring back Karger. He is easily the best interviewer in the festival.

rockstar2000 (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2013 at 11:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 12:03 a.m. (Suggest removal)

My favorite "wtf" moment was when Durling misinterpreted one of Jennifer's awkward "...thank you?"s after a long ramble and said, "You know, I get really uncomfortable with compliments too." Every single person in my area just burst out laughing.

freakoutincolor (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 8:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It was a train wreck of an interview. Jennifer Lawrence was able to handle herself well despite the interviewer's inability to articulate his questions or make her feel comfortable. I'm sure she ran out of the Arlington as quick as she could and didn't look back. It was my first time attending the Film Festival and was delighted to see Jennifer but was not prepared to see an interviewer so unpolished and awkward. I would have thought that with this being the 28th year for the SBIFF, they would have worked this out already. What a shame.

Butternut (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 8:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes, a trainwreck is the best way to describe it. Jennifer Lawrence is 22 years old, new to this world of press junkets and awards shows, and an adept interviewer would have framed clear questions that aided her in navigating this world. Instead we got this annoying, fawning, twitchy wall of noise from Roger Durling that she could barely recover from or respond to. Clearly it was all about him - showing what AMAZING film knowledge he has, what astute observations he makes, what an uber fan he is, etc. He did the same shtick last Wednesday when giving the award to Quentin Tarantino - making it all about him and his amazing film geekness. He is a terrible interviewer with a huge ego and has ruined many an interview. He should be reined in. Way in. (Hello? SBIFF Board??)

filmfan (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 10:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Having squirmed incessantly during Roger's incredibly awkward (and inane) attempts at interviewing Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal ("What kind of lenses did you use?") after a Cinema Society screening of "Zero Dark Thirty," I have to agree, someone with real skills is needed to helm the ship here.

The SBIFF needs some new blood if they're to proceed as a film festival with any real credibility. So many naive mistakes being made. How many more bad interviews does Roger have to force others to suffer through before the board decides to act?

Did anyone else notice the lack of local film festival coverage? Bite that hand that fed you much, hey SBIFF?

Roger, take a bow and exit stage left please.

moviebuff (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 10:25 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Roger Durling's enthusiasm, programming skills and industry contacts are invaluable to the Festival; indeed, he is singularly responsible for it's vast improvement and success since taking the reins.

Interviews, and the skill set necessary to make enjoyable, interesting, Festival-worthy events, have NEVER been Durling's strength. It's surprising such a intelligent and sensitive soul would be so blind to his own shortcomings.

Durling would better serve the Festival by recruiting skilled and knowledgeable interviewers, and reserve his stage time to brief intros and taking the occasional well-deserved bow.

Chester_Arthur_Burnett (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 11:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I was not at this event however and long for the earlier simple days of the film festival when average SB locals could afford to go. I’m not surprised at the review of this current event. Mr. Durling’s fumbling over himself with giddy nervousness at Colin Firth (the last SBIFF event I attended) was a sign that professionals should be involved in interviewing if audiences are paying to be there. Keep to your strengths Mr. Durling if you expect to raise money at SBIFF events with repeat attendees. Interviewing is not your strength.

DEJJED (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 2:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm with DEJJEd when it comes accessibility to locals.

I'd like to see someone who's not up for an Oscar be recognized and receive one of the Awards. In fact there's a plethora of legendary and highly accomplished film artists in our own backyard: Haskell Wexler, Jonathan Winters, Eva Marie-Saint, Zemeckis...

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 2:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Chester, I am sure the industry contacts would fall in line should the board make a change to the leadership.

The SBIFF is A last stop on the Academy tour with numerous Academy members in attendance. The smartest decision Durling ever made for the SBIFF (and all due credit) was moving the dates to just before the Academy Awards. Di Caprio cancelled for the sole reason that he was passed over for nomination this year. I am very proud of Durling's accomplishments at transforming the SBIFF, but he couldn't do it without a solid support team over the years and without the patrons of Santa Barbara for which he and his team worked very hard to no longer alienate, as the Director before him did.

Durling is a complicated man, but knows his stuff. It is a balance between pleasing the masses and keeping the interest of the genre specific individual close to his heart, while maintaining a non-profit business alive and well.

vonG (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 2:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If that's the reason VonG that DiCaprio's award was rescinded then the award itself doesn't mean anything at all.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 2:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DiCaprio's award wasn't rescinded, he pulled out because he's a petulant baby pouting that he didn't get an Oscar nom and is taking an "indefinite break from acting". Wah wahhh.

I don't think anyone wants Durling fired, he is clearly great behind the scenes and he has done wonderful things for the festival. I don't even begrudge him the opportunity to do an interview, if he really loves that part of it. But he should NOT be entrusted with huge events like Jennifer Lawrence's tribute, he should only be permitted to handle smaller, less visible ones at the Lobero. If he can't handle being told that interviewing and public speaking is not his strong suit, that's his own problem. The board of directors needs to do their job for the good of the festival and stop allowing him to ruin events. I would hope the festival has enough good will at this point to do fine without him should he choose to move on at any point.

I hope Jennifer Lawrence or her publicist complained about Saturday, that was just so incredibly horrifying. I had looked forward to it for MONTHS and I was so disappointed.

I blogged about it here:

freakoutincolor (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 3:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

They should just scrap this guy and bring in Jiminy Glick.

dubiousraves (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 4:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Actually....Ivan Reitman is the ONLY actual filmmaker on the rather large Board of Directors- the rest are mostly tourist, real estate and banking industry peops.

Agents and PR people don't count as filmmakers!

Holly (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 10:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Jennifer is totally not to blame for how awkward the night was. I think she handled Roger very well. She answered his not-so-much-a-question questions the best she could. He seemed to be trying too hard to make it a relaxing environment for her, but he only made it least I know the people around me, along with myself, were uncomfortable. I was squirming in my seat anytime he took forever to ask his question and you could see it in Jennifer's face that she wanted him to hurry up and just get the words out. I felt so bad for her during this Q&A. We could've gotten to many more in depth answers from her about her films. I understand that Roger knows a lot about films and their stars, but it sure didn't seem like he knew a lot about the guest of honor that night.

Nech3 (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 11:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

That tribute was embarrassing. This article doesn't tell the whole story. Roger Durling was terrible. The interview was a train wreck. The writer of this story couldn't say that because him and Roger are good friends. What a waste of $35.

Mottly (anonymous profile)
February 5, 2013 at 12:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There's rumors of an alternate festival in the works, kinda like Sundance and Slamdance.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 5, 2013 at 12:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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