Growing up, movie star Jennifer Lawrence was an unhappy teen plagued by “weird anxiety”. Acting was a way for her to feel good about herself.
By Jan Janssen / VIVA
Jennifer Lawrence , Scene 1: Girl who feels worthless, worries about anything and everything, and finds herself too different from her schoolmates. Jennifer Lawrence, Scene 2: reluctant celebrity, Oscar and Golden Globe winner, world’s highest-paid actress for two years running (in 2015 and 2016).
And she’s only 28.
Lawrence has achieved stunning success while coping with chronic anxiety that surfaced in her tweens. The condition was so disruptive, her parents found a therapist to help her overcome her inner tensions and better adapt to school life.
“I was a weirdo,” Lawrence explained in a Vogue interview. “I wasn’t picked on or anything. And I wasn’t smarter than the other kids—thats not why I didn’t fit in. Ive always had this weird anxiety. I hated recess. I didn’t feel like field trips. Parties really stressed me out.”
As a tomboy growing up in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, Lawrence’s family nickname was Nitro (as in nitroglycerine) because of her combustible energy. She displayed a restless curiosity about the world around her.. But at school, the “light and joy” her mother observed at home was extinguished by her anxieties.
With acting, Lawrence found a means of releasing pent-up emotions as well as a creative means of expression.
“I was having trouble at school and I had a lot of social anxieties … and acting was the one thing that anxiety go away. I didn’t feel good about myself until I discovered acting and how happy it made me feel,” she says.
The diamond-hard desire to make acting her career was burnished during a family trip to New York City when she was 14. As the oft-told story goes, Lawrence was approached by a modeling scout who asked to take her picture, which led to calls from agencies, then an audition for a commercial, “and that’s how it got started. After that acting was all I talked about and my poor mother had to deal with my obsession,” she recalls.
Lawrence and her mother ended up relocating to New York City, then Los Angeles. Along the way, her mother insisted she earn at least a high school degree. Lawrence would hole up in her room for eight hours at a time to blow through her coursework. She ended up graduating early.
It was so obvious that acting was Lawrence’s happy place that her mom persuaded her father that the teenager should stay the course rather than return to Kentucky for a more normal adolescence.
“I would never have gotten anywhere without my parents supporting me and my mom believing in how important acting was to me,” Lawrence says.
It was kind of like I finally found something people were telling me I was good at, which I had never heard, ever. And that was a big reason why my parents let me do this.
—ON ACTING & SELF WORTH, FROM VOGUE (2013)
The positive feedback she received because of her extraordinary performances became a counterweight to feeling that she was “hopeless at everything else.”
With the way numerous directors and co-stars enthuse about Lawrence’s talent, it’s no wonder she conquered Hollywood like a chess prodigy who goes head-to-head with the grandmasters and wins. Within two years she was picking up parts on episodes of Monk, Medium and other TV shows, then landed a regular role on the TBS sitcom The Bill Engvall Show even as she started getting movie work.
By age 18 she was winning critics’ attention for her central roles in arthouse films The Poker House (with Selma Blair) and The Burning Plain (with Charlize Theron, John Corbett, and Kim Basinger). Her first lead role, as the gritty heroine in the critically acclaimed indie Winterʼs Bone, also drew her first Oscar nomination—and the glare of Hollywood’s spotlight.
That attention intensified when Lawrence played the blue-skinned mutant Mystique in the blockbuster X-Men: First Class, released in 2011. The next year she leapt to the stratosphere of fame with her star turn as bow-wielding Katniss Everdeen in an even bigger blockbuster, the first Hunger Games flick.
On the heels of that, she won the Academy Award for best leading actress for her portrayal of a widow grappling with grief and depression in the dramedy Silver Linings Playbook.
Perils of fame
In real life, Lawrence’s hyperkinetic personality wins friends and influences interviewers. It would be hard to find a more refreshing, and at times mischievous, Hollywood star. She has channeled that restless spirit of hers—anxiety be damned—into a wickedly honest woman who resists the pressure to maintain a prefabricated, PR-savvy façade.
She doesn’t tone down her potty mouth when talking to the press, freely shares stories of her many drunken escapades, and has no problem discussing her bodily functions. Her “one of the boys” persona is a legacy of growing up as the competitive little sister of two rough-and-tumble older brothers.
As comfortable and unfiltered as she appears when doing publicity, the down-to-earth actress admitted to the New York Times that she thinks of her public self as “sort of an avatar.” That mental distance helps insulate her from worries about what people think of her, which is a trigger for her insecurities.
I’ve always had anxiety, insecurities when it comes to sexuality and the fear of being judged, and then when I finally did [nude scenes in Red Sparrow], I realized it’s so not a big deal. I felt really kind of freed from all of that.
—ON BODY IMAGE, FROM ABC NEWS (2018)
In a Rolling Stone profile that ran just after The Hunger Games was released, Lawrence said she was dealing with anxiety over her growing celebrity by “cleaning like a crazy person.” Experience and maturity—and a prescription—have helped Lawrence let go of some of her daily anxiety about paparazzi, public opinion, and living up to the Hollywood lifestyle.
Her beloved mutt Pippi also provides comfort during times of emotional stress, as when her phone was hacked in 2014 and pirated naked selfies of her went viral on the Internet.
Still, when asked whether she prefers “bad girl” or “good girl” roles, Lawrence reveals she’d rather play a bad girl “because in some way that means I don’t care so much whether the public loves me or not.
“It’s more fun to play the bad girl,” she adds. “It allows me to release a lot of anger or anxiety in front of the camera.”
First person, singular
Here’s a taste of talking directly with Jennifer Lawrence about her anxiety and other issues:
Q: Was it at all daunting for you to start working your way up the ladder as a teenager in New York?
A: I’ve had the advantage of knowing what I wanted to do with my life since I was 14…. I always knew that acting was my destiny.
Q: Since youʼve become so famous has it become more difficult to maintain or develop real friendships?
A: I’ve learnt to stick with people I know really well and who haven’t changed the way they behave with me because of everything that’s happened to me. It disturbs me if I feel people don’t treat me normally. I like to keep it real and be myself with people I can relate to and who help me stay grounded.
Q: Youʼve been open about your struggles with anxiety when you were younger.
A: My parents had to hide the newspaper from me because I would read the newspaper and be like, “The world is ending! The stock market is going to crash!” And I was like 11.
I have had a severe case of anxiety since I was young about getting in trouble. I hate getting in trouble and I hate breaking rules. So I normally try to live my life just doing what I think is the best thing to do in the situation.
Q: How does your anxiety manifest?
A: I get the weirdest anxiety. When I was in elementary school, I told everyone I had a leg problem and it required a lot of attention, my imaginary leg problem, and I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. And my mother comes to school, and one of my classmates is like, “How is Jennifer’s leg?”
And my mom looks at me and she knows I’ve been lying and she made me purge. I was on the floor and she drew all the lies out of me that I had ever told. She made me tell every single lie, and I was crying. It was horrible!
[Now] even the smallest thing, like “How’s your day?”—if I’m having a bad day and I say, “It was good,” I’m like, “Oh, God!” and I have to purge.
Q: Youʼve also had problems with anxiety when it comes to flying, havenʼt you?
A: I’m not afraid of the airplane, I’m afraid of me on the airplane and losing control of myself. I do always worry I’ll just stand up mid-flight and scream, “We’re all going down!”
I’ve done that.
I was on a night flight to Berlin [in the midst of promoting Passengers with co-star Chris Pratt] when we started running into turbulence…. One of the luggage doors on the underside of the plane had opened and there were these crazy sounds, the plane was [moving] from side to side and I was screaming at the flight attendant, “Is everything going to be OK?”
Everyone was trying to be very calm and not freak out the other passengers, but not me. I was alarming everyone. I felt it was my duty to get other people to panic more…. Chris kept trying to calm me down. He reached over across the aisle and I was just like “Aaarrggh, get off me!”
Printed as “The Lowdown on JLaw”, Summer 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
(This and our other articles are provided by some of our curated resources. We encourage readers to support them and continue to look to these sources in times of need and opportunity.)