11/18/2013 AT 11:25 AM EST
These days, Jennifer Lawrence
is known to many as Katniss Everdeen, but years ago, she had another moniker entirely.
"My nickname was 'Nitro.' I was hyperactive, curious about everything," the Hunger Games: Catching Fire
actress, 23, tells the French magazine Madame Figaro
in its new cover story. "When my mother talks about my childhood, she always says there was a light within me. When I went to school, this light went out."
"We never knew what it was, a kind of social anxiety," reveals the Catching Fire
star. "I went to see a shrink, nothing worked."
That is, nothing until she found her calling.
"One day, I begged my parents to take me to a casting," she told the magazine. "We went off to New York and that's where I started acting. On stage, my mother saw the change taking place in me. She saw my anxieties disappear."
Acting, adds Lawrence, "made me happy because I felt capable whereas before I felt good for nothing. This is why mom fought for me to become an actress."
But that's not where her parents stopped in ensuring their daughter's happiness. They took two mortgages on their homes, she says, and moved to New York for their daughter to pursue her dream.
"They wanted me to grow up in Kentucky, to lead a normal life, what all parents want for their children," says Lawrence. "But they saw me so truly happy that they sacrificed everything for my happiness ... without my family, I would be nothing."
Reporting by PETER MIKELBANK