David Fisher/Rex
January 07, 2015 04:15 PM

As a woman battling chronic pain in the upcoming drama Cake, Jennifer Aniston undergoes physical therapy while immersed in water as a means of getting relief. But for the actress, the “therapy” was terrifying.

“I basically have a real fear of going underwater,” Aniston, 45, said on Tuesday night at a special screening of Cake in Los Angeles.

“As a kid, I drove my tricycle into the pool and [now] I can’t go underwater,” she said.

“To get the one shot of me going under with the weights, I think we did that 30 times,” said the star, who won Performance of the Year – Actress at the PEOPLE Magazine Awards in December. “It was the hardest day of my life.”

Aniston, who also has scored Golden Globe and SAG award nominations, said the response to the film has been thrilling.

Related: Jennifer Aniston Opens up about Relationship with Ex Brad Pitt

“We were a teensy-weensy movie made for four dollars and we poured our hearts into it and everyone worked so hard, so that this is happening on top of that, it’s just like a huge giant juicy cherry on top,” she said.

Along with chronic pain, the film also explores addiction, as Aniston’s character seeks relief in pills and alcohol.

“I unfortunately have watched a lot of very extraordinary people suffer pretty extraordinary circumstances due to [addiction],” she said. “But what was really eye-opening to me was that [in] the chronic pain community … these people are just trying to feel normal and feel a flicker of nothing for a second.”

With as many as 50 million people in the U.S. suffering from chronic pain, “What Jennifer did in this movie was remarkable, because I see patients like that every day of the week,” said Dr. George Graf, founder of the Advanced Pain Treatment and Diagnostics Medical Group, who attended the screening as part of a panel discussion. “It’s not easy to take all of that on and do it. For many of these people there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It is dark all the time. One of the things you see in this movie is a little step forward and a few steps back.”

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