Category: Interviews

Jessica Chastain talks about Gender Equality in a new interview

Jessica Chastain talks about Gender Equality in a new interview

Like the strong women she plays onscreen (next up, ‘Woman Walks Ahead’), Chastain has become as a powerful force for change in Hollywood and beyond, both as a producer (her female-fronted ‘355’ was Cannes’ biggest sale) and a vocal preacher for Time’s Up.

Do unto others,Jessica Chastain says, raising the brows on her lineless forehead in emphasis. She is delivering her homily from the corner booth of a restaurant in a small town outside New York City, a location she has requested be kept as classified as the coordinates of a CIA torture site. Terrence Malick is the one who brought the previously religion-free Chastain the Word, during the production of Tree of Life. “Terry is an incredible thinker and a very religious person,Chastain tells me. “And working on that character that is the embodiment of grace, I read a lot of teachings. That’s the one that struck me the most. If we could just do that, I think we’d solve every problem, right?” From Chastain’s mouth to God’s ears. But the 41-year-old actress has a contingency plan should her prayers go unanswered: “Don’t work with assholes.

One she avoided working with was Harvey Weinstein, whose reputation, Chastain says, is why “I never made a film with The Weinstein Company from beginning to end.” (However, “they’ve bought films that I’d made previously,” including the John Hillcoat bootlegging movie Lawless and three-part Rashomon-style romance The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.) Still, Weinstein’s arraignment on May 25, with its smirking perp waddle and subsequent indictments for rape and a criminal sexual act, have provided little comfort. “He was arrested at 7:30 and then he was out at 10:30,” says Chastain. “Why do rich people not have to spend any time in jail? There was a kid that was accused of stealing a backpack and he was in jail forever.” (Kalief Browder was held at Rikers Island for three years, beginning when he was 16, without standing trial.) “And then when he finally got released, he killed himself.”

Chastain‘s social awareness became widely known in post-Weinstein tweets like the one she sent in October to actress Asia Argento, after Argento tweeted out a list of 82 women (herself included) who said they had been “sexually assaulted/raped/molested by #HarveyWeinstein.Chastain replied, “There are more women than this. They are afraid. #ibelieveyou.” As the Weinstein fallout continued, Chastain became a vocal participant in the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which provides support to women who have experienced workplace sexual harassment, abuse and assault. The group has raised $21.7 million to date and participants like Chastain wore black during the 2018 Golden Globes, making the event feel like a glamorous funeral for the patriarchy and E!’s Mani Cam.

These public acts of feminism have become a natural extension of the way Chastain conducts business, which in turn has raised her profile in New Hollywood to heights beyond what even her two Oscar nominations and more than $1 billion in career box office would suggest. In 2016, she founded the women-led (by Chastain and former Weinstein Co. producer Kelly Carmichael) Freckle Films, which has garnered attention for a commitment to equal pay — and a series of high-profile sales, most recently the international spy thriller 355. In addition to spearheading the project — doing research that showed women-led ensemble films perform better than male-led ones, noticing the dearth of female spy thrillers, recruiting director Simon Kinberg and writer Theresa Rebeck — it was Chastain‘s idea, confirms Kinberg, for the film’s stars to be paid equally in a deal orchestrated by CAA. “We independently financed it,” Chastain says. “And all five of the actresses” — Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Lupita Nyong’o and Marion Cotillard — “own equity in the film. I love the idea about creating this movie and seeing that these women aren’t just people for hire.” She says she was motivated by the way the industry previously treated leading women. “Like Susan Sarandon or Jessica Lange or Sissy Spacek. You wonder: These incredible actresses, where are they now? Why did they disappear for so long? It was a system that wasn’t working. And so I thought, ‘Well, what if we now take the power and give it to the actresses?‘”

Chastain understands, she says, that “society mostly values women for their sexual desirability. Look at this #MeToo movement we’re in. Women at a very young age are taught that to be important — to be seen — is to be pretty. Boys are taught that to be important is to be strong.” The canny strategy of using the sex appeal of 355‘s stars while exposing the unfairness of the system that has profited from objectifying women has been a lucrative one: The film was the biggest sale at Cannes, with Universal paying more than $20 million for the movie, plus large foreign distribution deals.

The socially conscious part [of me] is just everywhere,Chastain says. “In my personal life and in my work life. I don’t think that’s a different hat. It’s just who I am.” In her new film Woman Walks Ahead, in limited theaters June 29 and available now on DirecTV, Chastain plays a real-life portrait artist who traveled to the Dakota Territory to paint Sitting Bull. “We made the film for not that much money,” she says. (This was one of the times when social consciousness was relatively unlucrative: Chastain reportedly received less than $1 million for the role, and the film had an estimated $5 million budget.) “And to be quite honest, there were three main reasons I made it: forgotten women in history, [director] Susanna White and Michael Greyeyes,” a mostly unknown, deeply charismatic actor who plays Sitting Bull. “He’s a great actor and an incredible thinker and man,” says Chastain. “His parents had been taken away from their parents to be raised in Caucasian households to get the indigenous culture out of them — that was the goal. It’s devastating.

Woman Walks Ahead director White says she wanted Chastain for the part specifically because of her vocal politics. “Jessica has been very outspoken publicly,” White says. “Standing up for women in the industry, supporting female directors and more strong female roles.

Chastain‘s eyes brim when she talks about gender and racial inequality, about the radical injustice of the Browder case, about recent news reports of 1,500 unaccounted-for undocumented children. She says her receptivity to pain is a byproduct of trying desperately to understand other people and their experiences. Chastain pauses, seemingly deciding whether to proceed, then declares, “Now I’m gonna get really strange here.” After wrapping Tree of Life, Chastain was preparing for a role as a detective in Ami Canaan Mann’s Texas Killing Fields, research that entailed trailing Los Angeles County law enforcement officials to the morgue. And in a cool room neatly filled with the dead, their demises explored and documented with a care rarely afforded to the living, Chastain made peace with the suicide, seven years earlier, of her younger sister. Seeing the temporary residents of the coroner’s office up close helped her understand, she says, “Oh, we’re so much more than these bodies.

Part of it was that Chastain just hadn’t known before, fundamentally, how death works. “Going to the grocery store, people buy steak and stuff and meat that’s wrapped in plastic, filled with red dye to make it look like it’s fresh,” she says. “We don’t really learn about anything that we think is distasteful. I had the opposite reaction when I went to the morgue. When we were in there, a gentleman came in who had killed himself. I had a lot of empathy for him. It made me feel closer to humanity and not separate from it.

When asked if being so sensitive and open makes her feel the need to be on guard, Chastain answers without hesitation: “Absolutely.

Though it would be harder to get more intimate, the story about her sister, who wrestled with substance abuse before she died, is an outlier for Chastain. She’s otherwise averse to personal revelations, including discussion of her pre-Juilliard upbringing in Sacramento, where she was raised by her mother and stepfather without the involvement of her biological father. (Though back in January, Chastain did tweet, to the delight of the internet, “Basically #GretaGerwig made a film about my adolescence in Sacramento & ditching it for college in NY. The first time I watched @LadyBirdMovie I was so struck by our parallel lives that I had to watch it immeadiately [sic] again. Oh also, I lost my virginity to Dave Matthew’s CRASH “.) When asked why her THR interview was set in this specific, undisclosed area, a location reachable by combination of subway, train, bus, boat and car, Chastain will only say, without elaboration, “I like to go here to disappear.

Last June, she married Italian fashion executive Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo at his family’s 16th century villa. Chastain‘s only references to the union are unspoken: a rainbow-jeweled “G” worn around her neck (presumably short for Gian), a slim band on her left ring finger and a diamond the size of a Chiclet on her right.

Sam Rockwell, continuing his streak of playing racists with his portrayal of an exponent of Native American genocide in Woman Walks Ahead (his next two roles are a KKK leader and a Nazi), has his own explanation for Chastain‘s reserve, likening her commitment to the craft of acting without the desire for the attention of fame to his Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri co-star Frances McDormand. “She comes from the theater, and there’s a work ethic,” Rockwell says. White adds, “The word I’d use above all else is ‘super-professional.’ It’s all about the work for her.

Though he raves about Chastain and the rest of his experience on Woman Walks Ahead, Greyeyes points out that nobody was having much fun on this particular set: “A Western is grueling. The wind sometimes was extraordinary, or the heat, or the dust. Once Jessica and I had to cross a rope bridge to get to set, and it was physically exhausting to be in that kind of sun. Jessica is very fair! We were beat.” However, it’s not shocking that Chastain‘s reserve was misinterpreted as coldness by someone who worked with her: Her Missoni-shrouded arms have been knitted across her chest for most of the interview. But after 90 minutes, she relaxes, uncurling her arms and fluffing her Madonna Litta hair as she acknowledges that the circumspection is intentional. “When I’m working, it’s like I have to put on this analytical professional hat,” she says. “I have to come at something from a non-emotional place. But I think that’s pretty normal for most people.” In other words, she’s on a film set to do a job.

While Work Jessica is professional and Personal Jessica empathic, Press Jessica, often presented in print without the context of the questions being asked, can sound like she’s delivering a sermon. “Oh gosh, my interviews sometimes do sound preachy, Chastain says. “I get a little bit like, ‘Here we go, we’re gonna talk about this’” — things like feminism, pay parity, sexual harassment and assault, discrimination; issues that are inconveniently no fun and omnipresent. “When I read them back, it just sounds like I’m lecturing, saying how life should be lived. And in actuality, I don’t want to tell anyone how to live their life.

Maybe it’s not preachiness. Maybe it’s earnestness.

What is the exact definition of ‘earnest’?Chastain earnestly wonders before earnestly pulling out her phone and googling the term. ” ‘Resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction.’ Yeah, I’m definitely earnest.

We arrived by boat,Chastain says of the 355 actresses’ Cannes debut, sunglass-clad on a James Bond-style speeder in a stunt she orchestrated. “We started walking to the press conference, and it was crazy. Mayhem. People were climbing in trees — the energy was a little scary. The security guards were freaking out. And we didn’t plan it, but we just started to link arms. Then we held hands. We were like, ‘OK, we’ve got this.’ And we started walking through. From my right, [I heard a] whisper: ‘The power of women, right here. The power of women.‘”

It was Chastain‘s coming-out moment as a producer. “I’m just winging it,Chastain says of the shift. “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Perhaps. But there’s been a noticeable change in the type of projects she has taken on as a producer-star from the ones she headlined solely as a performer, which tended to be smaller, critic-bait projects like The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and A Most Violent Year. This approach has garnered Chastain those two Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe win. (There are exceptions, of course: Zero Dark Thirty, for which Chastain received an Oscar nomination and a Globe, also made more than $132 million. But for the most part, her performances in broader fare like The Help and Interstellar tended to be supporting roles.) Whatever Chastain‘s protestations, the money-printing theatricality of 355‘s unveiling on the Riviera wasn’t an accident. “There is an entrepreneurial side of Jess,” Kinberg says. “It’s not just about wanting to make sure women are treated as fairly as their male peers. It’s not just about power and control. It’s about wanting to shake up a system that’s a little creaky and makes movies the way they were made in the ’20s and ’30s.

Chastain’s activist-meets-populist style of producing also drew well-deserved attention in January when Octavia Spencer, her co-star in The Help, said during a Sundance panel that she would be making five times her quote on a broad Chastain-Spencer Christmas comedy, produced by Freckle Films and purchased by Universal.

I shared a personal story [with Chastain] about what [financial] success has meant for me and most women of color in comparison to our white counterparts,” Spencer says. “I told her about the gross disparity in our salaries. She provided a much-needed shoulder and listened. And then she did what she always does: She took up my cause and made it her own. As a friend, she’s your biggest cheerleader; but as a colleague, she’s your most vocal advocate.

Chastain had employed a “favored nations” deal, where actors with equivalently sized parts tie their salaries together and make the same amount of money. “In an industry that for the longest time had pitted women against each other,Chastain says, “it’s really important for me and my company to create a space where everyone understands that actually we do better together.” She continues, “Your silence is your discrimination. So if you are succeeding in an environment where there is discrimination, you are actively being discriminatory. I knew women of color got paid less than Caucasian actresses. What I didn’t know is someone of Octavia’s level, who had an Oscar and two Oscar nominations, how much less she would be getting paid. When she told me what she was making, that’s what really made me go, ‘Hold up, that doesn’t compute in my brain.‘”

Now that she is a favored nation, Chastain has found herself in the unlikely position of being an ally to underserved white men. “Someone will call my lawyer,” she tells me, “and say, ‘I know Jessica’s all for equal pay, so …’ And I’ve gotten a situation where I’m like, ‘Sure, I’ll tie my pay to him and bring his quote up.‘” (Chastain demurs when I ask who this disadvantaged member of the patriarchy is. “I don’t want to say that someone has a low quote,” she explains.)

Then Chastain says something that would sound pretty damn preachy coming out of a less earnest mouth: “This is the God’s honest truth — I care more about what Octavia’s getting paid than what I’m getting paid. Because I’ve got a great life. I am more concerned about her than I am about me. Equal pay for equal work!

Whatever protective walls Chastain has erected, when she lets people in the gates, she is generous and effusive. She gushes about Michelle Williams (“Love her“), extols the wonders of Stephen Colbert (“Love him“) and lauds the Kardashians (“The most powerful women in our society“). Chastain tellingly admires Kim’s “genius” at what she chooses to reveal and conceal: The season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians that Chastain watched as inspiration while prepping to play celebrity poker ringleader Molly Bloom in last fall’s Molly’s Game taught her how to contour her nose and featured a scene where “there’s a media training,Chastain says. “And Kim’s the one that brings everyone to go do it. You definitely see that she is a very intelligent person and is learning how to gain control over her life. I mean, she already has it, but especially in media and society.

That kind of narrative control can be elusive in today’s media landscape. “In 2012, there was some tabloid saying that, like, Jennifer Lawrence and I were in a feud, which was insane,Chastain says. “She and I laughed about it. She came up to me and goes, ‘So I hear we’re feuding?’ I’ve never had a bad situation with women that I’ve worked with.

With the women I’ve worked with.” It’s a pointed choice of words.

In 2011, Chastain filmed Lawless with Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf has publicly spoken about his problematic drinking and aggression during the production, which, according to co-star Mia Wasikowska, terrified her. Hardy described getting into a fistfight with LaBeouf and being “knocked out.” Meanwhile, Chastain says the intra-cast conflict she’s most often asked about is nonexistent squabbling that allegedly occurred on the set of The Help. “Can you imagine if the kind of … if the articles came out about two women fighting on set like that? I mean, it’s insane. I can’t imagine.Chastain shakes her head. It’s hard to walk the balance beam of acceptable behavior for women, teetering between passion that can get twisted into Daily Mail headlines and a work ethic that makes some colleagues deem you icy.

355 director Kinberg also worked with Chastain on The Martian and the forthcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix. (Kinberg says the film will not bear former producer and accused sexual assaulter Bryan Singer’s name, as he had no involvement in the production; Singer has categorically denied all claims.) Kinberg remembers that while she was filming Dark Phoenix, Chastain brought a “seriousness of purpose” to the comic book movie. After all, “She’s one of the greatest actors alive,” Kinberg says. “Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis-level.” She also, he says, took time to nurture and mentor Sophie Turner, who was just 20 years old and in her first lead role in a film. But Chastain also was just fun. “There’s a scene in X-Men where James McAvoy’s character is being held up by wires,” Kinberg says. “She got the guys who were operating the wires to puppeteer him to dance the Macarena as we played the song.

Kinberg tells another story, one that squares the activist and the prankster and the woman who sometimes feels the need to guard herself. “Jessica and her husband and a few friends of ours went to Disneyland,” he says. “She loved it. She was dancing to some band that was playing as we were passing through the park, wearing a Time’s Up shirt. And the juxtaposition of that political movement with the playfulness of a grown-up dancing at Disneyland — that’s the Jessica Chastain that I know. She is classical music and she is punk rock.

The Gospel of Jessica, abridged: Work hard, dance in your downtime, treat others like you would like to be treated. And leave the assholes out in the cold.

The Hollywood Reporter 

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Jessica Chastain star in a spy movie with Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong

Jessica Chastain star in a spy movie with Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong

DEADLINE –  Hard to imagine there will be a hotter film package unveiled at Cannes next week than 355, a large-scale espionage film that Simon Kinberg will direct with an all-star international spy cast of Jessica ChastainMarion CotillardPenelope CruzFan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong’o. They’ll play international agents in a grounded, edgy action thriller that aims to alter a male-dominated genre with a true female ensemble, in the style of spy franchises The Bourne Identity, Mission: Impossible and James Bond. The script is by Theresa Rebeck. The hope is to launch a franchise.

The actresses will be on hand with Kinberg next week to pitch their vision to international buyers at the Majestic Hotel on the Croisette. FilmNation Entertainment will sell international and CAA Media Finance Group will rep North American and Chinese distribution rights. Freckle Films’ Chastain and Kelly Carmichael are producing with Kinberg and his Kinberg Genre banner.

Kinberg just directed and Chastain starred in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. The idea for 355 came from Chastain, and she pitched it to him while they worked on that superhero film on which Kinberg made his feature directing debut. It didn’t take long for Chastain to get commitments from the filmmaker, and the actresses.

I had so much fun working on The Help that I always wanted to do another female ensemble film,” Chastain told Deadline. “I love the Bourne movies, the Mission: Impossible films, and wondered why, except for Charlie’s Angels, there hadn’t been a true female ensemble action-thriller spy film. That got my wheels going, along with the idea of casting actresses from all over the world to truly make it an international project. I realized the incredible creative freedom we would have with that. I brought the idea to Simon, told him about the actresses I was thinking of, and he was so sweet. He said, ‘I want to do it with you.’

Then I called all the women, told them what I was envisioning and that I wanted it to be a collaborative process, and how we would all create this together,Chastain said. “The one thing that felt important is that we all show up at Cannes, because that would be the beginning of our journey together. Every single actress I called said yes, on the phone call. They committed to Cannes and to everything. So far it has been a very wonderfully easy process.

Beyond The Help, the project that most helped inform Chastain’s appetite for espionage was Zero Dark Thirty, for which she also was Oscar-nominated. Through that research, Chastain found the film’s title.

When I was preparing for Zero Dark Thirty, I had incredible resources working in the CIA I got to learn from,” she said. “We have a consultant in our film that has a lot of knowledge in espionage. This title came from one of the conversations I had with him. Agent 355 was the code name of a female spy during the American Revolution. She was one of the very first spies for the United States, and her identity is still unknown. For a lot of women who work in the CIA and other organizations like that, Code 355 is a universal slang term for female spy. It’s the invisible woman who was never named.

Kinberg said that tonally, the Bourne franchise is the touchstone, only here the agents will be women, and they will share the screen equally.

It won’t be as hyperbolic as some franchises, and unlike the other films that revolve around one main character, the goal here is the true ensemble, all these characters who have their own distinct traits, histories — fully formed and complex characters with equal weight in the film. That’s unique, as is having all female spies. We are digging into the reality of spy craft today. There are all kinds of things that seem out of a James Bond or even a sci-fi movie, but the technology is so advanced that it’s real. Having someone who knows that reality informing the script has been really helpful.

The film involves these top agents from organizations around the world uniting to stop a global organization from acquiring a weapon that could plunge an already unstable world into total chaos. They have to overcome cultural and political differences to form a bond and work together.

What we can say is, they come up against an organization larger than the established spy organizations we’ve known up to this point,” said Kinberg, long the creative spine of the X-Men franchise and who’s separately writing and producing a Star Wars film. “We are hoping to create a franchise with this, and the first film will be the agents coming together.

While the cast creates the opportunity for glamour to go along with the global locations and action set pieces, this will not be some campy outing. Those Zero Dark Thirty experiences with Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal set Chastain’s bar for reality very high.

It’s a film and not a documentary, but our goal is to make this action spy thriller as authentic as we can, with as much trade craft as we can,” she said. “So when people in these organizations, in the CIA or MI6 around the world see the film, my goal is they will say, ‘Wow, this is pretty authentic. They got it.’ That was the thing I loved the most in making Zero Dark Thirty.

The other thing that was important was to broaden the opportunities and expectations for women in this #MeToo moment, something that means a great deal to Chastain and her co-stars.

The action genre has long been dominated by male heroes, and it’s so exciting to be part of a film that will allow for not just one female action hero but a whole ensemble of very capable, fierce female characters that reject tired stereotypes,” she said. “Characters that liberate from the confines of stereotypical traits. That is something that excited me about this, the opportunity to create different types of female heroes.

Kinberg is repped by CAA and attorney Karl Austen; Chastain is CAA, Mosaic and Hansen Jacobson; Cotillard is CAA and Adequat; Cruz is CAA, Untitled and Kuranda Management; Bingbing is CAA and Nyong’o is CAA and Del Shaw.

Jessica Chastain on Her Salomé Revival, Negotiating Nudity, and Being Empowered to Speak Up

Jessica Chastain on Her Salomé Revival, Negotiating Nudity, and Being Empowered to Speak Up

VULTURE – There’s a new Jessica Chastain double feature hitting theaters this weekend, but this one isn’t a revival of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby or some ambitious two-parter she squeezed in after filming Molly’s Game. Instead, it’s a unique theatrical experience beamed in from 2006, before Chastain was an Oscar-nominated A-lister: That year, Al Pacino cast the then-relatively unknown actress opposite him as the titular character in the Oscar Wilde play Salomé, and as they performed it in Los Angeles, he also shot a feature version of the production and put together a documentary about staging it.

The result, now finally making its way into theaters, starts with Pacino’s behind-the-scenes documentary Wilde Salomé and then shows us their production of Salomé itself, and both are a spectacular showcase for Chastain, not just as an actress, but as someone who thinks and feels deeply about what her role represents. Chastain recently hopped on the phone with Vulture to reminisce about the project that served as her big break and discuss how she found her character, who starts in a place of shy reserve but eventually commands the stage with a famous dance of sexual expression.

Take me back to where you were in your life when this opportunity came along.
Gosh, well, I was auditioning, I was doing a lot of guest spots on television, living in Los Angeles and just dreaming for a great film script to come my way that I could audition for. And then, funnily enough, I was visiting Michelle Williams in Australia because we’d been in a play together, and while I was there I got a call from my agent that said, “Al Pacino wants you to audition for Salomé.” I was shocked. I’d never met Al Pacino! Come to find out that I’d done a play off Broadway called Rodney’s Wife, and Marthe Keller — who had worked with Al on Bobby Deerfield — saw it and she recommended me to Al. So this literally was the most random phone call to get from my agent to say, “Al Pacino wants you to audition for this play.”

That must have put some wind in your sails!
It gave me more confidence. It was an interesting thing because when I got out of college, it felt like you needed to start in television and film before you became financially viable to do theater, because that’s what I was learning from the shows I was seeing: It was very rare to see a non-famous actor in a lead on Broadway. So I moved to Los Angeles, and then to be told that a play that I had been in Off Broadway had helped me to have the opportunity to meet Al Pacino, it was kind of wonderful because that’s where my heart lies. My first love in this industry was the theater.

So what was that first audition like?
I read the play because I was unfamiliar with it and my first thought was that I was shocked how great the part of Salomé was, and I was really surprised that I would have the chance to audition for it. I just assumed that they would take Keira Knightley or someone with more recognizable work, so when I showed up I was prepared, but I really wasn’t expecting to get anything.

For the first audition, I met with the play’s director, Estelle Parsons, and we sat and talked for a while. She helped me so much because I used to be very, very shy and very self-conscious, and as we were talking, she just said, “Why should I know you?” I went, “Oh my gosh! I don’t know.” And she goes “No, tell me, why do I need to know who you are?” So I had to tell her the work I’d done. And before I’d even read one work from the play for her, she pointed to the stage and said, “Let me see you dance. I wanna see how you move.” I was like, “What?” But I could see this little twinkle in her eye and I could tell it was like a bit of a dare to see if I could play the role and go through a transformation like the character does, to do this dance. So I got up and I was like, You’re not gonna scare me away, lady, and I just danced. There was no music or anything, I just was in this empty room dancing, and she goes, “Okay, great.” And then I was told that I was gonna come back to audition again, and this time Al would be there.

And what was it like for you to meet him in person?
In all fairness, I was surprised by his generosity because he’d always played such aggressive, dynamic characters onscreen — not necessarily the most empathetic or compassionate people. And yet, when I met him, I went into the room very nervous and started acting and then I could hear him in the audience saying, like, “Wow! That’s amazing!” I think at one point he said, “What am I seeing? Is that Brando?” Saying the most crazy things! I had never had anyone in an audition look at me as an actor like that, who really valued my work and could see beyond my shyness and my self-consciousness and my insecurities. He was a great cheerleader. He saw in some way that I needed someone in my corner and he became my greatest acting teacher. Everything I am on film and theater — even who I am as a person, I’m sure — it’s because of the time that I got to spend with Al.

I was impressed to see that in the documentary, you’re really fighting for the things you want out of your performance. I feel like there is a straight line I can draw from that version of you to the Jessica Chastain in 2018 who is not afraid to speak her mind.
But you know what that is? It’s because Al set the stage for it. You can be in an environment where it’s very clear people aren’t interested in your opinion, but from the moment I arrived at that audition, he made sure I understood that I was contributing something. Even if I wasn’t going to play the part, I still felt that my opinion and my talent were valued. When someone creates that space for me, it helps me blossom as a performer because then, as I’m discovering who Salomé is and the transformation that she’s making, I can really fight for her. And when I do, I’m not being shushed or overlooked like sometimes I have been in situations, especially in the beginning of my career where people weren’t interested in what I wanted to bring to a character. With Al, you can’t just show up and be a prop. You’re not there to be moved around by a director, you’re there to contribute. Even in a film, with every part I play, it’s not me separate from the director — my character is created from my conversations with the director. We’re discovering it together, and I learned that from Al.

One of the thing we see you negotiating is the nudity in Salomé’s famous dance.
I have no issues with nudity, especially in a lot of European cinema that I adore, but I find that in American cinema, the idea of nudity has always bothered me. I realized why: For me, I’m uncomfortable with nudity when it feels like it’s not the person’s decision to be naked, when it’s something that has been put upon them. In a way, I see that as like a victimization. It trains an audience that exploiting someone in their body should be normal for nudity, when I think the opposite. When people are completely in control of their decisions, that is a really exciting thing. I love the human form — male nudity, female nudity, I’m all about it. I had to get to that place where, for me, it was my decision.

How did that happen?
From the very beginning, like when I first came on to the play, I was never told it was something I had to do. The more I researched and read about the other versions of the play, I learned about how scandalous it was, I read about Sarah Bernhardt, and I read a book called Sisters of Salomé which talked about what it meant to dance naked. What is that power? What is that freedom? Even the idea of the Salem witch trials, when you think of the young girls dancing naked … what is so scary to society about that kind of female sexual freedom. I realized that there’s power in that to harness, so learning all of that stuff actually made me feel it was important for the character that there was nudity.

The crazy thing I learned in the documentary is that you essentially improvised the dance every night. 
I was terrified. I just started working with a lot of dance experts. I studied dance when I was younger but with Western dance, it’s very still — there’s not very much movement in the pelvis. With a lot of Eastern dancing, there is, so I worked with people on that. For the dance, the music would change every night, so the music would start a certain way and I would do a certain move where everyone would realize, “Okay, the dance is starting,” and then, depending on what I was doing and depending on what the musician was doing, we would kind of find it together. So I had a beginning and an end but I didn’t know what was going to happen in between.

Was that exciting, too?
In an Actor’s Studio way, it forced me to completely be in the moment. Sometimes the dance would be really long, and sometimes it would be really short. I would just have to find her journey each night and it’s terrifying to think that there’s 1,400 people sitting in the audience and I don’t know what I’m going to do. How am I gonna get there? It’s a very vulnerable thing, but it’s so important because through that dance, Salomé becomes a woman. It’s the first time that she’s taking control over her life and taking control of other people. The audience doesn’t know what to expect, but then when they sense my uncertainty, my nervousness, or maybe even my stumbling or not knowing what move I’m going to make next, that’s Salomé.

Is it fair to say that in some ways, Salomé’s character arc — from shy girl to empowered woman — was not unlike where you were as an actress at that point?
I never thought about it that way, but absolutely. The moment we meet Salomé, we see that she just wants to live this life of purity separate from her mother and the court, but then at the end of the play, our last image of Salomé is her kissing a severed head. We go from chastity to necrophilia — you can’t have a bigger arc than that! I can’t say that I have that specific arc, but I can say that in terms of going from girlhood to womanhood, absolutely I did. It was about this idea that I didn’t have to be a little girl anymore. I could step away and be a full person, and I could have my own voice and not be in the shadow of anything.

Jessica Chastain on the cover of Vanity Fair’s 2018 Hollywood issue

Jessica Chastain on the cover of Vanity Fair’s 2018 Hollywood issue

Jessica is amongst a very star-studded line-up on the cover of this years Vanity Fair Hollywood issue, which has been released online on January 25. Chastain is joined by Nicole Kidman, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hanks, Zendaya, Claire Foy, Michael Shannon, Harrison Ford, Gal Gadot, Robert DeNiro, Michael B. Jordan and the Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. The issue consists of the fold-out cover photoshoot, and a small blurb on each star. Find the photos in our Gallery and Jessica text snippet below:

In the quarter-century since Vanity Fair launched the Hollywood Issue, show business has changed in fundamental ways, as have magazines. But a star-studded, foldout cover remains a surefire thrill. This year’s portfolio goes inside the cover’s creation, which took place in L.A. and New York as Annie Leibovitz photographed 12 of film and TV’s most iconic actors—with a non-actor corralled for the shoot for his last V.F. hurrah.

The films and TV shows represented by the actors in this year’s Hollywood Portfolio—which for the first time offers a behind-the-scenes look at the shoot—took the #MeToo movement in stride, offering strong women in leading roles, as well as strong men supporting them. Here we have Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman summoning the women’s battle cry of Big Little Lies alongside Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, the indispensable sidekick to The Post heroine Katharine Graham. There’s also Claire Foy and Gal Gadot, embodiments of their formidable characters, the Queen and Wonder Woman, and one possible future female president in the mix. Movies have always thrived on relevance, and this year’s cover stars don’t hesitate to make a statement about the times we’re living in and the changes that need to happen.

JESSICA CHASTAIN, actor, producer.

30 films, including Molly’s Game (2017).

With her cherry hair and Creamsicle complexion, Jessica Chastain possesses a classical beauty suitable for Victorian high collars (Crimson Peak), to-the-manor-born hauteur (Miss Julie), heroic archery (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), and parts requiring her to keep her dimpled chin cocked. Chastain has also dived into the netherworlds of counter-intelligence (Zero Dark Thirty) and high-roller underground gambling (Molly’s Game, as real-life “poker princess” Molly Bloom) without losing translucence. On the horizon is perhaps Chastain’s greatest challenge: playing the sainted country-music singer Tammy Wynette in George and Tammy. (+)

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Photoshoots & Portraits > 2018 > #007 Vanity Fair’s 2018 Hollywood issue

Jessica Chatain at The Tonight Show

Jessica Chatain at The Tonight Show

Jessica Chastain stopped by The Tonight Show Thursday(18) and asked Jimmy Fallon to act out some imaginary movie scenes. They switched it up and Chastain played the male role, while Fallon played the female role.

She and Fallon then acted out three movie scenes, reading off scripts and adopting roles of the opposite gender.

The first scene, from a romantic comedy, saw Chastain playing the man, bumping into Fallon, who was playing the woman.

Oh, excuse me. I didn’t see you there,” Chastain intoned. Fallon giggled and mumbled something about being clumsy. Here, Chastain launched into a self-involved monologue.

You’ll have to forgive me. I was lost in thought contemplating how small we are in this vast universe,” she said. “Nothing but a speck of dust. The only thing that could give me purpose is somebody to grab onto and join me as I float through this endless world of confusion.

Fallon‘s single line: “Yeah.”

The late night host then pointed out to Chastain, “I barely got to speak there.

The two other faux movie scenes proved similar points, with Chastain taking the lead or carelessly dismissing Fallon’s lines with a wave of her hand and a “no thanks.”

Chastain has been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. Last May, at the Cannes Film Festival, the actress spoke out about the problematically low female representation in film during a press conference following the festival’s final ceremony.

This is the first time I’ve watched 20 films in 10 days, and I love movies, and the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women from the female characters that I saw represented,” Chastain said at the time. “It was quite disturbing to me, to be honest. There are some exceptions, I will say. But for the most part I was surprised by the representation of female characters on screen in these films, and I do hope that when we include more female storytellers we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day-to-day life. Ones who are proactive, have their own agency, don’t just react to the men around them, they have their own point of view.”

Jessica also revealed to Jimmy Fallon on how nervous she is to make her hosting debut on Saturday Night Live

I am so nervous,” the actress said of her upcoming debut, also explaining that she couldn’t enunciate her name while filming the promo. “Yeah, so we’ll see how Saturday goes,” the actress joked. Though Chastain is new to the SNL stage, the actress revealed that she has friends who have hosted the show before, including Sam Rockwell, Gal Gadot and Amy Schumer.

Gal said that it should be fine for me because English is my first language,” the actress joked of the Wonder Woman star’s advice. Meanwhile, Schumer informed her, “Just make sure you play everything super-serious, like your life depends on it.Chastain then revealed the subtle advice Rockwell offered which was simply to drink water and “stay hydrated.

Chastain also recalled a past, nerve-wracking experience meeting Oprah Winfrey, which she describes as not having gone well.

Because I started crying… I’m such a loser,” the actress said, further recalling the humorous encounter. “I just started crying and I said, ‘You raised me.‘” After Fallon asked whether the actress was still able to continue speaking with Winfrey, Chastain said, “I kind of blacked out after that moment.”

Though Winfrey and Chastain haven’t run into each other again, the camera did cut to Winfrey after the actress gave her speech at the Critics’ Choice Awards. Chastain explained that Winfrey was seen mouthing the word “wow” after her speech. “I don’t know if it was a good wow or a bad wow. … She knows I exist.

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Appearances & Public Events > 2018 > Jan 18 | The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon