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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 

Gallery Links:

 Photoshoots & Portraits > 2018 > #011 The Hollywood Reporter

Magazines & Scans > 2018 > #005 The Hollywood Reporter

Jessica Chastain Powers Female-Fronted Market Titles

Jessica Chastain Powers Female-Fronted Market Titles

Big-budget, women-led projects like the $75 million-plus spy thriller ‘355’ are tempting buyers with an of-the-moment spin on genres normally reserved for men.

When it comes to big-budget, high-level fare, the Cannes market has always been a man’s world. But at this year’s incarnation, there’s a slew of female-fronted genre films that are upending that paradigm.

Led by the James Bond-esque spy pic package 355, which will star Jessica Chastain, Fan Bingbing, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz and Lupita Nyong’o, the market appears to be catching up with the larger cultural phenomenon of women demanding their equal place amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

The five actresses joined 355 director Simon Kinberg for a Thursday presentation at the Majestic Hotel — easily the most glamorous event thus far at this year’s otherwise sleepy Cannes. Festival glitz typically takes place on a red carpet and involves a finished film. Such was not the case with the 355 presentation, whose collective star power easily eclipsed any other event of the festival to date.

Adding to the intrigue, the five women were transported by boat to a photo op near the famed Hotel du Cap. After the presentation, Chastain, who is producing the film, headed to a lunch reception at the Majestic, sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter and DirecTV on the Grey Goose Terrace.

The standing-room-only crowd of 300 included top buyers — both domestic and international — to hear the pitch. Sources say the film’s budget will exceed $75 million, making it one of the priciest Cannes market titles of all time. Chastain, who served as a Cannes juror last year, was disheartened by the female representations in the films she screened. So, she handpicked and enlisted Fan, Cotillard, Cruz and Nyong’o — “Luckily they all said yes,Chastain told the buyers — as well as her X-Men: Dark Phoenix director Kinberg.

There’s no script yet, but according to Vanity Fair‘s Rebecca Keegan, who accidently was allowed into the no-press, top-secret presentation before she was kicked out while live tweeting, the plot revolves around five spies from agencies around the world who form their own team, dubbed 355. Theresa Rebeck (Catwoman) is writing the screenplay.

FilmNation, which is selling the film internationally, already is seeing brisk business, quickly landing a deal with SND for France. In the U.S., the filmmakers are looking for a theatrical distributor and see 355 as a franchise starter.

“It’s an interesting concept and definitely timely,” says eOne’s Benjamina Mirnik-Voges, who was at the presentation and buys for Germany. “The question is whether it will appeal to both female as well as male audiences, which still make up the main audience for action movies.”

Regardless, 355 isn’t an outlier this year. The market also boasts such titles as the Mila Kunis-Kate McKinnon buddy action pic The Spy Who Dumped Me, which Lionsgate is selling internationally. The Salma Hayek vehicle The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, a female spin on the Ryan Reynolds-Samuel L. Jackson action film The Hitman’s Bodyguard, is being shopped here by Millennium, which also is putting together The Expendabelles, a spinoff on its hit action franchise The Expendables.

“It’s great to see female-driven films being championed,” says Millennium’s Jeffrey Greenstein. “There are so many talented women that deserve the opportunity. It’s an exciting time.”

The 355 presentation arrived two days ahead of what is expected to be a headline-grabbing moment for women in Cannes. On Saturday night, before the world premiere of director Eva Husson’s competition title Girls of the Sun, 82 women will walk the carpet in solidarity, representing the 82 female filmmakers who have had films in the main competition in its 71 years — a paltry representation.

Still, the box-office performance of female-led genre films will dictate whether that trend is here to stay. One key test will take place June 8, when Warner Bros. releases the female ensemble heist film Ocean’s 8, starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway. Recent films like the Scarlett Johansson action film Lucy, which earned $463 million worldwide, have defied the conventional wisdom that genre films should be an XY affair. Says Kinberg: “I feel lucky to be able to do something that will shake up not just the spy genre but also Hollywood to show that an ensemble of women are as commercially viable as any ensemble of men.”

The Hollywood Reporter 

Jessica Chastain joins to Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o and Fan Bingbing to promote their spy thriller 355 in Cannes

Jessica Chastain joins to Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o and Fan Bingbing to promote their spy thriller 355 in Cannes

On May 10, Jessica Chastain joined to Penelope CruzMarion CotillardLupita Nyong’o and Fan Bingbing at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival to promote their upcoming spy thriller 355.

Deadline reported last week that the idea for the project came from Chastain wanting to start a Bourne-like franchise about top secret female spies from around the world coming together to fight some bad guys.

The five ladies attached to the film all come from different countries — Chastain was born in California; Cruz is from Spain; Nyong’o was born in Mexico and grew up in Kenya’ Cotillard is French, while Bingbing is from China.

Chastain said that she wanted to make the film after having “so much fun working on The Help with its star-studded ensemble of high-profile actresses — almost all of whom have gone on to win Academy Awards since the 2011 film. She’s listed as a producer on the upcoming project, which has yet to start filming. No director has been announced as of yet.

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,Chastain told the outlet. “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 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.”

 And the Zero Dark Thirty actress wanted to make sure Cannes was the place they announced their movie, which is currently shopping for distribution at the annual event.“The one thing that felt important is that we all show up at Cannes, because that would be the beginning of our journey together,” she explained. “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.

Jessica was wearing a dress by Wolk MoraisPiaget jewelry and Jimmy Choo shoes. Check the pictures in our gallery:

Gallery Links:

 Appearances & Public Events > 2018 > May 10 │The Hollywood Reporter And DIRECTV Celebrate ‘355’ At The Grey Goose Terrace at the 71st Cannes Film Festival

 Appearances & Public Events > 2018 > May 10 │’355′ photocall during the 71st Cannes Film Festival

Spy Film ‘355’ Scores Big Deal With French Distributor SND

Spy Film ‘355’ Scores Big Deal With French Distributor SND

DEADLINE – The all-star spy thriller 355 has scored its first major territorial deal, with FilmNation Entertainment and CAA Media Finance Group setting a whopping deal in France with SND this evening.

That deal was made before tomorrow’s affair at the Cannes Majestic where director Simon Kinberg will be on hand with Jessica ChastainMarion CotillardPenelope CruzFan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong’o to discuss their ambition for the spy ensemble, before a crowd of international and domestic buyers. Deadline revealed the project last week and this week placed it atop the most anticipated list of star packages unveiled at the Cannes Market.

SND was particularly passionate and aggressive and the filmmakers decided, why wait to make the first deal?

As Deadline reported last week, the film has a script by Theresa Rebeck and the hope is to launch a franchise based on an idea by Chastain to construct aBourne Identity-like thriller revolving around five accomplished secret agents from countries around the world. They have to overcome suspicions and political differences to form a spy sisterhood to thwart a common enemy.

When Chastain described her idea to Kinberg while they worked together on X-Men: Dark Phoenix, he said yes immediately, and the actresses followed suit and agreed to come to Cannes tomorrow (Cruz is already here for the opening night film Everybody Knows, which sold to Focus Features). FilmNation is selling international and CAA Media Finance Group is selling North American and Chinese distribution rights. Freckle Films’ Chastain and Kelly Carmichael are producing with Kinberg and his Kinberg Genre banner.

Chastain wove some of the spy craft she learned starring in Zero Dark Thirty, and she has brought in some intelligence experts to inject cutting edge technology to help shape the narrative. That inside baseball stuff included the title, which was the code name of the first female spy in the American Revolution and became jargon for a female intelligence agent. It certainly feels like the filmmakers will be going home with a slew of deals on this one.

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.