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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.

Sequins and Push-up Bras: How Jessica Chastain Became Molly Bloom

Sequins and Push-up Bras: How Jessica Chastain Became Molly Bloom

VULTURE – The first time Molly Bloom walked into Barneys, the sales associate thought she was a sex worker. Dressed in a Denver Broncos sweatshirt and cut-offs, the ex-athlete from Colorado was trying to fit in at a new night gig that had her rubbing shoulders with Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck: running the numbers for an exclusive poker game at the Viper Room. It wasn’t exactly the environment for what she considered her “best look” at the time — a floral dress from J.C. Penney that her new boss referred to as “ugly.” So, to Barneys she went, in search of something shorter, tighter, and sexier. Once she found a dress she liked, she paid in cash (because that’s how the poker players tipped her). Cue the eyebrow raises.

Molly’s Game, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, tells the story of Molly’s (Jessica Chastain) rise, fall, and eventual redemption in the high-stakes world of celebrity poker. But the sleek minidresses and evening gowns Molly wears throughout are as important to the story as the costumes from Gossip Girl or The Devil Wears Prada: Running the world’s premiere “decadent man cave” requires a strict uniform of cleavage-baring dresses and sharp blazers, dressed up for professionalism, but also designed to appeal to the male gaze. The movie’s parade of looks comes courtesy of costume designer Susan Lyall, who either found, designed, or tailored the costumes for Sorkin’s label-conscious heroine. “I spoke to Molly a few times, and obviously appearance is very important,” Lyall tells Vulture. “We talked a little bit about how she judged what was an appropriate thing to wear. She was kind of concerned about always looking a little bit businesslike — even if she had a plunging neckline, she’d throw on a blazer, just some element to suggest no-nonsense.

The final costume count ended up being a little over 90, with about 70 dresses. “Aaron made it very clear that she should always be incredibly sexy,” says Lyall. “The real Molly Bloom claims to have never worn the same outfit in front of the same players. Thus every game Jessica had to have a different costume.

Below, we lay out exactly how Lyall turned Jessica Chastain into Molly Bloom.

Amplify the cleavage
Chastain spends scene after scene in dark dresses with deep Vs or push-up bras — or both. But Lyall made sure it was never too much. “There were a lot of things we had to check off to make each costume appropriate: Was it sexy enough, which is a very subjective thing? In our case, that usually meant was there enough cleavage showing, but without looking trashy,” Lyall says. “She always had cleavage at a game. When she met with her attorney or someone else or was at her real-estate office, there wasn’t so much. But it was like going to war, like putting on her armor.

Sequins improve everything
One of the movie’s greatest dresses is a strapless pink DSquared minidress that Molly wears when she pulls over on Sunset Boulevard to take a call from a disgruntled player. “That dress was saved for that moment,” says Lyall. “We went back and forth, but Jessica thought it would be really strong to use in the shot on Sunset Boulevard standing outside the car.” In real life, Molly wasn’t so into sequins, Lyall says, but it was an effective way to keep the parade of Jessica’s black dresses interesting. The early games that Molly runs for her boss are set in the Viper Room’s dimly lit basement, and a little glitter helped her stand out. “[Sequins are] more photogenic,” Lyall adds. “It brings the attention to her a little bit, it just gave her more life.

Reading the room
In order to keep her poker table stacked with movie stars, finance bros, and pros, Molly has to recruit players everywhere, from glitzy benefit dinners to the aggressively beige Commerce Casino, lit by harsh fluorescent lights. One of the real Molly Bloom’s greatest gifts was adapting her style to any environment — even a casino in the suburbs. It was something Lyall wanted to re-create for the film. “She was good at her camouflage. She was bringing just enough attention to herself. She goes in once wearing a coral-colored top and jeans. Just a pretty woman going in there, she wasn’t overdressed, she wasn’t underdressed, just strikingly dressed,” Lyall explains. “It’s definitely a conscious decision on her part to both fit in, and yet catch the eye of the guy overseeing the whole place.

Don’t fear frills
Maybe the most important dress in the movie is the one Molly wears to pitch her big game. All of her men arrive to a suite at the Peninsula, and Molly calls them all to attention: She’s starting a new game with the same top-level service; play tonight and you’re guaranteed a chair for a year, or leave now and there’s no hard feelings. Initially, Lyall wasn’t into the dress — nude with black ruffles on the front — but Chastain insisted on it. “I thought it was a sort of ridiculously feminine dress, but it just nailed it! I thought at first that it was too much, but Jessica loved it,” Lyall says. “She thought it was the perfect attention-getting dress to keep all men’s eyes on her while she made that proposal. How could you resist that? It’s incredibly calculated.

Wear white
Once Molly moves cross-country to New York, everything becomes more luxurious and pricey. No more of those bright Los Angeles colors; instead, in a scene where she’s leaving the Plaza after the game, Molly dons a white fur coat. “That fake fur was just a fun fur,” Lyall says. “You could hardly see what she had on underneath [in the scene], so the coat had to be something that could read well on camera, read wealthy, and also read nouveau riche. White got that.” According to Lyall, white communicates an exclusive, impossibly fancy lifestyle: “If you have a white suit, that means you probably don’t really wear it that much, and when you do, a car is picking you up and taking you somewhere and you’re never going to get it dirty. We had a beautiful white La Perla suit in the lawyer’s office because it looked kind of professional, but clearly she’s not a human rights attorney… The business of a white suit is not the business of a navy suit, that’s for sure.

Chanel pearls
A lot of big-name accessories get a shout-out in Molly Bloom’s book, which inspired the film. But Bloom’s favorite piece was a Chanel pearl necklace — not the single-strand subtle type, but layers of pearls, the kind that inspired knockoffs from J.Crew and Claire’s. This necklace, which appears twice in the film, was the hardest item for Lyall to pin down. “In the book, she talks about buying Chanel pearls,” says Lyall. “They’re the interlocking Cs, they’re not subtle.” Lyall eventually found them on the internet.

The dark side
Key to turning Chastain into Bloom was marking her transitions: She’s nearly a ski pro when she leaves Colorado for Los Angeles, and by the time she makes it to New York, she’s taking uppers and downers and staying up all night. The color palette gets darker, and the dresses get a little more severe. Instead of the sequins and bright-pinks and reds from her L.A. days, Molly sticks to dark grays and blacks, with added details that make the whole look feel a little bit gloomier (just like Molly herself).

She went from dressed to impress to dressed to depressed,” Lyall says. “She did get harder — lots of black dresses with heavy zippers, dresses with more hardware … Her makeup got heavier, her clothes got darker, [and the neckline became] oppressively plunging sometimes.” But in the movie’s present-day timeline — where Molly is meeting with her lawyer (Idris Elba) and preparing her case — she tones it down in muted but luxe Montclair sweaters. “That’s a little Azazie Aliya twinset. That look is taken from research,” Lyall says. “She looked kind of demure for her sentencing. That was her version of looking respectful of the law. But she still had those pearls on!

Jessica Chastain in Talks to Star in ‘It’ Sequel

Jessica Chastain in Talks to Star in ‘It’ Sequel

VARIETYJessica Chastain is in negotiations to star in New Line’s “It” sequel as the adult version of Beverly, sources tell Variety.

Director Andy Muschietti is expected to return, though his deal to helm has not yet closed. Gary Dauberman will pen the script. Beverly was played by Sophia Lillis in the 2017 horror hit.

Sources stress that negotiations are early and that the script is still being worked on, but both sides have officially begun discussing her coming on to the project. Bill Skarsgard is also expected to return as Pennywise. The sequel will bow on Sept. 6, 2019, with production expected to start this summer.

Chastain has been linked to the sequel for some time following its monster opening weekend, as the Muschiettis mentioned her in an interview with Variety as a top choice to play adult Beverly in the sequel. Rumors even surfaced of a post-credits scene in which Chastain could have made a cameo, though that never came to fruition.

Another layer to the rumors: Chastain has worked with Muschietti before, having starred in his first studio hit, “Mama.”

Despite the speculation, New Line and Chastain had not been in official talks until recent weeks. The studio sees the “It” sequel as a big priority, however, as it was one of the top movies of 2017 and became the largest-grossing horror film of all time.

Chapter One” of “It” followed the first half of Stephen King’s eponymous novel, telling the story of a group of children who are terrorized by Pennywise the Clown and forced to face their own demons to defeat him. “Chapter Two” will follow the last half of the novel, when the characters return to their hometown years later as adults to face Pennywise once again. Chastain would be the first big star attached to the sequel, though the Muschiettis have said that they would hope to bring back the original young stars for flashback scenes.

Chastain is coming off a Golden Globe-nominated performance in “Molly’s Game,” and is expected to star in “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” later this year. She also recently became attached to a Universal comedy opposite Octavia Spencer. She is repped by CAA and Mosaic.

Jessica Chastain got cut out of Xavier Dolan’s new movie

Jessica Chastain got cut out of Xavier Dolan’s new movie

In accordance with an statement of Xavier Dolan, posted on his Instagram, Jessica‘s character will be cut out of  his upcoming film.

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan was scheduled to be released in 2017, but was delayed. According to Xavier:The decision was editorial and narrative, in that it has nothing to do performance, and everything to do with a character, and the compatibility of the story line. This “villain” subplot, albeit funny and entertaining, didn’t feel like it belonged to the rest of the story, which ended up not being heroes or their nemesis, bur rather on childhood, and its dreams.”

We of the JCO team were very saddened by the news, we were excited for the movie, especially after the stills were released and Jessica was photographed on the set of the film. Anyway, we know that it must have been a very difficult issue for Xavier and we wish the film success.

See the movie stills here.

Jessica Chastain attends the “Molly’s Game” Australia Q&A

Jessica Chastain attends the “Molly’s Game” Australia Q&A

On January 30, Jessica attended the “Molly’s Game” Q&A with her grandmother Marilyn in Australia. She was wearing a blue gown by Louis Vuitton. Check the photos in our galley:

Gallery Links:
Appearances & Public Events > 2018 >Jan 30 | “Molly’s Game” Australia Q&A