Changing loyalties, an inheritance and a mysterious man who may be up to no good? This kind of drama would feel right at home on a nighttime soap, but instead of being the latest twist on Revenge, it’s the plot of new play revival The Heiress, starring Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens in their Broadway debuts.
The Heiress has an impressive history: It was originally an 1880 Henry James novel called Washington Square, before debuting as a play in 1947 and a movie in 1949. Another film version was released in 1997. But despite its long past, the show — about a woman (Chastain) caught between a controlling father (David Strathairn) and a young suitor (Stevens) who may only be after money, not love — is incredibly modern, according to Chastain. “It’s very relevant, a woman believing she is what the men in her life tells her she is,” Chastain said. “And it goes from her father to her suitor to finally at the end of the play, she’s on her own.”
When EW caught up with Chastain and Stevens a few weeks ago, they were just beginning the rehearsal process for the show (which begins previews Oct. 6) and were eager to chat about their characters and their return to the stage, after a fruitful couple of years for the stars in movies (Chastain was an Oscar nominee for last year’s The Help) and television (Stevens portrays Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey).
“Whenever anyone finds out I’m doing The Heiress, they all go, ‘I love Catherine,’” Chastain said. “And I love [my character] too. When we first meet her, she appears very confident, she tells a funny story, she seems fine. And then when the father comes into the room we see anxiety and social awkwardness set in. And I find it really interesting [that all of that pressure], you see it come out in the way she interacts with people.”
For Stevens, the chance to play a character a little less pure-hearted than Matthew Crawley was part of the draw. “I was just blown away by reading the play,” he said. “[I loved] the moral ambiguities and the questions it asked….I don’t think it’s clear cut. [Some people] say, ‘He’s a gold digger.’ Well, is he? I don’t know. I think it’s more interesting and complex than [that]…. The father certainly thinks he is, and some of the audience might think he is. I hope some of the audience might think he’s not. That idea of playing with uncertainty and doubt, it’s really exciting and makes for great theater.”