09.10.14

The sudden loss of Robin Williams in August shocked millions, but Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain has felt it in a particularly personal way. Thanks to a scholarship Williams set up through The Juilliard School, she was able to pay for her college education.

“He was a complete stranger, and he absolutely changed my life,” she told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on a visit Wednesday to promote her new movie, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” Getting the scholarship, she said, meant she was able to be the first person in her family to graduate college.

Williams and Chastain never met, though they communicated through third parties, and she sent him thank-you letters. But she’s not stopping just because he’s gone — Chastain says she plans to find a way to pay it forward.

“It inspires me to try to continue his legacy of generosity,” she said, adding that she’d like to ensure the scholarship in his name goes on. “It’s such a beautiful thing that he did, and he would want to help other people, I think.”

“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” opens in theaters nationwide on Sept. 19.