04.09.16

Jessica did a great interview to The Guardian, that was published today. Read it below:

Jessica Chastain is such an extraordinary actor that you almost miss her. She brings so little ego to the roles she plays, so little of herself, that you go away with no idea who that actress actually was. Some Hollywood stars seem adept at pulling a film’s centre of gravity towards them; Chastain seems to exist in a quiet gravity of her own.

In The Help, which gave her an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress (and won her a Bafta and Golden Globe award), she played Celia Foote, a brassy, busty blonde. Given that the script traded on stereotypes, you can imagine another actress making more of a meal of it. But Chastain’s Celia, even when drunk and out of control, had a quietness that was devastating.

Her second Oscar nomination was for Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, in which she played Maya, the CIA operative who tracks down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. When watching President Obama on the news, saying that America does not torture, her expression remains inscrutable, even though we know she has been party to such torture. “That vacant face partly explains, I suspect, why Zero Dark Thirty has stirred up so much controversy,” wrote Manohla Dargis, admiringly, in the New York Times.

All of which leaves me wondering whom I am actually going to meet, when I arrive at Universal Studios in Los Angeles to interview her. We are introduced in a trailer (not hers: it’s fairly impersonal). She is charming, immaculately groomed in a smart short dress, sitting with a poise that feels almost old Hollywood. Except that she then admits she’s freezing in her smart short dress and can someone fetch her coat to put across her knees. She is friendly but not gushing; she doesn’t pretend we are going to be best friends. You realise she has become a movie star because she has spent her whole life preparing to be a movie star.

Within minutes, though, the stuff Chastain is talking about is so new Hollywood as to be almost radical. When we meet, a lawsuit filed by the pop star Kesha, who wants to get out of her Sony contract because, she alleges, her producer Dr Luke has repeatedly raped and abused her, is all over the news; Adele has just announced her support, while Taylor Swift has offered to pay some of her legal fees. Dr Luke has denied all of Kesha’s allegations. Meanwhile, the fight for equal pay in Hollywood is hotting up, too, and Chastain is massively encouraged by all of this.

“Now, it’s like” – she does an angry voice through gritted teeth – “We are so tired of this.” She mentions the 2007 documentary Girl 27, about the rape of a Hollywood actress in 1937, condoned by the actress’s own studio. “Because that was how they did it back then. So you think now, it’s a really brave thing to come forward and say something is not OK. And to see the support of other famous women coming out. How great is it, when there’s no fear? This myth that women don’t get along well – who does that serve? It doesn’t serve women.”

She stops short of saying that it serves the patriarchy, but her meaning is clear.

“I remember reading this article that talked about the ‘fight’ between me and Jennifer Lawrence, how we were rivals because we were up for the same Oscar [for Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook, respectively]. They never say that when men are nominated in a category. So I went on my Facebook and said it wasn’t true, because I thought, I’m not standing for this any more; because that being out there tells women that other women are not supportive. In fact, if you see a movie like Brooklyn, with Saoirse Ronan, and what a great job she did – the more incredible performances there are out there, the more parts for women there are going to be, because audiences are going to want to see it. So why would it benefit anyone to deny accolades for others? It’s this long fairytale that women don’t get along. But we’re changing that.”

I say, less optimistically, that Kesha was still denied a preliminary injunction that would have allowed her to record outside the terms of the contract, so has anything changed? “I agree with what you’re saying,” Chastain replies, while not really agreeing, “but public opinion matters more than this court case. It’s a tipping point. And that will change what Sony decides to do. I feel really positive about where we are right now. Last year at the Oscars, I was so disappointed – all the best picture nominees, not one of them had a female protagonist. I was so tired. And the women nominated for best actress were really in a supporting role, because there weren’t enough movies with best actress roles made that year to nominate.” Her face is dumbfounded, though she then brightens about the 2016 awards, pointing out that four out of the seven films nominated had a leading actress.

Everybody was white this year, though; in other ways, it was the least diverse Oscars in some time. “I know,” she says quietly. “It’s a big machine. Baby steps.”

I tell her that, on a lighter note, journalist Caitlin Moran says we’ll only know gender equality has reached Hollywood when women wear comfortable shoes to awards ceremonies. “The problem with that,” Chastain replies, “is that I’m five four. I don’t know if there will ever be a day that I’m not wearing heels. I’m a very big personality and I don’t like to look up at other people.” She laughs, then admits what a pain the red carpet actually is. “I love fashion, but it’s like a whole other industry. You have to lie down in the car because you don’t want to wrinkle the dress, so you’re in an SUV – we don’t actually take limos – and you’ve got to put the seat all the way back, but then you can’t mess up your hair, and if you’re wearing a backless dress, it’s going to give you those weird lines on your back. So, actually, we’re all arriving like this.” She does a sort of yoga boat position where she leans back and sticks all her limbs straight out in front, with only her bum on the seat, sort of levitating.

“Then I forget to stand up straight on the red carpet, and every time I slouch… How many times does my publicist get those messages? ‘Oh, yeah, they’re wondering if you’re pregnant?’ No. I just stood like a normal person,” says Chastain, who is in a relationship with Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, an Italian aristocrat.

Over a year ago, the Sony Pictures email hack revealed, among many other things, that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams had been paid less than their male co-stars on American Hustle. Amy Pascal, director of the company, was asked about it afterwards; Chastain was paying close attention. “She said, the reason they get paid less is that they don’t demand more. In the beginning of your career, you’re scared to death to speak out, because you’re just so grateful to be working. Amy Pascal said actresses need to stop being grateful. So I’m testing that out! I think people know, if they’re going to hire me I’m not going to just be grateful. There have been situations where I have lost movies because I’ve said, this is not a fair deal, and I’ve walked away.”

Lest it seem that the pay gap is not that significant, Chastain explains: “I heard a story… oh, I can’t believe I’m gonna tell you this.” But she does. “This woman, she’s very famous, she’s been nominated for many, many Oscars. For one film, the man got paid $4m and she got $250,000.”

Obviously, I am desperate to know who this is, but she won’t be drawn. That difference equates to 1/16th of the pay cheque, which happens to be the rough proportion Chastain says she got paid for The Martian, compared with co-star Matt Damon’s $25m (admittedly, she had a much smaller role).

“And people still think, oh, why do women go on about the wage gap? Well, it’s across every industry. The only industries where women get paid more than men are industries where women’s value lies in their body: prostitution, pornography, modelling. Those are the only industries where there’s a wage gap the other way. Because the male gaze says, this is where you’re valued. Your sex.”

She stresses that, for her, it’s not about the money, but the parity. “I did one movie for a hundred dollars a day, but the guy was getting that, too. It’s like Zoe Saldana said, when she had her kids, she was fighting so hard to get a nanny on set for this huge movie. And the studio was saying no. For the male actor, it would put on private planes. But for the female lead, it wouldn’t even provide childcare. When she came out and said that, I was like: yes! I wish the actress who made $250,000 would come out, too. I can’t say it for her. We have to make it clear, ladies. We have got each other’s backs here.”

Jessica Chastain grew up in Sacramento, northern California, with her mother, a vegan chef called Jerri Hastey, her father Michael Hastey, a firefighter, and her younger sister Juliet. (Chastain is her mother’s maiden name.) Early in her career, interviewers noted that she didn’t want to specify which town she was from and teased her for being unduly guarded. But there was more to it than that: her father was actually her stepfather; her real father, Michael Monasterio, had her when he was just 17 and Jerri only 16. His second daughter, Chastain’s sister Juliet, reconciled with him, but killed herself at his house in 2003. Monasterio died of bronchitis in 2013. Chastain will not talk about this part of her life, but has said that there is no father listed on her birth certificate and that there is “no proof of anything” (she means, no final proof that Monasterio was her father).

So when I ask about her childhood, Chastain glazes over a bit, and says she remembers that she and her sister “played outside until it was dark. Wishing the light would stay longer, so you didn’t have to go home. My favourite smell is the smell of cut grass, and the sound of sprinklers going on. I don’t smell that any more, do you? Cut grass.”

She has always been very close to her maternal grandmother. In fact, she recently launched a social media campaign to find her grandmother’s dog, after it was stolen from a McDonald’s in Vallejo, California. It made the local TV news, and the dog was returned. “Thank God!” Chastain says. “How incredible is that?”

The first time she was nominated for an Oscar, for The Help, she took her grandmother, “and it was one of the best days of my life. Just watching her watch everything. She was just goo-goo. She said it was the best day of her life.” Chastain says she has her grandmother to thank for the fact she acts at all. As a child, she had a “very active imagination, and then my grandma took me to a play. She made it clear that this was a professional theatre company, that this was their job – she wanted me to know that it was a treat. So then I saw a little girl on stage and I was like, OK, so this is totally my job, too. This is what I’m going to do. I’m ready. My poor mom – I was always like: Mom, can you take me to LA so I can be in commercials? I don’t think my parents thought that was even a real possibility.”

Did she start putting on shows with other children? “Actually,” she says with great charm, “I was artistic director of a theatre company.” She was about 10, and lived in a round cul-de-sac, so she and the other kids used the grass circle as their stage. One performance involved all of them playing the audio of a Disney cartoon of Ichabod Crane and mouthing the words over the top of it, karaoke style, for 45 minutes. “I’m sure the adults were all just sitting there like – aaaaargh!”

In her teens, she was cast in Romeo And Juliet by a professional theatre company, “and I would get good reviews. But there wasn’t anything like: ‘She’s gonna be a star.’ Then I got into Juilliard [drama school in New York], and knowing how few people get accepted, my whole family started going: ‘What is going on here?’” She borrowed her mother’s car to drive to the audition, and her extended family scraped together the money to pay for the fees. “I was the first person in my family to go to college. I was terrified by this idea that my whole family was paying for it and I could get cut from the programme, because they had a probation system. So, the first year, I was a wreck of anxiety. You have to relax, because to speak you have to have a free jaw. But my jaw would just clench, because I’d be so anxious. And then the more anxious you get about not relaxing – it just spirals.”

Still, she won a scholarship funded by Robin Williams, which solved the financial problem. She wrote notes to thank him, but never saw him until years later, when she was sitting in an LA restaurant, telling a film director about the scholarship. Williams sat down at the table beside them. “I was freaking out.” The director urged her to introduce herself, but she waited, because Williams was eating, “then he jumped up and kind of ran out”. He died in 2014, so she never got her chance. (Her best friend, actor Jess Weixler, worked with Williams, however, and he told her he had watched all Chastain’s films.)

On the subject of Williams, I ask her if mental health is still a taboo subject in the entertainment world. “We know that so many writers and artists really struggled with depression,” she says. “And yet, in our society, if there’s a successful comedian or singer or actor who comes out and says they’re sad or depressed, it’s like what?, you have nothing to be depressed about: you’re famous, and you’re rich, so shut up. Don’t complain. It breaks my heart when you see these people struggling in silence, and feeling they should get over it.”

Her new film is The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a sequel to Snow White And The Huntsman, the 2012 fantasy film that ended in scandal when the married director Rupert Sanders was exposed as having an affair with the lead, Kristen Stewart. The sequel has been directed by newcomer Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who pokes his head around the door to say hi to Chastain, then tells me how delighted he is to have her, Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron as his three female leads, since he is a feminist. (Even so, the main part goes to alpha male Chris Hemsworth.)

Chastain nods approvingly at her director, who is bearded, wears jewellery and has a strong French accent – quite unlike everyone else in the studio. “He took his wife’s name,” she tells me. “When they told me about the film, I said, ‘Do I get to be a badass?’ If she’s not a badass, don’t even bother sending it to me. I’m not doing a fantasy film where I’m the damsel, waiting around.’ Do you remember that movie Willow?” She means the 1988 film with Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley as Sorsha, a princess who prefers archery and horse riding to dresses and sorcery. “When I was a kid, Willow really shocked me, because I had never seen a female character lead an army. She wasn’t a witch, she didn’t lead through magic – she was a warrior. But that didn’t mean she had to become masculine, because she was part of a love story, too. So when this script came my way, that’s the first thing I thought: oh my god, I’m playing Sorsha. And then, hopefully, there will be young girls, too, who watch the film and go yes!”

I ask Nicolas-Troyan what Chastain is like to work with. “DON’T TELL HER THE TRUTH,” she thunders at him, laughing. “I didn’t want her to need to be saved,” he says. “As a man, I am very much into this. People don’t realise how funny she is,” he adds. “She has this very contagious laugh, and she sings a lot. Kind of weird – a lot of 80s stuff.” He starts singing the Hall & Oates chorus at her: “She’s a maniac, maniac, OH NO!”

This is interesting, because I have never met anyone who seems less like a maniac. She sure can play them, though: her character in Crimson Peak, a gothic horror directed by Guillermo del Toro, turns out to be an absolute menace. For this, she read up on female serial killers, and learned that “they’re more dangerous than males, because when men become serial killers, they usually do it to cover up another crime, like rape, and it ends in murder. But a female serial killer does it because of the way it makes her feel. She’s not covering anything up. It’s just death.”

She tells me a secret about how she played that character. “Most people don’t know this – Guill[ermo] doesn’t even know this – but I played it that her fantasies are more about women than men.” Her character, Lucille, slowly poisons the women who marry her brother, and cares for them as they die, ostensibly so she can keep him to herself, and spend their money. Chastain describes the intimacy of that murderous act, “of holding someone’s hand as they die: it’s a very sexual thing to do”.

Her favourite of her films, though, is The Tree Of Life, directed by Terrence Malick, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and launched her career in 2011, though it was shot in 2008. It’s an astonishingly ambitious story that aims to dramatise the suffering of one family alongside the birth of the universe. Chastain plays the wife of Brad Pitt and mother to their three boys. “At the end of the film, I was more destroyed than any other movie I’ve had to say goodbye to,” she says now. “The boys went back to their real mothers and I was like” – she wails – “I don’t have children any more! I went from four months of having children to not having children. It was a very strange thing, to feel like the greatest movie of my career was my first movie. When I look at it now, it’s more than a movie – it’s like a poem.”

It is an extraordinary film, but I do wonder if her greatest films are yet to be made. She is now making her own, having set up a production company, Freckle Films, to champion “not just women directors, but also voices that we don’t hear from”. (She named the company after the freckles she used to hate, and now loves.) I can see her career following a Meryl Streep trajectory into her 40s and 50s, full of increasingly rewarding roles – as long as life continues to let her unclench that jaw.

– Source: TheGuardian.com