Good luck pitching Jessica Chastain a supportive wife role.
Chris Hemsworth learned that when he proposed she be his wife in The Huntsman: Winter’s War (in theaters Friday), a prequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman.
“Chris came up to me,” Chastain, 39, recalls. “It was the first time I met him at Critics’ Choice Awards and he talked to me about it. I said, ‘Listen, you’re great. I loved the first movie, I’d love to work with you — but I’m not interested in playing the wife who sits at home and cheers you on. You know what I mean?’ ”
By phone, Hemsworth recalls the scene exactly. “She said, ‘Don’t bother sending it to me unless I get to kick (butt),’ ” he laughs. “And I said, oh, we’ll make sure that’s the case. And she does.”
Winter’s War turns back fairy-tale time. Charlize Theron returns to the screen as the evil Queen Ravenna, but instead of sharing the screen with Kristen Stewart’s Snow White, this time it’s Emily Blunt by her side as her once-sweet sister, Freya. When Freya’s infant daughter is murdered, her icy fury is released, and Freya gathers up all the children in the kingdom, including Chastain (who plays Sara), to create an army of child soldiers.
So kind of like a Frozen? “But very twisted,” Chastain laughs. “Because in Frozen, she loved her sister so much she was afraid she was going to hurt her, so she walled herself away. This one, she walls herself away to conquer and spread pain.”
This is the Huntsman’s origin story, too. Hemsworth plays a kidnapped child-turned-soldier who falls for Sara (against Freya’s orders not to love), and in this script, he’s way outnumbered by powerful women. “There are actually more female roles than male roles in this movie,” says Chastain. “In franchise movies, I can’t think of the last time you had so many (women).”
Despite the Ravenna and Freya’s savagery, the tone in the new film is lighter.
“The first film was a lot darker, and even my character was depressed and internal,” says Hemsworth. “Whereas there was a lot more comedy (in Winter’s War), and that’s what I wanted to do from the beginning, have it be more fun adventure.”
Despite falling for the Huntsman, Sara is arguably the toughest presence onscreen, and Chastain even dropped her voice an octave to play her. “It’s like, don’t mess with me. I’m going to hurt you. There’s no vulnerability or sensitivity in the way she addresses life,” says the actress.
And when Chastain repeatedly battles the 6-foot-3 Huntsman, believing he has betrayed her? “I genuinely was impressed by what she was doing,” says Hemsworth.
Just look out for a little movie magic.
To take on her towering Australian co-star, “I was wearing these shoes that were insane,” says Chastain, who is 5-foot-4. “The shoe is a wedge, it’s like four-and-a-half inches.”
Move over, Cinderella. Those are fairy-tale fighting heels.
She’s also the first person Hemsworth’s daughter India, about to be 4, would run to on set. “India would walk straight past my trailer to go see Jessica and Chaplin, Jessica’s dog,” Hemsworth says.
One morning shooting Winter’s War, Chastain finally met Ravenna herself while she and Emily Blunt were in the makeup trailer.
“I remember when Charlize was coming,” recalls Chastain. “I said, ‘I’m so nervous.’ Because she is a true movie star. Like, she’s a broad. I just loved all of her work and I’ve been so intimidated by her. She speaks her mind.”
Few would hesitate to call Chastain a true movie star in 2016, and her M.O. has been to try everything, from horror (Crimson Peak) to space dramas (The Martian) to war films (Zero Dark Thirty).
“I’m always looking at projects, and there are directors I really want to work with, and then I look at their record and go, ‘Oh, you don’t make movies with female protagonists,’ ” Chastain says. (Just ask her to rewrite a few classic fairy tales such as Cinderella, and she begins: “First of all, she would never leave the shoe on the stairs …”)
In January, Chastain started her own all-female production company called Freckle Films. Her year ahead is packed: She’s almost finished shooting Miss Sloane, playing a Republican D.C. lobbyist trying to get a bipartisan bill passed that eliminates gun-show loopholes.
In the World War II tale The Zookeeper’s Wife, Chastain uses her bombed zoo in Warsaw to “sneak people out and hide them in the animal cages” as the ghettos are going up, she says.
Then there’s Woman Walks Ahead, shooting later this year, about “a friendship between Sitting Bull and this incredible woman who came to paint him.” Authenticity was paramount. “I actually said I’m only doing this movie if real Native Americans are used,” she says. “I’m not interested in people putting makeup on.”
In her personal life, Chastain has stuck to a conscious decision not to put her love life on display. “I’ve never gone on the red carpet with a significant other. Never,” she says. And she can still walk around her home, New York, largely unnoticed.
Her decisions have made for a strong foundation. “I was afraid that it was going to be a lonely experience,” she says of fame. “And actually, it’s been the opposite of that. So that’s I think why I’ve become more confident.”