Biography

Born Jessica Howard, Jessica is originally from Sacramento, Northern California, being one of the five children of a fireman father and a vegan-chef mother with a food truck. She spent her formative years in the San Francisco Bay and her first experience with the glimmer of show business came when she was just three years old attending a live performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with her grandmother. Not content to just watch David Cassidy go through the motions on stage, she quicky convinced herself that her true callling would someday make her an active show business performer rather than a passive entertainment observer.

Dance, at the age of 9, was the first performance ar to make an entrance into Jessica Chastain’s life. From there, she became part of a dancing group and by 13 she was performing in Shakesperian productions using her mother’s maiden name, Chastain. She was regular in school plays and local productions of The Bard’s text troughout the city and surrounding area. When high school came to an end, Chastain was more determined than ever to act and on a friend’s advice she auditioned for a spot in the acting program at New York’s prestigious art school, Juilliard. On the way toward acceptance into the school, Chastain earned a scholarship courtesy of former student Robin Williams, which offset the costs of regular tuition. As a Juilliard student, she acted in several plays like “Romeo and Juliet”, “Grapes of Wrath” and “As You Like It”.

During her last year, she signed a contract with television producer John Wells to appear on some of his shows, including ER. Chastain padded her resume with a guest role on the mystery series “Veronica Mars” featuring Kristen Bell, and a recurring role in “Law and Order: Trial by Jury”.

After completing her Juilliard studies in 2003, Chastain continued to display her unabashed love of the theater on stage, while also beginning new pursuits in screen acting. Where the former was concerned, she spent 2004 in a trio of plays, including the Off-Broadway play “Where Do We Live”, and the Williamstown production of “The Cherry Orchard” in which she shared the stage with Michelle Williams.

Her first movie role came in 2005 for a TV movie adaptation of Dark Shadows, named “Blackbird“. It was a Hallmark production , filmed in Thailand. Then she returned to stage in what proved to be her biggest career break: playing opposite Al Pacino at the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles, she and the acting legend brought to life Oscar Wilde’s controversial play “Salome“, to a receptive audience. Hailed for her great performance, she gain role in the indie drama “Jolene”, based on E.L. Doctorow’s tale “Jolene: A Life” from his 2004 “Sweet Land Stories” Collection. The movie centered on the cross-country adventures of its red-haired heroine – beginning at age 15 – over the course of a decade, for which she won a Golden Space Needle Award at the Seattle Film Festival.

Leaded by her role in Salome, that was reportedly witnessed by acclaimed director Terrence Malick, she was cast in “The Tree of Life”, a film top-lined by Brad Pitt and Sean Penn that began production in 2007, but didn’t earn a theatrical release until 2011.

After ‘Tree of Life‘, Jessica continued working in film productions, and following a role opposite Jon Hamm and Josh Lucas in the crime thriller “Stolen”, which had a small release during 2008-2009 for additional expose, and then she teamed up with Oscar-nominated director John Madden (Sheakespeare in Love) and Aussie-hunk Sam Worthington for “The Debt”, another thriller about a politically charged WWII assassination and it’s suspicious aftermath. Also in 2009 she also was cast in the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes and Gerrard Butler in the intense drama “Coriolanus”.

In 2010, while she was back to the stage for “Othello“, she was announced at Ami Canaan Mann’s “The Texas Killing Fields”, once again with Sam Worthington. Sam was so impressed by Jessica’s performance in “The Debt” that suggested her to be cast as his estranged wife. Until that time, her only major work available to be seen was still “Jolene” – which was the one Mann get to watch her acting.

Still in 2010 Chastain was announced in three new productions: Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter”, which sat down with Terrence Malick in order to know a little more about Jessica, “The Help” and “Murder on the Orient Express” on PBS, which ran on July 11. After all this announcements, even if none of her major films had been released, she got some Oscar buzz, appearing in magazines like Interview, Elle and W. She was officially under the media radar, even if no one knew exactly who was she…

Still in 2010, she was announced for John Hillcoat’s “The Wettest County in the World”, ending the year with 7 major movies to be released, and 2 movies (Jolene and Stolen) in a limited release.

The first third of 2011 came to open the gates to public get to know Jessica Chastain. Take Shelter was seen in Sundance Festival and Coriolanus was shown at the Berlin Film Festival. But in May, with Cannes Film Festival, she got her major exposure, when The Tree of Life was seen (and won the Palme d’Or) and Take Shelter won the Grand Prize in Critics Week Competition. The Wettest County also had a war for distribution rights, and Jessica was everywhere at Cannes.

In August, after some limited release of “The Tree of Life”, “The Help” was released and it was turned into the biggest year’s hit, bring in $169 million dollars domestically and more world-wide.

The role who opened doors to Jessica, Salome, became a documentary released in September and she attended the Venice Festival with her co-star Al Pacino to promote it. At this time, Jessica was everywhere (award shows, fashion shows, host dinners, magazines soirees…) and she was already being called the “it girl” in Hollywood.

Still in September she attended the Toronto festival to promote “Take Shelter” and “Coriolanus”, both high-acllaimed by the critics. Everything was going right, and to prove that, before December to end, she got a Golden Globes nomination for “The Help”.

The awards season began very well to Jessica, since her major movies (The Tree of Life, Take Shelter and The Help) was collecting a lot of awards – not for the movies only, but Jessica had some nominations and wins herself. And still in January a new role was announced: Jessica will be part of “Zero Dark Thirty“, the new Kathryn Bigelow’s production, about Bin Laden.

With the awards season still in full power, Jessica got an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for “The Help”. She received her call nomination during an Armani privé fashion show. Her co-star Octavia Spencer was also nominated, and got both awards (Oscar and Golden Globes), but was reported that she and Octavia did a friendly bet where she put $1000 that Octavia would win it.

In February was announced that Jessica have signed on to star in a double-feature film project for Myriad Pictures: “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers“. She also covered the annual and major waited Vanity Fair “The Hollywood Issue”, which yearly pics the “It” girls and had on their cover names like Uma Thurman, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Sandra Bullock, Amy Adams, Kate Winslet and more…

Jessica is currently filming “Zero Dark Thirty” in India, and just finished the filming of “Mama”, directed by Andres Muschietti. She still have to be released this year “Madagascar 3”, her first voice-over, and to be confirmed in the final cut her appearance in the Untitled Terrence Malick Project, movie with Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck.


Last updated on March 26, 2012. Information gathered from various interviews and articles.
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