Crash (France) – Fall 2013
Introduced in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” the stunning Jessica Chastain is now a major figure in global cinema, collecting praise and awards with each of her big screen appearances. Now an ambassadress for Yves Saint Laurent, she tells us about her career, her future plans, and reveals her passion and love of fashion.
French audiences discovered you with Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” But can you tell us about your early career?
I think nearly everyone discovered me with that film, not just the French. It’s the first film I did with such a huge audience. I wanted to be an actress ever since childhood. So I studied at the Juliard School in New York, where I earned an arts degree. It was an extraordinary time: I was surrounded on all sides by incredible artists. Then, after school, I started working right away.
What where the first projects you worked on?
I signed a contract with John Wells, a film and TV producer, and I started appearing in shows he produced, like “ER.” I also had a small role in “Veronica Mars,” and eventually got recurring part in “Law and Order: Trial by Jury.” At the same time, I was doing theater and got a part in “Wilde Salamé,” inspired by Oscar wilde play. I shared top billing with Al Pacino. And later the play was made into a movie.
How did you meet Terrence Malick?
When my agent gave me the script, there were tons of notes and descriptions. My character, Mrs. O’brien, was supposed to seem as though she came from another time and she had to be graceful. So I went to the audition, and there were a lot of actresses, but no Terrence Malick. I played a few scenes, read a few lines, and Terrence Malick saw the recording and wanted to meet me. So I took a plane to Texas and I had a second audition. I did a lot of them in the space of a few months.
It must have been a rewarding experience for you.
The best of my life. To play such a graceful and marvelous character, you have to open your heart a little more every day and work on these qualities in yourself. It was also a great experience from a professional point of view, since “The Tree of Life” introduced me to an industry that didn’t really know me very well. Terrence Malick is a highly respected director.
How was he on set? Did he give a lot of directions?
He’s very nice. Probably one of the nicest people I know. He’s very open and intelligent, and also really funny! working on the film with him was a treat.
Do you think you will work with him on another project?
I don’t know. It’s hard to say because my character in “The Tree of Life” is the perfect embodiment of elegance and love. Playing another character in another film might clash too much with this one. Audiences might not like seeing the mother from “The Tree of Life” in a completely different role.
What’ next for you? You shot a movie with Isabelle Hupert…
Yes, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” It’s actually two movies: “His” and “Hers.” The first one, obviously, follows the male character, and the second the female character. Isabelle is in both films. We finished shooting three weeks ago, and the whole experience was great. She’s a brilliant actress, and, even more importantly, she’s so smart and funny. We taked a lot about theater, directors…
Would you like to work with any European director?
Yes, of course. I like French and European director in general. I love Olivier Assayas, Lars Von Trier, and Michael Haneke. One of my dreams is to work with him. I like setting challenging for myself. and if I only worked in the United States, at some point I would probably try fewer new things and stop looking to do more.
You are starring in the new Kathtyn Bigelow film…
Yes, it’s called “Zero Dark Thirty” and it’s set to be released on December 19th in the Us. It’s a film about the group who hunted down Osama Bin Laden. I can’t really talk much about it, because we’re trying to keep the story a secret, but I’m playing a very strong female character. People are going to be shocked by the movie, by what they’re going to learn from it.
You have been working with the biggest directors. Are you able to choose your roles now?
Of course I have more of an opportunity to do that now. But I get a lot of surprise. When Kathryn Bigelow called be on my cell, I was working on a project in Toronto. It was so unexpected.
Can you tell us about the Yves Saint Laurent campaign?
Of course! I’m the face of the Yves Saint Laurent perfume called Manifesto. I was pretty nervous by the idea of becoming a brand ambassador, because I really hav to believe in something I do. But I have so much love and respect for Mr. Yves Saint Laurent, even though I never met him. His way of seeing women was so modern, unexpected and sensual. When I think fo him, I think of Catherine Deneuve wearing a tuxedo an the red carpet. It’s an honor to represent a brand like this.
How was your meeting with the Yves Saint Laurent team?
It was great! They’re all artist and we talked about movies, art. The commercial was shot by Nicholas Winding Refn, who directed “Drive,” and Mert & Marcus photographed the campaign. I feel like we’re all part of one big family now. I’m really happy.
At the moment, you are acting in a play on broadway… Where do you sually live? In California or New York?
Most of the time I live in California, but I’m going to get an apartment in New York soon. I can’t really leave New York because of the play, called “The Heiress,” so it’s just a lot easier to live here for now.
You seem like the type who is into fashion…
Definitely! I’m interested in very from of art, whether it’s sculpture, cinema, painting, or architecture. Going to a fashion show is like going to an opening at an art gallery. I feel honored when designers want me to wear their clothes. For me, what count is the dress, the story the designer wants to tell. I love when designers trust me to take part in their story.
Are costumes important when you’re acting?
They’re extremely important. In everyday life, the way someone dresses tells you something about who they are. When you’re feeling bad, for example, you dress in a particular way. When you’re acting, it’s really important to try to use all that. The way my characters dress in “The Help” or “The Tree of Life” already tells you something about who they are.