Do Not Squeeze

Published on Vanity Fair Italy (August 30, 2017) – Interview by Paola Jacobbi
Translation by Claudia

Jessica Chastain is the exception to the rule. Actually she really confirms all the rules about the entertainment world. The one that success inevitably changes you; the one that you pass from a total lack of opportunities in the beginning to having way too many options after and this makes your choice even harder, and sometimes can lead to a real career disaster; that one for which being worshipped, a relentless poison, destroys the reality and brings true talented girls to become excessive and whining divas. It happens to many, but not to Jessica Chastain.

She transitioned rather quickly from the status of pretty unknown actress to a famous star two-times nominated for an Oscar (for The Help and Zero Dark Thirty), but Jessica remains that class mate everyone would like to have: she is positive and bold, strong and cooperative, a woman who looks to the substance rather than the appereance. Not that her appereance is anything less, though. Those red hair, pale skin, the harmonious body, and the front row that all directors, photographers and stylists seem to love, those are all her ID credentials.

But there’s a lot more to her: a lexicon given to very few actresses, a way to balance her own image and very well thought ambitions. On Instagram she manages to keep her sense of humor and tries to promotes herself, but that’s not all yet. She also promotes a lot her friends projects: she just recently cheered for Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde, both movies with women as protagonists and supporting the speeches on women’s presence on a film, which is very to heart to Mrs. Chastain, born in Sacramento (California) 40 years ago and since 10th June married to italian manager Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo. They celebrated their union in a very intimate ceremony in a villa in Venice, with a few good friends (among which actresses Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway) and a great party for who participated to it, others could just enjoy a few sneaked shots of the happy couple shared here and there.

I spoke to Jessica just as she was back from her honeymoon («We’ve been to Africa, what a dream»). She went right back into working, which doesn’t come as a surprise. Someone close to the actress would call her «a war machine, one of a kind». Just in the past months she shooted very much anticipated movies: The Death and Life of John F. Donovan by director Xavier Dolan and Molly’s Game by Aaron Sorkin, which will be presented at TIFF. And just in time to enter the amazing Marvel Universe, playing the villain empress Lilandra in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. 7th September we are waiting for Miss Sloane by John Madden, in which Jessica plays a fierce and nasty lobbist from Washington, who’s only target is to win. We don’t know much about Elizabeth Sloane’s private life because she only lives for working and the ferocious political battle on gun laws. She represents the rude and lonely anti-heroine who doesn’t have a look inside her own self but who will make the viewers be on her side. She is everything we have been seen in thrillers so far for male characters. But she’s a woman.

A real woman? Does Miss Sloane really exist?
No. But it’s much alike. Only the 10% of lobbists in Washington is actually women. They are very competitive and competent people fighting for their place in a men’s world. Before I started shooting I met with a dozen of them and it’s not like I would have expected.

What do you mean?
I expected to meet women in a suit, or all dressed the same, for which make-up and hairdresser’s were just a waste of time. Women who were trying to be anonymous among all men. But I was wrong, they were all wearing shining lipsticks and very provocative outfits. They explained me you need to show yourself, otherwise the numberical superiority of men would make them vanish. Make-up and outfits it’s their arsenal.

«When I was a kid I desired to act in a theater company set in California. I had a lot more than I was hoping for»

Besides meeting with these women in Washington, before the shootings, you also participated in the Women’s March in January. Feminism has always been important part of your life, or you approached it just recently?
I have always been close to it, but not actively. When I was in college, as well when I rted with acting, I used to see women just like me, studying and working. Then in situations of more success, I realized that most of women suddenly disappear. Less women directing, photographing, producing. As soon as important things start to step in, that’s when women are put apart from the system and the decisions process.

The famous «glass ceiling»?
We must break it, because nobody will. We must keep talking about it, without getting tired of doing so, we must act until we change the way of thinking of this society.

It’s ambitious.
I opened a production company and we are putting together projects supporting women directors and writers, and all minorities, to give voice to all those who don’t get to be listened to. I, myself, accept roles to give value to women’s potential and the right for equality. Cinema tends to show only of women looking for love. But so do men. It doesn’t make their ambitions any less.

What does it mean when they say an actor or an actress to be powerful?
I honestly don’t know. I can only say that the box office success isn’t always powerful in terms of career changes for the actor. There’s a lot of variances. I learnt that in my job, and possibly in everyone’s job, the most important thing is to build your own path and not necessarly listen to other’s opinions. Life’s too short and you must built it your own.

«For all these years I would think of marriage as something too much traditional, old-fashion and forced. But then I met Gian Luca, an amazing man»

And you have what you dreamt of?
I had a lot more than that. When I was a kid I wanted to be part of a local theater company in California and live with that.

And getting married was a part of your dreams?
Not at all. For all these years I would think of marriage as something too much traditional, old-fashion and forced.

And then…
All because of Gian Luca, my husband. In the past 2 years with him, day by day, I realized of the amazing man he is, of the freedom he left me to pursue my career, with all the travelling and the business it brings with it. With the wedding I celebrated Gian Luca and my love for him.

Do you plan on having children?
The idea of family has always been relevant to me, and it will be more and more relevant.

Did you learn italian?
I tried, but not enough. If I was to spend some time in Italy I would learn it better. I excercise, sometimes with Gian Luca I try to conversate into italian for a whole dinner time. I managed a few times.

Okay an «Italianness» test. Which italian dishes can you cook?
Pasta with beans. And an apple pie that Gian Luca’s mom taught me to cook.

In the past 2 months you planned your wedding, participated to the jury in Cannes and shot 2 movies while working on other ones too. The perfect woman.
Perfection doesn’t exist. There is only hard work and will power.

When you get to the same success as you are in now, things come to you, you don’t need to look for them anymore. Doesn’t it risk to be become a little bit lazy?
You could avoid it. For example, you could try doing always different things. I always try to avoid making the same movies, taking the same roles, and to challenge myself instead into new things.

I read one day you’d like to play the villain in a James Bond movie. Wouldn’t you like to be James Bond himself, instead?
No way. That’s exactly the role type to force you into it and close your entire career. Being evil is funny.

You often said you don’t want to be just a decorative part of the cinema.
It’s not like I dislike to be provocative or sexy, but I don’t like to be just functional to the male character of the movie. If they ask me to play only the beauty I decline.

Are you stubborn?
If I think I’m right I fight hard until I’m proven otherwise, in that case I step back without problems really.

Talking about being part of the jury in Cannes, how much did you have to fight for your opinion?
We discussed a lot, we listened to everyone’s opinion and judged the movies from various points of view. It was an extraordinary excercise.

At some point, when giving out the prizes, you had to compromise?
Yes, but I don’t mind find a compromise. Forcing your opinion on others is not realistic. Some pleased me, some others did less. The same that is in real life.

You asked your agent to find you a movie in which you had to play with animals, and there it is The Zookeeper’s Wife, out on 12th October, the true story of a zoo keeper who gave asylum to a lot of jewish escaping nazism. And there’s no scenes on computer, you are as good acting with humas as with giraffes and elephants.
I love animals. We wrongly think we’re superior because we speak, but animals have an intellectual energy and it’s fascinating to interact with them. I bonded with Lily, the female elephant, an amazing acting creature and a friend on set, no joking.

After getting married, you’re one of us. When are you doing an italian movie?
Who knows. I’d really like to work with Paolo Sorrentino and do it in your language.

Do we have to let him know?
He knows it already. I told him. Now we have to wait and see if he makes that call.