OSCARS Q&A: Jessica Chastain On ‘The Help’, Keeping Busy, Doing What She Likes
Has anyone submitted Jessica Chastain to the Guinness Book of World Records? She must have set a record this year for an actor making her feature film debut (The Tree Of Life) and following it up with the most films ever — seven! — to come out in the following six months (Chastain actually shot 11 movies in the last four years). One of two nominees for Best Supporting Actress in The Help (the other is Octavia Spencer), Chastain spoke on the phone from Morocco with AwardsLine contributor Ari Karpel about the whirlwind she’s been on, working with Terrence Malick, and her politely expressed disdain for the lack of roles that aren’t “the wife.”
AWARDSLINE: Considering how prolific you are, I imagine you’re not in Marrakech on vacation.
CHASTAIN: You know what? It is my vacation! I was in Toronto, shooting a movie called Mama, produced by Guillermo del Toro. It was a very long shoot and we were working through weekends, and I finished on Thursday and went straight to the airport to come to Marrakech. This is the first time this year I’m not going somewhere to film something or promote something. I’m with my best friend, Jess, and I’m sitting on the jury of the Marrakech [International] Film Festival, which is so exciting. I don’t really do beach vacations so this is kind of a typical vacation for me — I get to go see movies and talk about them.
AWARDSLINE: What has surprised you about the new-to-you process of promoting a movie upon release and then campaigning for possible awards?
CHASTAIN: This has been the most intense six months I think I’ll ever have in my life. It’s just a really, really steep learning curve. I was so scared, everyone kept saying “It’s so tough,” “It’s soul sucking.” And, yes, sometimes you get asked the same silly question over and over again, but you’re also being asked interesting questions about acting, and it makes me want to talk. But as far as awards campaigning, I don’t really understand that. Other people are in charge of campaigning, and for me I’m just excited that I get to talk about a film.
AWARDSLINE: Coriolanus came out and you got great reviews again.
CHASTAIN: [I don’t read reviews] because if you believe a good review, then you have to believe a bad review. I did a play in school and the New York Times came and all the review said [about me] was “Chastain gets paler as the night progresses.” [Laughing] And all I remember is thinking, “What does that mean?! How do I not get paler?!” I don’t know what to do with that.
AWARDSLINE: Once The Tree Of Life came out suddenly you started getting scripts for supportive mother roles. Has the trend continued?
CHASTAIN: I think since The Tree Of Life was the first thing to come out, they saw me as that character, but since then I think they don’t know what to see me as. After The Debt, I definitely started getting some tougher characters, but I will say that the majority of what I read is for the supportive wife to the husband who is the lead of the film, and I’ve decided that unless it’s something that I haven’t done before, [to] go and do theater instead.
AWARDSLINE: Take Shelter is one of the best-reviewed films of the year; it seems to have tapped into a fear that we’ve lost control, which feels very relevant.
CHASTAIN: I absolutely can connect to that story. [Writer-director] Jeff [Nichols] is wonderful. In Take Shelter, with the storm coming, it’s like King Lear with the blowing winds, when Lear starts to go mad. I don’t think Jeff is even aware when he’s doing it, but his stories are so modern, they have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in our society but their themes are really grand. I think that’s the sign of a very important filmmaker and I plan to work with him over and over again.
AWARDSLINE: With all the films you had come out this year, is there a movie that received more attention than you expected, and one that got less than you think it deserves?
CHASTAIN: The Debt had such a good opening weekend that I don’t see it as a failure, but I do feel that it is somehow forgotten. I loved making that film. John Madden did such a terrific job, and I was surprised that it didn’t have a longer life. Also Wilde Salome, which I did with Al Pacino, we don’t have a distributor yet, and that’s surprising to me. But I have faith that that one will eventually come out. I just always expect a film to be received well. Maybe I live a life of hope.
AWARDSLINE: The Help certainly had legs.
CHASTAIN: I first heard about The Help from my grandmother; she was such a fan of the book, and when she saw [the movie] and loved it, I thought, “OK, it passed the Grandma Test,” so I knew the rest of the audience would love it as well.
AWARDSLINE: Among other things coming up, you’re voicing a character in the next animated Madagascar. That seems like an unlikely choice.
CHASTAIN: I fought for it. I want to do different things than I’ve done before. My character is a sultry Italian jaguar. I never once thought I would play an Italian person because I’m a redhead, so I thought, “This’ll give me a chance to work on that accent.” And I get to work with Ben Stiller! My jaguar works with his lion a lot. Every few months they’ll call and ask to do another session with me. It’s very much like [working with] Terrence Malick, really. [Laughs]