Vulture has interviewed eight Oscar contenders about their toughest scenes. Here’s Jessica answer, about Miss Sloane.
The scene: Chastain plays cutthroat lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane, who’s trying to push through a gun-control bill. In this climactic scene, she’s hauled before a congressional committee to explain herself — and she gets to spring one final trap.
“It was after a very tough week. I think the week before we did this scene, we shot 24 pages, which I’ve never done on a movie before. We were shooting very quickly and trying to shoot a lot of pages, and I remember I said, ‘You guys, I feel like I’m going to have a breakdown.’ And I think this scene came after that.
And I have never been in a situation where I’ve had to prep so much. The terminology needs to be so specific and quick. That was something [director John Madden] kept talking about, about how rapid her pace needs to be. From the beginning of the movie, we’re always seeing Elizabeth on the go. She’s moving forward. If she were an animal, she’d be one that was in the water — she’s always pushing forward in this very fluid way, but very fast. Then in this scene, I remember John kept trying to slow me down. He said, ‘Just sit there.’ When we finished, he’s like, ‘Okay, I’m good,’ and I was like, ‘Uh, can I do it one more time, and can I do it really fast?’ And he let me do it, but he didn’t use that take. He was interested in her just really being present there, and I’m glad. You know, I saw the movie for the first time two days ago in its finished state, and I can really feel how she’s depleted at the end. I can see that, and I think he gave me really good direction for that scene.
Whenever I read any script with the intention of figuring out if it is something I’m going to be a part of, I try to feel the thoughts of the character. I don’t say the lines out loud, but emotionally I follow the story completely. I really put myself in the situation. I’m reading something to see if it’s a character I’m going to allow into my life — if I can understand them, even if they do bad things. If I can find some understanding with the person, even if they’re very different from me. To me, that will say, Okay, I can build on that, and yes, this is a part I can play. If I read something and I go, God, this person behaved so erratically, when there’s no justification even in writing why they’re doing this, then that’s not something I can play. I’m very detail-oriented and specific.
Also, on this movie I was always tired. I mean, I was up in Toronto, and I was by myself, and I didn’t have anyone staying with me. Usually I travel with my family so I never feel like a loner, but for Sloane I didn’t have that. And it wasn’t on purpose. I wasn’t trying to be, like, Method-y. It just happened that way, and I’m really grateful it happened that way. Because I’d finish a day of shooting, and then I’d have to go home, and I’d eat dinner, and then I’d start to memorize my five-page monologue for the next day or whatever I had, which, if you look at the script, you realize it’s a series of monologues just over and over again. And there was something so lonely and depressing about that, but they’re happy accidents. I just got to use that feeling while playing the character.”