After an almost five-month hiatus, many Hollywood productions are now starting to resume again after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. But life on set doesn’t look how it used to: With social distancing measures and strict testing procedures in place, Hollywood’s new normal is about ensuring the cast and crew’s safety while maintaining the collaborative spirit of a film production.
Jessica Chastain has recently returned to set to shoot additional scenes for her upcoming spy thriller 355, in which she plays a CIA agent. The film, which is slated to be released in January 2021, is directed by Simon Kinberg and also stars Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz, and Lupita Nyong’ o.
Production for the film in London restarted a couple of weeks ago. Though the additional scenes only required a few days of shooting, Chastain says going back to set proved to be a whole new experience. “We had a lot of protocol and protection to make sure that everyone going back to work would go home just as safe as they were when they arrived,” she says. (She has since returned to the East Coast, where she is currently quarantining with her grandmother: “My grandma and I work out together. We do this thing called Torch’d every morning.”)
Safety protocols began well before they even picked up shooting. “A month before traveling [to London], I started taking COVID tests—Universal started sending them to all of us,” she says. “We had a month of tests that were negative before we ever flew to the U.K. through LetsGetChecked, which was super easy.” (LetsGetChecked is currently the only FDA-approved at-home COVID-19 test that incorporates a nasal swab and has an out-of-pocket cost of $119; the supply of free universal testing in the U.S., meanwhile, continues to experience shortages.)
Once Chastain arrived in the U.K., further testing was done every morning before heading to set—and extra precautions were taken once on location as well, such as getting temperatures checked and everyone wearing masks. “Once we got on set, we were in quarantine bubbles,” she says. “Everyone was in different zones.” At night, everyone involved in the project would also answer an email form asking them about symptoms, and they would be assessed as safe to show up for work the following day or not.
Despite all the steps taken to ensure Hollywood sets are safe environments, certain aspects of being on location make staying six feet apart from each other unavoidable. For one, the hair, makeup, and wardrobe teams must get up close to the actors to do their jobs. “The hair and makeup trailer was a whole new experience,” Chastain says. “They did a great job keeping everyone safe and minimizing the time that a bunch of people are together in a small space.” There’s also the question of acting once the cameras start rolling; actors must interact with each other, touch each other—all without masks. But there were plans for that too, says Chastain. “With all the other actors that I was getting within six feet from, we were all quarantined together,” she says. “I felt very comfortable that we weren’t going to pass anything to each other.” During filming, many of the crew were also put in a separate room to watch scenes from a monitor.
Chastain says dealing with Hollywood’s new normal has been a learning curve, but that it wasn’t as scary or intimidating as she thought it would be. “I feel hopeful and excited about it,” she says. “Film productions become so huge—a lot of film is so much about spectacle. I’m excited to see it become, in some aspects, more intimate. I’m hearing from studios that they’re looking more at plays and developing films where it’s just two people in a room talking. A lot of the great films from the ’70s were about that—great dialogue between actors.”