The Oscar winner’s latest triumph is her portrayal of Nora Helmer in ‘A Doll’s House,’ which almost didn’t happen.
NEW YORK — Jessica Chastain hadn’t been in a play in so long that the thought of it filled her with dread. “It was just crazy because I started in theater,” said the Juilliard graduate, now 45, and a mom, and an Oscar winner and at that point in a career when an actor can call her own shots.
So a supportive friend, James McAvoy, who toggles between stage and screen, connected her with British director Jamie Lloyd. He, like Chastain, has his own production company, except his is geared toward plays and hers, Freckle Films, makes movies, like “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” the picture that won her a 2022 Academy Award. “He goes, ‘Why aren’t you doing any theater?’” she said of Lloyd. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m just very scared.’”
The admission was an icebreaker, because it commenced a discussion about what stage project they might attempt to bring her back, a spitballing that began with “The Duchess of Malfi” and “Summer and Smoke” in London, and eventually settled on “A Doll’s House” on Broadway. The confidence and trust that developed between them calmed Chastain’s nerves — and led to an assured, austere revival of Ibsen’s 1879 play, a recently opened production that is a hit with critics and poised for commercial success.
“I just felt so inspired about the way that he sees the world,” Chastain observed about Lloyd, as she sat sipping water recently at Freckle Films’s office in Chelsea. As Lloyd recalled, it was Chastain who suggested “A Doll’s House.” Lloyd said he looked at many versions before commissioning playwright Amy Herzog to write a new one that he would stage with virtually no embellishments — just actors in dark colors, and chairs on a revolving set.
“When it’s just actors in space, the connection between them in space, you see things from a different point of view,” the director said by phone. “You literally see them from a different perspective.”
Whatever allayed Chastain’s trepidation, it was a boon for Broadway, paving the way for a buzzworthy star turn in a season sorely in need of them. Chastain’s only previous Broadway role was a decade ago, in a revival of “The Heiress.”
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