Zero Dark Thirty

Jessica Chastain as: Maya
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay by: Mark Boal
Selected Cast: Jason Clarke, Édgar Ramírez, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt
Running Time: 157min
Release Date: December 19, 2012
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L.s Team 6 in May 2011.

Production Notes

The film’s working title was “For God and Country”. The title Zero Dark Thirty was officially confirmed at the end of the film’s teaser trailer. Bigelow has explained that “it’s a military term for 30 minutes after midnight, and it refers also to the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the entire decade-long mission.”

Bigelow and Boal had initially worked on and finished a screenplay centered on the December 2001 Battle of Tora Bora, and the long, unsuccessful efforts to find Osama bin Laden in the region. The two were about to begin filming when news broke that bin Laden had been killed.

They immediately shelved the film they had been working on and redirected their focus, essentially starting from scratch. “But a lot of the homework I’d done for the first script and a lot of the contacts I made, carried over,” Boal remarked during an interview with Entertainment Weekly. He added, “The years I had spent talking to military and intelligence operators involved in counter-terrorism was helpful in both projects. Some of the sourcing I had developed long, long ago continued to be helpful for this version.”

Along with painstakingly recreating the historic night-vision raid on the Abbottabad compound, the script and the film stress the little-reported role of the tenacious young female CIA officer who tracked down Osama bin Laden. Screenwriter Boal said that while researching for the film, “I heard through the grapevine that women played a big role in the CIA in general and in this team. I heard that a woman was there on the night of the raid as one of the CIA’s liaison officers on the ground – and that was the start of it.” He then turned up stories about a young case officer who was recruited out of college, who had spent her entire career chasing bin Laden. Maya’s tough-minded, monomaniacal persona, Boal said, is “based on a real person, but she also represents the work of a lot of other women.”

Jessica Chastain’s agents originally declined the role of Maya. Producer Megan Ellison, who had worked with Chastain on Lawless, gave Kathryn Bigelow Chastain’s phone number so she could personally offer her the role. Kathryn decided to invite Jessica after seeing an early cut of Coriolanus. She permanently saved a voicemail from Bigelow, in which Chastain learned she had been chosen to play the role of Maya. The message came on November 21, 2011 at 1:04 p.m.

Rooney Mara was first cast for the part, but had to decline due schedule conflicts. At one point, Tom Hardy, Idris Elba and Guy Pearce were considered for different roles. Hardy was replaced by Mark Strong. Joel Edgerton was also replaced by Jason Clarke due schedule conflicts, but he was able to return in another role.

The limited release of Zero Dark Thirty grossed $417,150 in the United States and Canada in only five theaters. A wide release followed on January 11. Zero Dark Thirty grossed $95,720,716 in the U.S. and Canada, along with $37,100,000 in other countries, for a worldwide total of $132,820,716. It was the top-grossing film of its wide release premiere weekend.

Zero Dark Thirty was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actress. Jessica received also several nominations for this role, receiving, alonside others, a Golden Globe as Best Actress.