Date and Place of Birth
March 24, 1977
Sacramento, California, USA
Jessica Michelle Howard
5’4″ (1.63 m)
001. Biography (below)
003. Personal Quotes
005. Official Twitter
006. Official Facebook
007. Official Instagram
photo from Jessica’s twitter
Born Jessica Michelle Howard on March 24, 1977 in Sacramento, California, she is the daughter of Jerri Chastain, a vegan chef, and a rock musician (d. 2013), and big sister to Juliet (d. 2003). She is deeply connected to her half-brother Will, son of her mother and her step father, a firefighter, and shares a close bond with her maternal grandmother, Marilyn, whom she credits as someone who “always believed in me”. She also has two other step-sisters.
Chastain developed an interest in acting at age seven, after her grandmother took her to a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She would regularly put on amateur shows with other children, and considered herself to be the artistic director.
Performing arts was her only escape from a life in poverty and struggling academically, during her years at the El Camino Fundamental High School in Sacramento. She was a loner and considered herself a misfit in school, which she regularly missed to read Shakespeare. She became fascinated her after attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with her classmates. Due to too many absences during her senior year in school, Chastain did not qualify for graduation, but later obtained an adult diploma. She then attended Sacramento City College from 1996 to 1997, where she was a member of the institution’s debate team.
In 1998, Chastain finished her education at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and made her professional stage debut as Juliet in a production of Romeo and Juliet staged by TheatreWorks, a company in the San Francisco Bay Area, which helped her applying for Juilliard School in New York City, where she was soon accepted and granted a scholarship funded by actor Robin Williams. Her first year of school was difficult, due to her anxiety and the fear of being excluded from the program, but a successful production of The Seagull in her second year helped building her confidence and complete her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2003.
Shortly before completing her degree, Chastain attended an event for final-year students in Los Angeles, where she met television producer John Wells and was signed to a talent holding deal. She then moved to Los Angeles and started auditioning for roles, which she described as a very difficult process due to her being a natural red-head and people not knowing how to categorize her. Nevertheless, in 2004 she obtained two guest roles in ER and Veronica Mars. She was casted as Carolyn Stoddard in P. J. Hogan’s remake of Dark Shadows, but the pilot was never picked up and the series did not move on. But this did not discourage Jessica, who kept on working in theater as Anya in a Williamstown Theatre Festival production of Anton Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard in Massachusetts, and in a production of Richard Nelson’s Rodney’s Wife as the daughter of a troubled middle-aged film actor. During this play, she was recommended to Al Pacino, who was looking for an actress to star in his production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, the tragic story of a 16-years-old’s sexual exploration. The play was staged in 2006 at the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles, and Chastain later remarked that it helped bring her to get the attention of several casting directors.
Between 2005 and 2007, she took on more guest roles in a few tv series and mini-series such as Law & Order: Trial by Jury, Close to Home, The Evidence, Blackbeard, ‘Til Death and Journeyman, to finally land her debut film role in Dan Ireland’s drama Jolene (2008), based on a short story by E. L. Doctorow and inspired by Dolly Parton’s song. Her performance of a sexually abused teenager was praised by the critics and for that she won a Best Actress award at the Seattle International Film Festival.
In 2009, she had a minor role in Stolen, a mystery-thriller film with a limited theatrical release, and played Desdemona in The Public Theatre production of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, co-starring John Ortiz and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The New Yorker complimented Chastain for finding “a beautiful maternal depth” in her role.
The next year, after participating to the episode “Murder on the Orient Express” from the tv series Poirot, she starred in John Madden’s dramatic thriller The Debt, alongside Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington and Jesper Christensen. Although she shares no scene with Dame Helen Mirren, who plays the same character in an older phase of life, the two of them worked together before filming to perfect the voice and mannerisms of the character making it consistent. For her role, she took classes in German and Krav Maga, and studied books about the Nazi doctor Mengele and Mossad history; William Thomas of Empire noted that Chastain “pulses with strength and vulnerability” in her part.
After struggling for a breakthrough, Chastain had six releases in 2011, with several of them giving her a wide recognition. The first was Take Shelter, a drama about a troubled father who tries to protect his family from what he believes is an impending storm. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival, and critic was generous to Jessica, noting how much her supporting part aided the narrative (The Daily Telegraph). Then came Coriolanus, an adaptation of the Shakespearian tragedy from actor-director Ralph Fiennes, and The Tree of Life, which she had filmed in 2008, and where she played the loving mother of three children. She considered her part to be “the embodiment of grace and the spirit world” and in preparation, she practiced meditation, studied paintings of the Madonna, and read poems by Thomas Aquinas. The film premiered in Cannes and won the Palme d’Or. Critic Justin Chang credited Chastain for playing her part with “heartrending vulnerability”.
Her biggest success of the year was The Help, opposite Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard and Allison Janney, an adaptation from Kathryn Stockett’s novel; in the film, she played Celia Foote, an aspiring socialite in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, who develops a friendship with her Black maid (Spencer). She said she was attracted to this project by her character’s antiracism, energy and enthusiasm, and in preparation for the role, she watched Marilyn Monroe’s movies and researched the history of Tunica, Mississippi, where her character was raised. The ensemble of The Help won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Cast, and Chastain received Academy, BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress, all of which she happily lost to Spencer. The two quickly became friends off-screen and in 2018, Octavia Spencer revealed that Chastain had helped her receive equal pay after she was offered five times less than her white counterparts for a comedy film.
Chastain’s final two roles of the year were in Wilde Salomé, a documentary based on her 2006 production of Salome, and the critically panned crime-thriller Texas Killing Fields.
In 2012, she made her Broadway debut in a revival of the 1947 play The Heiress as Catherine Sloper, a naïve young girl who transforms into a powerful woman. She was initially reluctant to take on this role, fearing the anxiety she had faced during her early stage performances, but ultimately agreed after finding a connection to Sloper explaining that “she’s painfully uncomfortable and I used to be that”.
Next, Chastain gave her voice to Gia in the third installment of the animated film series of Madagascar, and then played in two biographical films: the crime Lawless, as Maggie Beaufort, and the drama The Color of Time, as Mrs. Williams.
The thriller Zero Dark Thirty was Chastain’s final film release of 2012, in which she starred as Maya Harris, a CIA intelligence analyst who helps kill bin Laden. Being unable to contact the undercover agent on whom her character was based, she relied on the research done by the film’s screenwriter Mark Boal. The movie was a great success, but a very difficult project for her to film due to the subject, in fact she suffered from depression and once walked off the set in tears because she was unable to continue. Critics were praising Chastain’s role focusing on her versatility (Roger Ebert) and the “indelible, implosive performance that cuts so deep we can feel her nerve endings” (Peter Travers of Rolling Stone). She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Drama and received Academy, BAFTA and SAG nominations.
Mama was her first project of 2013 and also the first horror film she ever did. She was drawn to the idea of playing a woman drastically different from the “perfect mother” roles she had previously played and based her character’s look on the singer Alice Glass; critic Richard Roeper considered her performance to be proof of her being one of the finest actors of her generation. She then produced and starred in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, the story of a depressed woman who separates from her husband (James McAvoy) following a tragic incident. This project was initially written to be a single piece from the husband’s perspective, but at the insistence of Chastain, writer and director Ned Benson also wrote two other parts, to complete the Him, Her, Them parts which released in 2013 and 2014. While the films did not find a wide audience, the critic was extremely positive on Chastain’s performance.
2014 opened with a leading role in a film adaptation of August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie, which tells the tragic story of a sexually repressed Anglo-Irish aristocrat who wishes to sleep with her father’s valet (Colin Farrell). This project attracted her for the director-writer’s feminist take on the subject; while shooting in Ireland, she received the script for Christopher Nolan’s science fiction film Interstellar, co-starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, in which she went on to play the adult daughter of McConaughey’s character. She ended the year with the crime drama A Most Violent Year, the story of a heating-oil company owner (Oscar Isaac) and his ruthless wife (Chastain), set in New York City in 1981, the year in which the city had the highest crime rate. To prepare for this role, she researched the period and worked with a dialect coach to speak in a Brooklyn accent and then collaborated with the film’s costume designer on her character’s wardrobe, contacting Armani which provided her with clothing of the period. She received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Additionally, for her work in 2014, the Broadcast Film Critics Association honored Chastain with a special achievement award.
The following year she starred in Ridley Scott’s science fiction film The Martian, based on the novel by Andy Weir, as commander Melissa Lewis. For this role, she met with astronauts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Johnson Space Center, and modeled her role on Tracy Caldwell Dyson, with whom she spent time in Houston. She was then cast in another horror film, Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance Crimson Peak, where she played Lucille Sharpe, a woman who plots with her brother (Tom Hiddleston) to terrorize his new bride (Mia Wasikowska). Chastain approached the villainous part with empathy and watched old films from the same genre to study the psychological aspects of her character, but the critic was mixed, as some thought she was miscast and not fit for the role and some others praised her incredible ability to change for each part.
After a few “intense” roles, Chastain actively looked for some light-hearted parts, accepting a role in the sequel-prequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016). She enjoyed the idea of playing a warrior whose abilities were on par with those of the male lead, but the film did not convince the critic. She then gave her voice to the character of Sarah in an episode of the animated tv series Animals. Next she starred as a lobbyist, in the political thriller Miss Sloane (2016), which reunited her with John Madden. She read the novel “Capitol Punishment” by disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff to research the practice of lobbying in America, and met with female lobbyists to study their mannerisms and sense of style. Peter Travers described Chastain as “one of the best actresses on the planet” and complimented her for successfully drawing the audience into Sloane’s life; Justin Chang termed her performance “a tour de force of rhetorical precision and tightly coiled emotional intensity”. She received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama.
That same year, Chastain launched Freckle Films, a production company headed by a team of all-female executives.
Her 2017 began by serving as the executive producer and providing the narration for I Am Jane Doe, a documentary on sex trafficking, and in an effort to work with more female filmmakers, Chastain starred in Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife and Susanna White’s Woman Walks Ahead. The former is an adaptation of Diane Ackerman’s book, in which she co-starred with Johan Heldenbergh as the real-life Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski who saved many human and animal lives during World War II.
The latter tells the story of the 19th-century activist Catherine Weldon, who served as an adviser to the Sioux chieftain Sitting Bull prior to the Wounded Knee Massacre. Chastain was interested in portraying a role that young girls could look up to for inspiration, and provided off-screen inputs to avoid a white savior narrative.
She then moved on to portray Molly Bloom, a former skier who ran a high-profile gambling operation that led to her arrest by the FBI, in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game. A huge admirer of Sorkin’s writing, she desired to work closely with him, and for this role she decided to meet to the real Molly Bloom to study the character’s flaws and vulnerabilities at best and also did some interviews with Bloom’s customers. The critics was very favorable towards her performance which brought to her the fifth Golden Globe nomination.
She concluded the year with of Jay Z’s music video Family Feud, also featuring Beyoncé. The following year was relatively eventless, compared to previous ones. She hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live, voiced the virtual reality production Spheres: Songs of Spacetime and filmed a part in The Death & Life of John F. Donovan, which did not make to the final cut.
In 2019, she joined the superhero film Dark Phoenix as the evil alien Vuk, but the film registered very poorly at the box office and critics considered Chastain wasted for this role. Then she worked again with Andy Muschietti on the second part of the remake of horror film It, in which she played the adult Beverly Marsh, a woman in an abusive relationship. Filming proved to be challenging for Chastain, because the director preferred not to use CGI, but the final cut of the film received favorable reviews, with Charlotte O’Sullivan of the Evening Standard finding Chastain to be “suitably sad and sepulchral” in her role.
With her production company, Freckle Films, in 2020 she produced and starred in Ava as a professional killer who has to fight for her own life; the film did not receive good reviews and it performed poorly at the box office, while gaining success on video on demand. Another Freckle Films’ production was The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021). This particular project was special to Chastain, who had acquired rights on Faye’s life in 2012. She wanted to represent Tammy Faye at the best, so she wore prosthetic makeup which took 4–7 hours to apply and worked with music producer Dave Cobb to record seven songs for the film’s soundtrack. Singing was the part that scared her the most, but the critics proved to her she played it beautifully, describing the performance as the “only reason to see this curiously tepid biopic” and praising her for rising above the script to humanize Faye (Rolling Stone). Kevin Maher of The Times considered it to be a “riveting, unleashed and award-worthy performance”. Chastain won her first Academy Award for Best Actress, a Critics Choice Award and a SAG Award, in addition to the Golden Globe nomination.
Also in 2021 came Scenes from a Marriage, a gender-switched remake of Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 Swedish miniseries, in which she played alongside her long-time friend and colleague Oscar Isaacs, with whom she has a chemistry that the critics noticed and appreciated; Carol Midgley of The Times praised them for “delivering crackling, wounding dialogue faultlessly”. She gained another Golden Globe nomination. That same year, she reteamed with Ralph Fiennes in The Forgiven, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Lawrence Osborne, and took part in a short film The Sands Between, opposite James McAvoy.
The 2022 Freckle Films production of The 355 presented itself as a female-led spy film, which Chastain and her co-stars (Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o and Bingbing Fan) submitted to potential buyers at 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it was actually picked up by Universal Pictures. However, the film received negative reviews that criticized it as generic and unremarkable, and it failed commercially. She then took on a brief role as Maryanne Trump in James Gray’s period film Armageddon Time, starring Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins, and narrated the docuseries Reframed: Marilyn Monroe.
Next we can expect to see Chastain side-by-side with Michael Shannon on George & Tammy, a tv-series on the love story between the two country musicians, alongside Eddie Redmayne in The Good Nurse, a thriller about the pursuit of serial killer Charles Cullen, and in Michel Franco’s film Memory. Additionally, she will star opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in a film adaptation of the video game The Division, and produce and star alongside Anne Hathaway in Mothers’ Instinct, a remake of the Belgian psychological thriller.
She is a very private person, but we do know that Chastain went vegan in 2005, because of a lot of suffering and low energy in her 20s, and with a correct vegan diet she started feeling much better. In an interview with W Magazine in 2017, she declared that while veganism was not her first option, it did help feeling better physically and it was just about listening to her body.
An advocate for mental illness, having herself suffered from anxiety and depression in her youth, she is a strong and tireless supporter of womens’ rights and equal pay; interviewed by Town & Country in 2019, she states that “I can use my power in the industry to uplift women who haven’t been given opportunities in the past.”
During her 2022 Oscar speech, she used her moment to denounce the discrimination against minorities, in particular the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislations that are spreading throughout the countries.
photo from her instagram
Chastain is a huge animal lover, especially of dogs, that she owns herself: Radley, a corgi-spaniel mix, Roman, a chihuahua mix, and the most famous Chaplin, a 3-legged poodle mutt.
On January 2017, she married to Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo at his family’s estate in Italy. The two met in 2011 in Paris, the same day she learned about her Oscar nomination. According to Chastain herself she has never been the kind of girl who dreamed about her wedding, but he made that thought grow on her as they were knowing each other better.
The couple owns a house in New York and one in California and they are parents to two children by surrogate: Giulietta, born on April 2018, and Augustus, presumably born on March 2020.