Hollywood and the feminist cause

Published by Grazia France (September 2018) – Interview by Perrine Sabbat

Actress, fighter and muse to Piaget jewelry, Jessica Chastain turned out to be a spokesperson precious of the female cause.Interview with a modern heroine.

I know you, come here! Jessica Chastain draws me in her arms. This is the sixth time we’ve interviewed the American actress. “I remember the first time, you were pregnant! “, she says. She’s right, it was our first interview, in Deauville in 2014, where she was receiving a tribute. But our first meeting actually dates from February 2012. A villa on the heights of Los Angeles, at a party in honor of Sofia Coppola who had realized the commercial of the Marni collection for H & M. Wandered around the different rooms of the house were Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder, Liv Tyler. Bryan Ferry was giving a private concert. And then we noticed this sublime redhead actress, sitting on an armchair in the entrance. Alone. Without a photographer to annoy her. Without publicist to make barrage. So we went forward to tell her how much we loved “The Tree of Life“, movie by Terrence Malick who unveiled it to the world in Cannes a few months earlier, where he had won the Palme d’Or. She smiled and blushed. “It was the moment I took aware that my life was changing. It was very exciting,“she recalls. Jessica Chastain did not imagine not then how much. Seven years have passed, two Oscar nominations, a Golden Globe win, collaborations with the greatest directors –Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro,Jeff Nichols -, the launch of her own production company Freckle Films. And even a video with Jay-Z,‘Family Feud‘, released in January and directed by Ava DuVernay.

Jessica Chastain has not just become one of the most powerful actresses in Hollywood, she also revealed the best advocate of the female cause in industry, a founding member of Time’s Up (movement against sexual harassment founded on January 1st, 2018 by several Hollywood celebrities in response to the Weinstein’s case), a prominent feminist and a fervent activist social networks. In Cannes, her next project, ‘355‘, aspy movie 100% female, is the one that was bought the most expensive this year at the Film Market, by Universal, in a deal at over $ 20 million. On the tray of our photo shoot, her social conscience shines through even in the choice of her looks, in which she participates actively: a Dior sweater by Maria Grazia Chiuri from the collection-tribute to May-68 on which is inscribed “This is no, no, no and no“, direct reference to the question of sexual consent, at the heart of the news since the beginning of the Weinstein case. Or a pair of trousers braces with a borsalino that makes her find that she looks like “a feminine version of the Freedmen“. Freed, perhaps what qualifies her best.

It’s interesting that you asked that we propose you a woman in the list photographers for this photoshoot…
I did beautiful shoots with men. But most of the time, in the list of names that I’m introduced, I do not have a choice. It seemed to me obvious to ask for women to be included. And if their portfolio speaks to me, yes, I prefer them. In their purpose, I do not feel like a candy. It is often said that women are admired for the sexual desire they arouse, and this is reflected in photos. When I work with a photographer who from a different point of view she manages to capture some something the public may not know about me.

You are one of the founding members of ‘Time’s Up‘ and held the first ever meeting in New York.
When did you say it was necessary?

I am not the only one ! Two or three weeks after the Weinstein scandal, Reese Witherspoon called me, and we wondered what we could do to bring industry towards a healthier mode of operation. We ended up at her house, and we started to exchange about our experiences. Nobody said, “We will launch a movement “, the idea gradually emerged. And to be quite honest, I do not feel comfortable say, “I was there from the beginning,” because people who are there from the beginning are those who broke the law of silence. And without their courage, none of this would have been possible. Silence is as discriminating as behavior. Succeed where there is discrimination basically makes you someone who practices it.

Do you already see changes through actions of Time’s Up and the #MeToo movement?
Yes, it forced policymakers to take a closer look at who they hired, and to be more interested in the production of movies telling stories centered on female characters female. The plateaus become more inclusive and the less frequent wage disparities. What’s great with Time’s Up, it’s the growing number of women who call the hotline to benefit from the resources they need to fight harassment and sexual assault, all industries combined.

What could be done concretely to allow women to access the same positions and the same wages as men?
Start watching movies written or directed by women, get acquainted with the work of women artists.
I make it a point of honor to shoot with women directors, like Susanna White who directed me in ‘Woman Walks Ahead‘ or Niki Caro in ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife‘. The change is on the move, and it is with this kind of behavior that can participate. According to a recent study, women would not access senior positions because they do not do not feel sufficiently qualified. But I noticed lately that they have more confidence in themselves because they feel supported by other women. It’s also one of the things that this movement has changed.

Do you think that the studios are finally ready to entrust the reins of blockbusters to female directors?
Yes, we get there little by little: Ava DuVernay realized a shortcut in time, Patty Jenkins ‘Wonder Woman‘, Niki Caro will direct the ‘Mulan‘. I’ve seen a big difference in the last two years: women direct films with budgets exceeding $ 1 million. We are at a monumental turning point, and I sincerely believe that it will only get better.

Does change also go through language?
Yes, every time it’s written that I play a “strong woman“, this implies that most women are not. Why not just say that I play well written roles? You never read that an actor is known to play “strong male characters“, simply because he is grounded that all men are. We must change the way we expect both sexes to behave. And that goes through the words and the vocabulary that we use.

Have you ever felt that you should stay in your place as an actress?
At first especially, I was told that this could harm to my career. But I always did it: I do not want to work with someone who underestimates the women. I started to express myself about the subject after filming ‘Zero Dark Thirty‘, where I witnessed sexist behavior because the film was directed by a woman, Kathryn Bigelow. I think the industry sees today how much it’s important to do it and it’s been a while that they did not send me such comments.

Becoming a producer, was it a way to take control of your career?
Produce has never been for the purpose of advancing my career but that of the actors with whom I want to work. As Octavia Spencer, with whom I’m going to shoot a Christmas comedy. When I learned that she was paid five times less than a Caucasian-type actress, whereas she won an Oscar (in 2012 for her role in “The Help“), I thought it was inconceivable. Equal pay for equal work ! I care more about other than me, I have always been fortunate enough to have many opportunities. By producing, I can put forward stories and characters rarely told.

As ‘355‘, unveiled in Cannes?
Yes. After doing some research, I realized that women’s choral films were better than male choral movies, and that there was a real lack of female spy movies. My partners, that I personally went to look for, are all women and actresses that I deeply admire: Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyongo, Fan Bingbing. I insisted that we all get the same salary and that one enjoys the same time of presence on the screen.It’s a real collective project, not just another job.

Before, we’ll meet you in the next X-Men: Dark Phoenix. In what role?
That of Lilandra, a negative energy (her publicist interrupts, smiling: “You’re really sure to want to cross this line?”). That’s right, I do not have the right to talk about it. But I liked to shoot with Sophie Turner, of whom it was the first main role. It’s important to support young actresses. And I was happy to meet James McAvoy with whom I had worked on ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby‘.

It was never released in France, when was presented at Deauville (Deauville American Film Festival) … It was a strong film.
Ah! You liked? (She seems sincerely surprised, and suddenly, we too. It marks a silence.) It was my first production. In fact, with director Ned Benson, we shot two movies to tell the same story history: one, from the woman’s point of view, the other, from that of the man. When Harvey Weinstein bought it the rights for distribution he decided to wind them up together to make only one movie. And it ruined it.

Do you want to shoot outside the United States?
I would love to shoot in Europe. I admire Michael Haneke, Olivier Assayas … Well, can you give me the name of a French filmmaker whose work I should watch?

Katell Quillévéré, Lucie Borleteau, Julia Ducournau, Marie Monge, Céline Sciamma, Mia Hansen-Løve … I will send you a list
Yes please ! Unfortunately, French cinema does not always reach the United States.

It’s been three years since you’ve been ambassador for the Piaget house. To what extent is this role complementary with your work as an actor?
When I’m about to shoot, they always offer jewelry to production without ever imposing anything. For ‘Miss Sloane‘, a woman of power, they have lent a men’s watch. For “Molly’s Game“, in which I embodied a powerful woman but more glamorous, a long jumper sexy “Possession“.

Looking back, what advice would you give to young Jessica Chastain?
To stop being so hard on myself. Not to worry about what others tell me. To have more confidence in me. Today, I am on very good terms with myself.