Spotlight: The Chastain Component

By Juli Horsford

Since “IT Chapter 2” is coming out this month it seems like a great time to talk about one of its stars: Jessica Chastain. To be honest anytime is a great time to talk about Chastain. Can you tell that we are slightly obsessed? If you don’t know who she is then sit back because you’re about to get a crash course on Chastain’s career.

Our love affair with Chastain began in 2011 when she burst onto the scene with several films released in quick succession. Chastain’s role in the post-WWII thriller, “The Debt” introduced her to mainstream audiences and saw her starring alongside notable actors like Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas. Critics praised Chastain’s performance as Rachel, a young Mossad agent who attempts to track down a Nazi war criminal. Although the film only received lukewarm reviews, Chastain cemented herself as an actor to watch with her performance.

After “The Debt,” Chastain hit the indie circuit hard, starring in three movies back to back. She played a wife in all three but was able to differentiate the roles and crafted memorable performances. In “Take Shelter” she starred opposite Michael Shannon as a Midwest wife who must deal with her husband’s apocalyptic visions. In “Coriolanus” she starred opposite Ralph Fiennes and showcased her ability to deliver Shakespearean prose flawlessly. She capped off her indie year with “The Tree of Life,” appearing alongside Brad Pitt as a 1950’s housewife trying to raise three sons and navigate her marriage.

 

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Jessica Chastain and Tye Sheridan in The Tree of Life (2011)

 

“Chastain is vocal about equal pay not just for actors or athletes, but for women in every field. She has also been a huge activist in the Time’s Up Movement.”

As if four movies weren’t enough for 2011, Chastain garnered the most recognition for her fifth performance as Celia Foote in “The Help.” Those of us who had been following Chastain’s career in the early days found her almost unrecognizable as she ditched her signature red hair to don blonde and adopted a Southern accent. This role earned her an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress (which she ultimately lost to her co-star Octavia Spencer)

If you thought Chastain might have slowed down after her whirlwind year, you’d better think again. She did voice work in “Madagascar 3” along with two indie films, “Lawless” and “The Color of Time.” However, her breakout film of 2012 was undoubtedly “Zero Dark Thirty.” Helmed by director Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty” follows the story of Maya, an analyst who helped track down Osama bin Laden over the course of a decade. This is one of Chastain’s strongest performances and she is able to unleash the fierceness that was perhaps lacking in her previous performances. Here we see Chastain emblazon the screen with Maya’s seething obsession that is so intense it permeates throughout the entire film. Chastain was rewarded with another Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actress (she ended up losing to Jennifer Lawrence).

After 2012, Chastain’s talent was no longer a question. She continued to select interesting and diverse roles and persisted in churning out movies at a tremendous pace. Her ability to segue from indie movies to larger blockbusters allows her the freedom to pick and choose projects that will maintain her indie “acting cred” while also being exposed to larger more mainstream audiences.

 

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Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty”… “one of Chastain’s strongest performances and she is able to unleash the fierceness that was perhaps lacking in her previous performances.”

 

Her roles in “Interstellar” (2013), “The Martian” (2015), and “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” (2016) kept her in the public eye. During that time she also dabbled in the indie world with films like “Miss Julie” (2014), “A Most Violent Year” (2014), and “Miss Sloane” (2016). In each of her roles, Chastain is able to push the envelope for female characters and challenge the status quo. Roles like Elizabeth in “Miss Sloane” and Molly in “Molly’s Game” showcase Chastain at her finest: strong, smart, and capable. Chastain has said that she chooses characters who “push against society.” In studying each of her roles, you can chart the pattern of characters who outwit their opponents or somehow push back against their enemies, even if it is subtle.

The brilliant thing about Chastain is that she brings the qualities of the characters she plays into her real life. In February 2016, Chastain created Freckle Films, a production company with the initiative to develop female talent in all areas of film. Freckle Films already has several movies in the works including 355, which has already had a lot of buzz surrounding it. It’s an action thriller with a killer cast including Chastain, Lupita N’Yongo, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger, and Fan Bingbing. It’s already been picked up by Universal and will release in 2021.

“Chastain has used her platform as an actor to promote values that push back against societal norms. She doesn’t just talk the talk. She walks the walk.”

In addition to her production company, Chastain has been very vocal in her support for equal pay. At a panel at the Sundance Film Festival, Octavia Spencer revealed that Chastain negotiated a “favored nations” deal so that both women were getting paid equally for an upcoming holiday comedy they are both starring in. Chastain has also noted that all five of the women in the upcoming 355 films are getting equal pay across the board.

 

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Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain

 

Casually scroll through Chastain’s Instagram or Twitter accounts and you’ll find she’s just as interested in the fight for wage equality as she is in being an actor. She voiced a promotional video for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team this year as they fought in the FIFA World Cup. Much of the talk surrounding the team’s World Cup win was about equal pay and Chastain was outspoken about the issue on their behalf. Chastain is vocal about equal pay not just for actors or athletes, but for women in every field. She has also been a huge activist in the Time’s Up Movement, which advocates against sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

Chastain has used her platform as an actor to promote values that push back against societal norms. She doesn’t just talk the talk. She walks the walk, creating her own production company to focus on female-led projects, ensuring equal pay for her co-stars, and being an example of how to spark changes in an industry that sorely needs to hit the refresh button. Turns out the characters Chastain plays aren’t the only ones who can kick ass.

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