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Interview: Jessica Chastain on playing "Miss Sloane"

If you haven't yet seen Miss Sloane about a formidable political mastermind and the sure-to-lose case against the gun lobby that she takes on to the surprise of DC, you'll want to catch it soon. It's rather a classic star vehicle in that the glamorous leading lady is front and center and steering all the juicy twisty drama. That leading lady is, of course, the tireless Jessica Chastain. Chastain shot to stardom with seven films in 2011 (including The Tree of Life and her Oscar nominated role in The Help) and she seemingly hasn't left movie theaters. She's starred in everything from moody business thrillers (A Most Violent Year), gothic horror (Crimson Peak), fiery military dramas (Zero Dark Thirty), and more.

I sat down to talk with her in NYC a month or so ago about how far she's come since that explosive debut year, how she recharges between movies, and how she approached her Golden Globe nominated role as the amoral steely Miss Sloane.

NATHANIEL: One of the things that stuck with me from the first time we talked years ago was how many questions you write into each script about your character. With this character in particular, she is really a complicated woman

JESSICA: So complicated.

NATHANIEL: So was your script just buried in notes? 

JESSICA: Oh my gosh, it was insane...

Just things like -- well, at the very beginning of this there were a lot of questions about terminology that I didn't understand. And then I started asking about political associations, where does she lean? She was working clearly with free enterprise and less government interference which would typically lean Republican. So I created this backstory. When she says "I grew up lying" -- then you go 'Why did she grow up lying?' And then I answer them each time I read the script.

So it's all just an internal exercize?

Well, I do answer them. If I write the question it means it's something I need to understand before I can shoot the scene. 

I was going to ask about her actual personal politics. With lobbyists... at first I thought she was apolitical that it was just a job.

I met with a bunch of lobbyists in DC and they're all pretty political. She's at a conservative firm. I don't think of her as a gun for hire. I don't think she'd work on the environment --'oh yeah, let me help' -- she's not a beating heart. I think she does think there should be more gun legislation but what's more enticing is beating the unwinnable case. She needs the win.

How much 'business' do you work out ahead of time?  There's this great moment where you're holding a bottle of wine awkwardly asking your boss (Mark Strong) to stay for a drink.

It was scotch!

Was that something you'd worked out beforehand...

That was intuitive in the moment. However I spend so much time on the details so that things like that can happen. When they were set dressing my office, I asked for scotch, I asked for cups, I asked for toothpaste - whatever she'd use in space. So then when we're shooting that scene 'what would she do to celebrate?' so it was there because I'd ask for it. I try to fill the space of the character as much as I can with things that are their real things so that when I'm acting I can play with it all.

So you get very involved in the filmmaking?

All departments. I'm super involved. Props. Costumes. I mean.... [Laughs] Hopefully costume designers like an actor's input!

I wanted to ask you about working with Jake Lacy. I've been so impressed with him. Obviously this role as an escort is a bit different for him but usually he's playing kind of 'the boyfriend' and yet he differentiates the characters so well. He has such a gift with female actors. Why is he so interesting with women?

I watched him in Carol and Girls and I think he's great. When I first got the script I didn't understand those scenes. 'What is this? What is the point?' Then when Jake showed up -- this is what great actors do --  I was like, 'I get it. I completely get it.' He has such a strong sense of humanity and vulnerability. He is like a kitten in those scenes with her. She is so aggressive and he is disarmingly vunerable and I think he makes those scenes work. In her mind he's her boyfriend [Laughing]

This is tricky to talk about without getting into spoilers but Sloane is often duplicitious so are you playing two scenes each time you film one? 

You are always playing two scenes at once. [Thinks] Here's an example. [SCENE REFERENCE DELETED FOR SPOILER SENSITIVITY] When I first read the script I thought this is her 'haha I got you moment' but then in the next scene you realize that's not what that was. There are two things being played: 'I one-upped you' and 'am I really doing this?'

The reason I ask about this is her strong reaction to the word "addict" and the way that affects the plot. How much is rehearsed for her versus what's real?The way the plot moves I'm sure you didn't want her to seem omniscient or the whole thing becomes ridiculous.

She has a knee jerk reaction to that word.  I think she was probably raised by the addict. And her biggest addiction is to winning. She knew at some point that her reaction was going to happen. She didn't know what was going to cause it. She knew she was going to get there -- so I know that going in. But she still has to really react in the scenes. 

The first time I met you you were promoting The Help and you were bouncing around with so many projects. And you said 'obviously this was an unusual year.' I really thought you'd slow down after that but you haven't... at all!

Well, I'm not doing seven movies a year.

You have four movies next year!

No, two. [Realizing] OH YOU'RE RIGHT -- I finished three! Xavier Dolan's film, Woman Walk Ahead and Zookeeper's Wife.  I haven't shot Molly's Game yet.

Jessica in (from left to right) The Help, Zero Dark Thirty, Eleanor Rigby, Mama, A Most Violent Year, The Martian, Crimson Peak, Zookeeper's Wife

How do you recharge? You never seem to take any time off.

I had four months off after Miss Sloane. Sloane is approaching burn-out in the movie and someone asked me recently 'Have you ever felt that?' [Laughs] I did after I finished Miss Sloane. That one was tough. When I have that time off, I see as many plays as I can here in New York. I have a production company and I'm really involved in connecting writers to material.

Slowing down? I won't go to an island for four months. That's just not me. The good thing is my movies are so different. The Huntsman couldn't be more different than Miss Sloane or Crimson Peak. Maybe working in different genres helps me stay interested. 

You've done so many genres and worked with so many talented people. Do you have any bucket list items left? 

There are people I haven't worked with for sure. I want to do an ensemble movie with Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Amy Adams, Viola Davis... I mean, women don't get to work with each other that often. I loved this movie because I loved working with Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Allison Pill. Oh, and I want to work with Gary Oldman. He's so underappreciated. He's one of our greatest actors and he only has one Oscar nomination. I don't understand that. I mean Isabelle Huppert doesn't have any, so...

The rest of our conversation was off the record, dear reader, but know that we fanned out on Isabelle Huppert, as we are both prone to do. Jessica Chastain's Golden Globe nominated performance as Miss Sloane is in theaters now. Her next feature, The Zookeeper's Wife, opens in theaters in March 2017.


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Reader Comments (30)

Thanks for posting the interview -- what an insightfully sensitive performer. She radiates so much fire and fierceness but also showed affecting vulnerability in others. Plus, anyone who is a fan of Isabelle Huppert has good taste in my book of books.

Curious about her participation in the upcoming Xavier Dolan film. I was never a huge fan of his films but I have this strange fascination with them in equal measures.

December 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

"He only has one Oscar nomination," unlike me.

December 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Chastain

Wonderful actress. I love how knowledgeable she is about film and her dedication to her craft.

If J. Law had done this same interview, it would be "I don't even read the script ahead of time, or bother to memorize my lines. Too many words. Who is Isabelle Huppert again? And I think I just sharted."

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike

love this interview, nat!
Gosh she has so much range though, huh? shame she wasn't nominated for A Most Violent Year.
At least she's getting a golden globe nom for Miss Sloane.
Although, zookeper's wife looks boring..
sensing that a lot of people are surely voting for Huppert at the Oscars.
No need to diss any other actresses, guys. Good god. you already got your president to do that job.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercraver

Not the time, or the place Mike - show some class around here!

Awesome interview, my favourite role of hers is in The Help - she's just so goddamned loveable.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMorganb

I love her so much because she literally transforms herself to her roles. She never feels 'been there, done that, seen that'. She's always exciting and refreshing to watch on-screen.Loved her since 2011! :)

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

To the person who criticized her by saying, '"he only has one Oscar" unlike me'. What an AWFUL comment. She was criticizing the Academy for not nominating Gary Oldman for many Oscars--she was praising him and Isabelle Huppert. She WAS NOT comparing herself to them to put them down. Clearly, those were not her intentions at all. To twist someone's words like that is mean-spirited and unfair.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIzzy

Izzy, please calm down. I think Jessica was joking. I'm fine with being made fun of. I can take it. I'm a big boy.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGary Oldman

I ♥ Jess! Great interview.

And that ensemble movie... What about put Julie Andrews, Vanessa Redgrave and Glenn Close in there?

Liv Ullman directing. Annapurna producing.

And Jess, girl, wait for Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJon

I luff her so and pains me that this film has performed so badly at the US box office. I hope it still gets a theatrical release in Australia.

Great interview Nathaniel :)

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEz

Hahaha, so true, Mike!
you really nailed J-Law to a T!
I don't know what I hate more, her dumbbell personality or her acting.

Don't be so sensitive, Morganb.

Jessica Chastain is the real deal - sucks that she more or less was forced to do The Huntsman - embarrassing movie to have on your resumé.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

It's been a tough year for celebrities. Her stupid tweet, Jenna Fischer even more stupid tweet, Tilda's emails, Rampling, the horrendous Fight Song music video...We could make a top ten.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

She's on her way. Making intelligent choices. Full committing. She behaves like an actress who will have a lot of durability. Her loss to Lawrence us the Blanchett/Paltrow moment of the decade (with Riva playing the deserving Montenegro spot) and we know how all of that ended for everyone involved.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

I love this woman. I don'r love she loves Xavier Dolan so much. Well, nobody's perfect. The Canadian is openly campaigning for Jackie and Portman. At least, we know now who Chastain will pick in first on her ballot dor "Best Actress". Isabelle needs this kind of public support!

Completely agree on Gary Oldman. The Academy branch of actors, unlike, say, the animated artists, it's one of the blandest, method acting -suckers, histrionic perfs. supporters, and pitifully largest hands down!

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterchofer

Now we are talking about Mr. Oldman and The Oscars, for what movies of his carreer do u think deserve a Academy Award Nomination / Win?

Syd and Nancy - nom
JFK - nom
Bran Stoker's Dracula - win
Leon The Professional - nom
The Contender - nom
The Dark Knight - nom
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - win

Am I miss something?

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJon

I find her performance in Miss Julie so frustratingly underrated. It's one of very few times a character like that (so obviously a theatrical construction) has made emotional sense to me.

I would kill to see that ensemble film with her, Amy Adams, the C/Kates etc etc

I'd also like to see her and Huppert team up again with a better script. And maybe a French director. (Definitely NOT Dolan.)

Meantime, what's her "stupid tweet"? People seem to bring it up in this comments section like it's the election result and therefore universal knowledge.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I'm pretty head over heels for this movie. I just know it's going to be my new rainy day movie where I watch it when I'm sick or need a sturdy entertaining standby. Such a great star vehicle for Jessica Chastain

December 18, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Huppert was Chastain's mother in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. I don't think they shared a scene together though.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

^They did share scenes together!
Huppert wasn't that good in the movie, though,
but then again, she's never been really good in the English language, because of the fact that she doesn't master the language very well and her accent is so strong - ironically her mother was an English teacher!

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

Jon- yeah, you missed Prick Up Your Ears, arguably his best performance of that period.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

"I want to do an ensemble movie with Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Amy Adams, Viola Davis... "

Now that would be a great film!

I hope people seek out Miss Sloane, it is one of my favorites of the year with a very complex lead character... not at all what I expected based on the trailers.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Those last 3 slots are anyones,maybe she will Samantha Morton herself into the race.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordon

Mike, AMEN. I don't know why actresses get talked down for being over-eager or dedicated to their art. I respect women who take their roles seriously, rather than, like Jlaw, just showing up and overacting then blathering on about pizza.

Love this interview, love Jessica.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Ulrich, I despise both facets of Jlaw equally. She's so obnoxious in interviews, I can't stand her. But the fact that she won an oscar for that hammy performance in SLP over Emmanuelle Riva still makes me gnash my teeth with frustration.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Great interview. I love Jessica so much! One of the greatest actresses we have. She seems so involved in every single thing. That's one of the qualities what makes her wonderful. I'm really glad that she is recognized for her hard work in Miss Sloane.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEva

Just came back from "Miss Sloane" . We were 5 people in the theater. I was really surprised at how good it was ( after the so-so reviews ) and what a good cast it had. Not sure what gives to get people to see a movie these days...

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

Why did the comment section of a Jessica Chastain interview turn into a Jennifer Lawrence bloodbath? Really goes to show who has the actual star power to stay in conversations.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

Jessica Chastain and Amy Adams are my two favourite current working American actresses. (I did a quick top 10 in my head. JC and AA were the two that aren't French, British or Australian)
I also like Jennifer Lawrence, I mean sure, she comes at it from a different angle, she's a different kind of actress, but there's room for everyone. Those JL digs are unnecessary guys and Jess Chastain would NOT be impressed.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJB

Chastain is always compelling to watch even in Huntsman. But I feel she's mostly ubiquitous - too many movies in a year much like Meryl a few years ago. It will be nice for her to disappear for a while and then come back with a real solid role. When an actress seems to be 'everywhere', we may tend to take her for granted. Nice interview no doubt:)

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJans

I need to see this. Jessica is always worth watching.

December 23, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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