Jessica Chastain was in Morocco when we spoke, jurying on a film festival. Or was she in Toronto filming a movie? No, maybe she was right here in New York City or in Los Angeles for a premiere or event? Who can say. It's been a dizzying year. Her definition of "staying put", I quickly discover, is staying in one place for a whole week. "I don't think this is a normal year for an actor," she says understating the case.
She sounds bright and cheerful and ready for more movies, believe it or not, though she admits that the year has been tough on her personal life. This past summer she starred in two of the most talked about films of the year (The Tree of Life and The Help) and in the fall she was doing press for four more (The Debt, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Texas Killling Fields).
Though her characters are already multiple, she is but one woman. The movies we're seeing all at once she made over the span of a few years and she helpfully provided the order when asked:
- Wilde Salome ("My first film. It hasn't come out yet")
- Stolen ("very small role")
- The Tree of Life
- The Debt
- Texas Killing Fields
- Take Shelter
- The Help ("I went straight from the set of Take Shelter")
I figure her sudden ubiquity is a good place to start the conversation...
Nathaniel R: It's almost like you've sprung full grown from the head of Zeus for moviegoers.
JESSICA CHASTAIN: Which is so funny because I've been working so long! But it does feel like this year with people starting to see my films they're asking "Where did you come from?" Well, I trained. I have been working for a long time. You guys are just getting caught up . I didn't come out of nowhere.
NR: It just feels that way for us! I want to ask you about Take Shelter first. Long suffering wives of male leads -- how shall I put this? This type of part always runs the risk of feeling like a thankless stock role. How did you make it feel as specific as it does? That marriage is so vivid.
JC: It's funny. I think I teased Jeff [writer/director Jeff Nichols] quite a bit when we first started working together. I'm sure they were like "oh no…" because I do a lot of work before i show up on set. My script, it's not necessarily filled with answers but there are a lot of questions that I write down. In a scene in Take Shelter I might write down 'When's the last time he told me he loved me?' Something like that which gets me thinking 'hmmmm, okay...'
For that movie I did that throughout the whole script. I had to make it so specific because my entire subtext in that film is "what's wrong with you?" but I can't say that the same way in every scene so I had to look for what's happened before each scene to make it as specific as possible. I really wanted to grasp it so much that on our first day I really embarrassed Jeff and Mike [Michael Shannon]. We're at lunch. The three of us sat down and I've got some questions. I looked at Jeff and said 'When do they have sex? I just wanna know.' Mike's mouth opened up, Jeff turns beet red.