Miss September: Jessica Chastain



Last night at The Vault at Pfaff’s, at the party following the Peggy Siegal Company premiere of Take Shelter, star Jessica Chastain looked radiant in a lace Carolina Herrera dress—and why wouldn’t she? Chastain is inarguably the movie star of the moment: her films The Help and The Debt were at the first and second positions, respectively, for this past weekend’s box office; and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life was the talk of the summer and is still playing in New York, nearly four months after being released. Take Shelter, in which Chastain plays the wife of a man (Michael Shannon) driven to distraction by apocalyptic visions, may very well help to cement her place as Hollywood’s most desirable dramatic leading woman.

In person, Chastain is sweet and earnest—as Interview discovered when we caught up with her for a few minutes last night.

ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS: Congratulations!

JESSICA CHASTAIN: Thank you! Isn’t it an exciting film?

SYMONDS: Yes! I was wondering—in the film, some extreme weather kind of sets off Michael Shannon’s character’s paranoia. Has all of the unusual atmospheric stuff over the last month—the earthquake, the hurricane—felt sort of portentous to you, leading up to the release of this film?

CHASTAIN: It’s bizarre! We keep thinking—we’re doing all these press events for the film, and even after we made the film, in Arkansas, all these birds fell dead from the sky.

SYMONDS: Oh, my God—right, of course! And all the fish died, too.

CHASTAIN: Yeah! And I asked Jeff [Nichols, the director], I was like, “What’s going on?!” He was like, “I killed the birds, Jessica.” [laughs] “I’m trying to get our movie out there!”

SYMONDS: So what kind of research did you do going into this role—especially playing the mother to a deaf child?

CHASTAIN: I took some sign-language courses, so I could communicate with her; because Tova [Stewart, the actress] really is deaf. But mostly, it was working on the relationship I had with Mike. So much of the film is about marriage, so I needed to make that as real as I could.

SYMONDS: Two of your biggest roles this year have been really mired in marriage—this one and The Tree of Life. How have you gotten into that mindset?

CHASTAIN: I’ve never been married, but I know what it is to be in a relationship, and so I just try to draw from that, what that is.

SYMONDS: I also saw The Debt over the weekend, and it’s an amazing movie; so is The Help. How are you feeling right now, with three movies in theaters and one about to come out?

CHASTAIN: It’s very strange to have the films competing against each other. But also, it’s great: The Help is number one, and The Debt is number two in America right now. To think that I just went from a girl who was working so hard—I went to Juilliard, I was doing a lot of theater, I’ve been making films for about four years and was kind of confused why they were never coming out. And to now have the number-one and number-two films in the country is shocking.

SYMONDS: You must feel like you have a Midas touch, now.

CHASTAIN: Well, I think it’s just like, patience is a virtue. It’s feast or famine in this business. For the longest time, the joke was I was cursed. That’s what everyone kept saying to me. I think I even said to Jeff when we first started working together—I was like, “Just so you know, if you put me in your movie, it’s not going to come out for like four years. Because I’m cursed.” So it kind of went from last year, being a curse, to this year, being like, “Yay!”

SYMONDS: Of course. You’ve already played a pretty strong diversity of roles, but is there anything you haven’t had the chance to do that you’d like to?

CHASTAIN: Well, I’m about to go shoot a horror film for Guillermo Del Toro’s company, called Mama, with Andres Muschietti directing. I’m excited about that! I’ve never done that before; we’ll see how it goes.