I interviewed Jessica Chastain for the cover of the great, historic French fashion magazine L'OFFICIEL and she really is a star apart. Chastain is so multi-faceted, so interesting, so unique that, after talking with her, one feels a little breathless. Not only is the actress an intelligent force, moving audiences with, among other pictures, Terrence Malick’s "The Tree of Life" and Kathryn Bigelow’s "Zero Dark Thirty," she’s mysterious and sensitive, a woman with real concerns and causes. She’s also one of the most talented actresses currently working. I talked with the magnificent Ms. Chastain about her variety of roles, to working with Liv Ullman, to loving Clara Bow to her commitment to women in film.
Photos by Dusan Reljin. Styling by: Erica Pelosini. Get a copy at an expansive newsstand, or, order a copy.
Here's an excerpt of my interview, translated back to English:
Kim Morgan: You are currently working on a film by Susanna White -- Woman Walks Ahead -- an incredible true story about Catherine Weldon who traveled to the Dakota Territory to help Sitting Bull keep his land.
Jessica Chastain: The story is incredible. What so moved me by this was, in my education at school, I never really learned about women and you don’t tend to hear those who are on the wrong side of history. We only hear about those in history who prevailed. Those usually aren’t women, or Native Americans or minorities, so there are a lot of hidden heroes out there. I was really blown away by the story of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull because it’s not about her going there and helping him and saving him, the story is really about two people in the 1890s, who are not living in a world that sees them as equal human beings. And, so, how incredible to have this friendship between a woman who, at the time, could not vote? The great risk she took by traveling to the West to paint Sitting Bull. It’s the only painting of Sitting Bull. I was so excited to work with Susanna and excited to work with Native American actors because I don’t get that opportunity with so many incredible artists out there.
KM: You worked with Liv Ullman [on Miss Julie, opposite Colin Farrell]. What was it like working with Ullman? She's such an icon, not just as an actress but as a director.
JC: She’s an incredible human being. She has a level of sensitivity that’s very rare. When we were on set together, she was childlike in her wonder, and her openness. We did a scene where my character reacts to a bird being killed and Liv was very emotional. I hadn’t experienced that before from a director. I wanted to protect that openness because, for me, I think that’s one of the most beautiful things a human being can have.
KM: You said, in an interview that it's important, even in your strong female roles, that the women have flaws, you said, without faults it's "actually doing a disservice to women…”
JC: I find that every woman is strong. So, for someone to say you play such strong female characters, for me, that’s just inherently being a woman. And men are strong too. It’s something that all of us have within us. It just means I’m choosing characters that are well-written, characters who are interesting human beings. A female character can make a mistake and do crazy things, but you have to go on their journey, you have to understand who she is. If you see a female character just being used as a prop, to me, that’s so upsetting. And it goes just beyond female characters; it goes for minorities, as well. [The past] few years a lot of people are discussing diversity in cinema and making big steps to fix the problem. One of the things that happened in the past was people just became complacent… snow blind. And the past three years, it’s been really inspiring for me. I am hearing so much discussion and seeing so much change and it’s coming from everyone. There’s not just one group shouting from the rooftop, “I want my story told,” everyone, audiences are saying, “We want to see stories from the many, not just the few.”
KM: You're vocal about the pay disparity between men and women in Hollywood. And that women and men together, need to work with and discuss women in film…
JC: I made a speech at the Critic’s Choice Awards about diversity and after that I was in London doing press for A Most Violent Year and they asked about my speech: “What are you going to do about it?” And at that moment, I thought, “What am I going to do about it?” So, when I talk about pay disparity, you gotta go, O.K., well, I’m not going to allow myself to accept something where I’m being treated unfairly. And maybe that means I’m not going to play a role that I really want to play but at some point you have to take a stand. And, also it’s my goal to work with a female filmmaker every year. It’s not just something that I can go out there and just talk about… It’s, what I can do about it is, this project? What great filmmakers are out there who haven’t been given an opportunity? Maybe we can collaborate on something together.
KM: I was just looking at this Bette Davis quote, she said, "Without wonder and insight, acting is just a trade. With it, it becomes creation."
JC: I love Bette Davis.
KM: Do you have any other classic actresses who’ve inspired you?
JC: I love Clara Bow. I read a biography about Clara Bow [By David Stenn] all about her childhood and how difficult it was for her in the filmmaking community. Have you seen that documentary called Girl 27?
KM: Yes, I have. Also, by David Stenn.
JC: Every day of my life that I’m on set, and I’m set a lot, I have gratitude for all of those who came before. Because there were a lot of things they had to put up with, there was a lot of suffering. And that documentary was really upsetting to me. And I don’t forget [actresses like] Clara Bow, I don’t forget any of what these women went through to become actresses.
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