In 2011 seven films starring Jessica Chastain hit the screen and the world fell at her feet. Ever since, Chastain has had an established seat on HOLLYWOOD’S OLYMPUS
Jessica Castain was bom into a not very well-off family in a small town in North California, ffer parents were young when she was born, and her father soon started spending more time playing drums in a rock band than with his family. Jessica, her sisters, and her brothers were brought up by her stepdad, a fireman. But Jessica’s truest ally at home was her grandmother Marilyn. It was Marilyn who took Jessica, aged 8, to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat. “When I saw that show, it wasn’t that I decided I wanted to become an actress. No, I felt I already was one: this was my thing.” But when Jessica told her parents she wanted to go to drama school, they didn’t know how to react. Grandmother Marilyn again intervened, taking charge of Jessica and whisking her off to New York, where she entered the prestigious Julliard School. To begin with, Jessica felt lost in the bustling metropolis.
“I found it difhcult to adjust to my new life: I was a provincial girl, had never even seen a foreign him before, and now here I was living across the road from the Lincoln Center, with Mikhail Baryshnikov dining in the cafe next door.” Working odd jobs, Jessica flat-shared and scrimped and saved, putting away her earnings in envelopes marked ‘for rent’ and ‘for food’. “After the Juilliard, I was lucky enough to sign a contract with a TV producer straightaway and started doing TV series. The fear of being unable to pay the rent and of one day seeing my stuff thrown out on the stairs receded.” The Julliard gave Jessica a good training and useful contacts: she was invited to playSalome in Wilde Salome by A1 Pacino. This debut, however, was a bit of a false start: Salome was ‘shelved’ for a number of years. Jolene, her first full-length feature — about a girl who grew up as an orphan and looks for a new family in each casual encounter — won an award at a him festival. A few years before this, her own family had been struck by tragedy when her younger sister had gone to live with their biological father and soon afterwards, depressed and unable to face her drugs problems, shot herself with his gun. “My sister’s death overturned all my ideas about life. I started taking a different view of what I’d previously thought were failures or defeats. My career, awards, the Oscars, even somebody thinking me a fool: all this was no longer important; I have my life, and that’s a great piece of fortune in itself.”
Jessica’s hour of fame eventually arrived, as was only inevitable. In 2011 The Tree of Life, Salome, and several other outstanding films in which she had roles all came out at the same time. In Take Shelter Michael Shannon played a mad man waiting daily for the Apocalypse, while Jessica was a woman forced to deal with the Apocalypse in her own husband’s head. In The Help she won her first Oscar nomination for her role as an airheaded beauty from the south who regards black female servants as ‘second-rate people' in 1950s America. Jessica saw only pluses in her belated recognition. “I was quite happy to become famous at the age of 34. That’s an age when successful actresses start thinking fearfully about what to do next. A late start supposes a late finish, and I want to work into deep old age!”
Chastain has always preferred leaving her private life out of the frame; she has refrained from dating fellow actors. “Once when 1 was at the Julliard, my heart was broken by an actor. Afterwards, 1 several times went out with celebrities. That was awful; people were always trying to snap us!” Nevertheless, Jessica for a long time dated director Ned Benson. Their relationship ended, but not before producing The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, a touching film about a family breaking up after the loss of a child. Jessica, it might have seemed, was fated to keep playing delicately feminine types accompanying strong men. But that wasn’t what she had in mind. “Typical role? Thankfully, 1 don't have one. I have nothing against Bond girls, but Idon’t expect to be offered that kind of role. I’m not a Bond girl; I'm Bond. I'm the hero of my own film.” In Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty Jessica played just such a Bond.
Her character Maya is a CIA agent who has spent long years chasing Osama bin Laden. For her part in this hint Jessica won her second Oscar nomination. Now she was able to choose any role she wanted. She played a wild punk rocker in the horror hint Mama, the commander of the crew of a spaceship in The Martian, the infernal mistress of a haunted house in the gothic thriller Crimson Peak, and the ambitious wife of a businessman who finds himself sucked into criminality in A Most Violent Year. She was Miss Julie in the film of the same name and an astronaut's daughter in Interstellar.
“I was helped to become the person that I am by my profession,” says Jessica. “Now I can say to young people in search of their path in life and faced with problems at school or at home: you’re going to find yourself again and again in unexpected situations. Don’t lose your head; you have to find your own set, a milieu which can become your own.” ♦