Jessica Chastain, star of recent films like The Help and The Tree of Life, will be making her Broadway debut in The Heiress in November. The actress took on the role because she thinks of it as one of the greatest women roles ever written.
“I always look for a great arc,” she told The New York Times. “Men get great arcs all the time, especially in movies, but it’s very rare for a woman to get an arc. Catherine [her role in The Heiress] absolutely has that. She finds her voice, which is a wonderful thing to play.”
Chastain is more than aware of the challenges of switching from film acting to the stage. “I’m a little scared,” she admitted. “I worry that I’ll be thinking I’m doing something and people will say, ‘We can’t see your performance.’ It’s tough, acting. You have to walk two lines of a tightrope. There’s the all-consuming fear of failure: I’m about to fall flat on my face. There’s that and there’s also confidence—you have to be confident in order to try things—and they fight each other all the time.”
The actress shouldn’t be so worried—she received her training at Julliard. “I worried all the time about being cut,” Chastain said. “It was unfounded, because in my second year I actually got a scholarship. But I’m that way still. I always think I’m going to get fired. There was a bar here called Malachy’s, where everyone went to hang out, and I think I only went twice in four years. I’m just obsessive. I’d be doing my reading or watching movies. My whole life I wanted to be here, and so when I was, I wanted to suck up every bit of it.”
It is true Chastain dreamed of being an actress since childhood, after her grandmother took her to see a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. “That’s when I realized that this was a profession,” she said. “It wasn’t like I wanted to be an actor. It was more like I am that. This is my job. It was so clear cut, I never had to make a choice.”
So, Chastain enrolled in Julliard’s drama program in 1999, and didn’t look back, although she struggled initially with the transition from a small town in Northern California to the big city life of New York. “It was hard,” she remembered. “I had never really spent any time in a city like this. But everything I was craving was here. I had never seen a foreign movie, and Lincoln Center was across the street. I was sitting in the cafeteria one day, and Baryshnikov was at my table. It was everything I had dreamed of since I was a little girl.”