Even though Jessica Chastain is portraying a real person in the new film, Zero Dark Thirty, she didn’t have the opportunity to meet her.
“I never met Maya, because she’s an undercover CIA agent—it would not have been a good thing to do,” Chastain told Movieline. “I had to approach [the role] like any other character I’ve played. [When there were] questions that I couldn’t answer through the research, I had to use my imagination, [director] Kathryn [Bigelow]’s imagination and Mark [Boal, the screenwriter] to create a character that went along the lines that respected the real woman.”
The film centers around the CIA operative’s search for Osama bin Laden in Iraq, but was filmed in Jordan and India. While shooting, Chastain helped remain in the right frame of mind by focusing on her character. “I had the props person print out all of the photographs of the terrorists and I hung them in my room at the hotel,” she mentioned. “So even when I’d come home from the set, they were always around me.”
Although the role was challenging, Chastain found playing Maya to be satisfying—not to mention the fact that’s she been receiving lots of Oscar buzz. But Chastain is quick to point out that without Bigelow and Boal (who is also an investigative journalist familiar with the bin Laden subject) she would never have been able to succeed in the part. “As an actor, you spend your whole life trying to be emotional and keeping yourself emotionally open,” she said. “So, to find [Maya’s] humanity within that arc was a great feat that would have been impossible without Kathryn and Mark’s leadership.”
Zero Dark Thirty will open in theaters on January 13.