Though Academy Award-winning actress Jessica Chastain is now among one of the most prolific actresses in the industry, like most actors she initially struggled at landing quality roles early in her career. In a conversation with the Los Angeles Times, Chastain spoke about her early career and what lessons she learned from those audition experiences.
Chastain notes that the residuals she received from her early projects helped sustain her before her career took off. “I don’t know what I’d have done without that residual money,” she reveals.
Reflecting on those audition experiences early in her career, Chastain points out that she later learned that she was likely attempting to do too much. “I do recall someone showing me a Backstage article where a casting director was talking about their early days starting out, saying, ‘I remember Jessica Chastain coming in and she had like five auditions that day and she was all sweaty and her hair was kind of all over the place and she did a really good job,'” she recalls. “I mean, I didn’t book it. And now I understand that I didn’t book it for a long time because I was sweaty and my hair was all over the place and I was stopping at gas stations to change my clothes and quickly memorize my lines … you know, trying to do as much as I could.”
“People see your character and imagine you are that person in some way. I guess that means I’ve done a great job. But hopefully they’re also willing to meet me afterward and see if it’s true.”
Unfortunately, with that reflection Chastain can now also remember moments when she was placed in situations that could have resulted in inappropriate behavior. She remembers, “I was just so excited and grateful. But in our industry, there were a lot of situations I was in that I look back now and think, ‘What the …?’ I was never put in a place where an audition was happening and I was being assaulted in any way. But I had plenty of auditions where I was told to go to a hotel room and it was the director holding a video camera filming the audition. Or I’ve had to audition with an incredibly sexual scene, speaking quite intimately, and the director was reading opposite me rather than an actor or a reader. And I look back and think, ‘That just seems impossible now and why did I allow it to happen?’”
Chastain has since gone on to receive awards and critical acclaim for her performances in films like The Help, Zero Dark Thirty, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye and television programs like George & Tammy, but she hopes that those projects have not given her a particular image in the industry. She adds, “I remember being at Juilliard and Val Kilmer came to speak. And he said, ‘Hollywood isn’t unimaginative. They’re anti-imagination.’ People see your character and imagine you are that person in some way. I guess that means I’ve done a great job. But hopefully they’re also willing to meet me afterward and see if it’s true.”