Jessica Chastain On How She Managed to Appear in Eight Films in 2011

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Pick a movie currently playing in theaters.  Chances are Jessica Chastain is in it. 

In 2011 alone, she has starred in The Debt, Texas Killing Fields, Wilde Salome, The Help, The Tree of Life, Coriolanus, Take Shelter, and December’s The Wettest County in the World… and most of those are major roles!  Somehow Chastain found a break in her shooting schedule to talk to Yahoo Movies about how she pulled it off.

Chastain mentions that her current prolific period really hit her when she went to her local movie theater.  She reveals, “I never planned it like this. I didn’t know that this would happen. But, you know, it’s bizarre, my life hasn’t changed at all. I went to the movies the other day and the movie theatre had three movies I was in. No one gave me a second glance. I’ll be getting my popcorn, ready to go into something else and no one even looks at me. It’s really kind of interesting, but… it’s cool because it probably means that my characters perhaps looked different from me and maybe [viewers]don’t connect the two.”   Part of the coincidence is just timing — according to Chastain, Tree of Life was actually shot “three years ago,” but considering director Terrence Malick‘s usual pace that isn’t very surprising.  Calling it her “big break”, Chastain explains that she got the part in the movie after a period in theater: “I did the play Salome with Al Pacino and then he made it into the movie Wilde Salome. That premiered in Venice Film Festival this year. And then I got cast in The Tree of Life. It was a huge audition. I knew the description of the character — a woman from another time and filled with grace. So I tried to embody that in the audition. It was a couple of months, [the]audition process, and then I got the part and then they gave me the script.”  Then the rest of the films just shot one after another, as she lists them for us,”Last year was my busiest year, last year I shot Coriolanus and Texas Killing Fields. And then I went straight to Take Shelter and from there to The Help and then I did a couple of days on Terrence Malick’s next film. So that was a crazy busy year. But for the most part I made The Debt two years ago and then after I finished it I went and did a play for nine months, Murder on the Orient Express in London.” 

That’s quite a hectic schedule!  But why does Chastain take on so many roles?  She says it’s for the challenge.  “I’m always trying to play different characters. I always try to find a character that’s unlike anything I’ve done before. Is it going to challenge me, am I going to have to rise to the occasion to meet it?”

Chastain goes into detail when she explains how she manages to prepare for a role while she’s already shooting another one.  She reveals, “For Tree of Life, I had four months before [when]I just read as much as I could about comfort and grace and gratitude and studying paintings of the Madonna in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and watching Lauren Bacall films.

The Debt required the most preparation. I trained in Krav Maga and I was taking German courses and reading about the Holocaust. I mean, the preparation for The Debt was really intense.

But… last year when I didn’t have the time, I would just do things that would inspire me. When I read the novel The Help, I saw that there were so many connections between Celia and Marilyn Monroe, so then I read Marilyn Monroe’s biography. And then I started watching all of her films in chronological order. That helped me map out Celia’s childhood and her inner life.

For Take Shelter the story is so subtle and sensitive it would be distracting if I tried to impose something onto the character. When I sat down with Jeff Nichols, six months before we shot that film, he told me that the movie was about marriage and faith. It wasn’t about an apocalypse. It wasn’t about schizophrenia. When he told me that I realized my main preparation for that film had to be my relationship with Michael Shannon. We had to be best friends on that set. And so that for me is where I focused all my time.”

That all seems like a lot of work to me… better her than me!

You can currently see Jessica Chastain in about five different movies in your local multiplex right now.  Seriously.

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About Author

In college, overachiever Christopher McKittrick double-majored in Film and English because he loves to read, write, and watch movies. Since then Chris – who was born and raised on Long Island, New York and currently lives in Queens – has become a published author of fiction and non-fiction, a contributor to entertainment websites, and has spoken about literature, film, and comic books at various conferences across the country when he’s not getting into trouble in New York City (apparently it’s illegal to sleep on street corners...) For more information about Chris, visit his website here!

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