Jessica Chastain - Up For The Challenge
With flowing red locks that look straight from the rolling hills of Ireland, fans might be surprised that the ginger beauty, Jessica Chastain, is actually a California girl.
The first of her family to attend college, Chastain graduated from Juilliard, and has worked in theater, TV and film, remaining under the radar until her role of the lovable Southern girl in the 2011 film, The Help, of which she received an Oscar nod. Then as a CIA agent in 2013’s chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Quaeda terrorist leader, Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, she took home a Golden Globe. Sharing about the joys of working with visionary director, Guillermo del Toro on the film, Crimson Peak, Chastain also joins real-life NASA astronout, Tracy Caldwell Dyson, discussing making the film, The Martian. Keep an eye out for those ginger tresses in this month’s release of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, in which she plays the forbidden lover to Aussie hunk, Chris Hemsworth.
STRIPLV: Tell us about your director, Guillermo del Toro.
CHASTAIN: I think Guillermo is a very, very important part of our industry. He is a legend of cinema. He is a visual master and encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to not just film history, or even American history, but even when it comes to the encyclopedia of gothic romance… I try to work with directors that I can learn something from, and I’ve worked with Guillermo and his incredible imagination twice, and I hope that I get to work with him again, and again, and again.
STRIPLV: What it’s like, as a female actress, working with Guillermo?
CHASTAIN: What I love about this film so much is that the female roles are complex and really interesting, and we’re not just serving another story of the film. I love working with women. I love movies about women. I mean, of course, the male roles are great in this, as well. But, everyone’s role is equally great. You work with Guillermo as an actor, and you know you’re gonna show up and you’re gonna have something interesting to do. And you’re not gonna be a prop to a story, you’re gonna actually participate in the telling of it.
STRIPLV: Tell us about Guillermo’s amazing ability to weave the most stunningly beautiful elements and the most frightening, and how it relates to your character.
CHASTAIN: One of the most wonderful things about Guillermo is his imagination. And I remember I saw an interview that he did on Charlie Rose, maybe about ten years ago, where he pulled out these journals, and he had all these drawings of monsters and creatures that he had created in his head. And watching movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone, you kind of feel this compassion for the monsters and the fairytales that he has. And so that’s why I was so excited to play Lucille in Crimson Peak, because working with Guillermo, I knew that he would show this woman in a very fair and compassionate light. She of course has some bad qualities, but everything she does, she does for love. And I really respect that and feel for her because of that. She just likes her simple things. She likes to play the piano. She loves to read a book, and she loves to be around her brother. And she doesn’t want to deal with anyone else, because in her history, she’s been hurt. Society has not been kind to Lucille.
STRIPLV: And the title, Crimson Peak, where did it come from?
CHASTAIN: The house is called Crimson Peak because it’s built on a clay mine, and when it snows, or all the time, the clay leaks up from the earth. And so it goes into the walls and the snow, and leaks into the snow, giving it a look of blood. When I first walked into the set, I was completely blown away. I’d never seen anything like that before. I mean, I think they used to make movies like this… (laughter) a long time ago, where they would build the house. The set feels like a character in the movie. It really is the past and it’s the history, and it’s kind of what’s keeping the Sharpe children and the Sharpe adults now in place, stuck in time. And Edith represents the future and you know, technology and going forward. Lucille is of the house. Guillermo connected the house and her costumes. And he had Lucille’s costume (the blue velvet that I wear in the house) look as though she could emerge from the walls and then go back into them. There were these spiked acorns [on my dress] that matched this hallway that had spikes that look like a mouth with razor teeth. And then the lace leaves that I have on my costume also are in the house. So we really wanted to connect these two characters. It’s like working in another era—by creating this house by scratch, he really can tell this story that’s in his mind, unlike any other way. I mean, you can’t go find a house that looks like what Guillermo had in his mind. But the movie’s so layered. Also as an actress, everything was practical. I actually cooked scrambled eggs on the set. There were working fireplaces, running water, a three-story elevator. You kinda of just have to show up and the props and the set really does a lot of the work for you.
STRIPLV: Talk about the power of love in this film.
CHASTAIN: Well, the poster says: “Love makes monsters of us all.” Love takes a big part in this movie. Guillermo talked to me in the very beginning about it being a movie about two different kinds of love. There’s a love that Lucille has and that represents one, and a love that Edith has, that represents another one. Lucille’s the one that says: “Love makes monsters of us all.” There’s the selfless and the selfish, and I think the movie kind of shows what happens when love is all-consuming. And for Lucille, for my character, she’s a woman that desperately wants to feel love and intimacy. But because of her trauma, her scars, her history that she comes from, she associates suffering with intimacy. And love, I think, is the reason Crimson Peak works, because, in a way, a selfless love actually wins in the end.
STRIPLV: There’s so many different frightening yet romantic elements in the film…
CHASTAIN: You know, I think there’s a misconception sometimes with scary films, or horror films. Modern audiences think: ‘This is the way it’s supposed to be—it’s a lot of jump scares and we know what a horror genre is.’ This film is not a horror film—it’s a gothic romance, which if you look at those films like The Innocents, and you look at Frankenstein, and these types of stories, there’s another way of filmmaking; another way to tell a story. This film, like the movies of my youth, you know: Interview With The Vampire, and Dracula with Gary Oldman, oh… (yearning) It is a similar intone to those, where it’s a mixture of genres. It’s thrilling, it’s a drama, it’s a romance, and yes, there happens to be ghosts in it. The ghosts are really beautiful, the same way in Pan’s Labyrinth, the monsters were so beautiful and heart-wrenching and Guillermo has a story for each of them, the ghosts, and why they look a certain way, and perhaps that’s why it’s so rich, to look at them and to look into their eyes.
STRIPLV: So what can audiences expect when they sit and watch this film?
CHASTAIN: Well, I think that audiences are gonna be moved in ways that they didn’t imagine. And you can’t really say there’s another film nowadays like this. It’s a throwback to another era, like Rebecca, when they made films and they would build the sets and they would create these complex characters. So I would say, you bring your friends, you bring your people to cuddle up with when you get scared, and keep your heart open when the love shows up.
ON THE FILM, THE MARTIAN
WITH REAL-LIFE NASA ASTRONAUT – TRACY CALDWELL DYSON
STRIPLV: Director Ridley Scott has very strong female characters in so many of his films. How does your character in his film, The Martian, fit into this tradition?
CHASTAIN: Ridley Scott is a filmmaker who has always defined gender roles in his movies. Alien was originally written for a man, and he changed the role to a woman, and it’s actually, in my opinion, it makes the film a classic and far greater than what it would have been if it was a man, because then it would have been a similar story to what we’ve seen many times. He also did Thelma and Louise. He’s a wonderful director. And he was on my bucket list of people I wanted to work with, and to get to do a space movie with him… He was writing his own space movie, so it was kind of a dream come true.
STRIPLV: Tracy, what did you learn about filmmaking from your time on set with Jessica and Ridley?
DYSON: Oh, wow! I would say that they make space look fun (laughter) in filmmaking. There are definitely fun parts to it. It’s a lot of work and things don’t happen quite as fast as they do in a movie, and so there’s a little bit of a sweat that goes on that you don’t see all the work that goes into what they do. But, as I’ve learned about filmmaking, it can be actually be harder to float in space than it is actually when you’re in space. It takes a lot of work and…creating the zero gravity and all the considerations, so that you make it look real. I think that’s actually the hardest.
STRIPLV: And Jessica, what was the most significant thing you learned from Tracy?
CHASTAIN: I learned so much! I don’t know if I think I could think about the most significant thing. Probably, one of the most significant things was the connection, and how important it was to remind yourself of your relationships on earth, when you’re out there. I noticed she was wearing a wedding ring when we were working together. I don’t know why, I just assumed people in space didn’t wear jewelry. And my character in the film is married, so I asked her: “Do you wear your ring in space?” And she said: “Absolutely.” Things like that, that connected the human part of what it is to actually leave the planet and separate yourself from your loved ones—and how important it is to remind yourself of your reason for coming home. That was actually really moving for me to learn that part.
STRIPLV: Tracy, what do you hope audiences take away from The Martian, as far as their perception of astronauts in space? Is it accurate?
CHASTAIN: There’s no diapers!
DYSON: (breaks out laughing)
CHASTAIN: Listen. (laughter throughout the room) Hold on. (trying to maintain composure) I don’t know if you’ll ever see a space movie where the characters wear diapers under their suits, (bursts out laughing again) but they’re supposed to.
DYSON: (laughs) There’s a reality that is not depicted in filmmaking when it comes to…
CHASTAIN: (cracking up) It’s not so glamorous!
DYSON: There are some very unglamorous moments in space—and they’re thankfully not the things that we highlight. But what I hope people take home is just what Jessica said: is just the human element of this, because, if it were just robots that we were sending, then it would be hard for everybody to imagine themselves in that place. But we’re doing this so that we can, not only learn more about ourselves, but to explore. And we don’t want to do that alone. We want to do that with people. And the thing I enjoyed the most about the film was the way that they depicted the connection that the humans in space had with the humans at home—whether it was through work or family. That’s very accurate to what we do in space. We have our job, but we also have that personal connection.