Jessica Chastain: A very private movie celebrity

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JESSICA CHATAIN Do you think that fear or uncertainty you have about your work comes from having to fight for auditions and parts like every actor does when you were starting out in Hollywood?
No, I was like that even at Julliard where I studied obsessively because I was worried that they would throw me out. Then when I got to Hollywood I was never considered for the lead roles because I wasn’t tall, blond, and typically beautiful.

I was always going up for the part of the psycho girl or the rape victim.  One of my actor friends told me that redheads always have more trouble getting parts because it’s not the kind of look that people have in mind when they’re casting for actors.

I can’t tell you how many times I was told that the director loved my audition but chose someone else instead. I kept getting feedback that I didn’t have the typical look and sometimes it was depressing to be sitting in the waiting room prior to an audition and seeking all these tall, beautiful blonde girls around me.

Do you think that not fitting into that stereotype now helps you find roles?
I think now that I’m known it might help. I’m also someone who keeps looking for roles that are different from what I’ve done before. That’s why I love playing villains or bad women like I did in A Most Violent Year. Or playing a more troubled kind of woman in Eleanor Rigby.

That’s where you really stretch yourself as an actor and people don’t know what to expect from you when you play a part. I want to be that kind of actor that surprises people.

You’ve also founded your own production company, Freckle Films, with Trudie Styler (Sting’s wife).
That’s right. It’s important for women to be more active in developing and producing films. I enjoyed my experience producing The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, and I wanted to get more involved in creating more opportunities for women. We need to tell more stories about women and which will inspire other women and also make films that attract a broad audience, male and female, and not just cater to one audience segment.

I also want our company to help actors who might not have had that one good role that gets their career going to have those kinds of opportunities to become known.

How have you adjusted to your own popularity and the celebrity status that comes with your success?
I’m a very private person. I’ve always been protective of my family and the people closest to me. I don’t go out that much and when I’m not working I often spend a lot of time at home.

Your grandmother was a huge influence in your life. Has she served as your role model in terms of your going out into the world and making your mark?
Yes. As a young woman she had aspirations of becoming an actress but she never really got the chance. She was part of a generation of women where there was a lot of pressure to get married and have children and be a mom.

But my grandmother Marilyn saw in me someone who had the same kind of artistic ambitions that she had and was the one who took me to my first play where David Cassidy was starring in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. That’s when I realized what I wanted to do with my life.

You decided to honour your grandmother when you took her to the Oscars in 2012).
I still think of that as one of the best days of my life. I’ll never forget bringing her to the Oscars and seeing her there as part of that world.  Without her, I never would have been able to go to Julliard. She even helped move me into the dorm. She made so many sacrifices so that I could realize my dream, and it’s been so beautiful to have her in my life always watching every one of my movies and supporting me in every way.