Jessica Chastain Talks A Most Violent Year and Interstellar

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Jessica Chastain seems to be turning up everywhere right now. When not getting in touch with her inner demons in Liv Ullmann’s Miss Julie, she’s channeling outer space on screen in Chris Nolan’s Interstellar. And, talking tough as a pistol-packing, taking none of it spouse in the urban noir moral thriller, J. C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year.

Chastain stopped by to share thoughts about mulling Dick Chaney as a vehicle for burrowing into her character in A Most Violent Year; what’s up with women in movies lately – or not; and the plus side of taking on a male role in a movie.

Good to see you at the party last night

JESSICA CHASTAIN: We had a good time. Loud music!

I hear you. I was like, I’m leaving! And you were still there.

JC: Ugh. I know!

Talk about the strange circumstances behind your role in Interstellar.

JC: In Interstellar, my part was originally written for a man. And Chris changed it to a woman.

And I don’t think he had to do anything different. You know, to change the part to a female character.

And it actually made me realize, that men and women are not that different. at the end of the day.

And I’m gonna start going through scripts. And finding more male characters I can change into!

So what kind of film is A Most Violent Year, it doesn’t seem to fall within the usual gangster movie category.

JC: It’s a morality tale. It plays with the audience thirst for violence.

How did you get into the head of being a wife and mother in the movie, but a strong woman too?

JC: My first um, I had this very strong instinct that for me, she was Dick Cheney! And that’s what I wanted to do with her.

Because she is the person, she is doing what she feels is best. And she’s doing the dirty work, so he can remain clean.

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Chastain at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

And he can believe the way he’s doing it, is the easiest and the best. Um, but she’s actually doing what they need to do, to survive.

And I like that she’s someone you completely underestimate in the beginning. Most of the time, a female character doesn’t get to be like that.

And I love that JC has created this story where it’s 1981. It’s a man’s world. And she is aligning herself with the most powerful man in the room.

She wants to be with someone who is like her father. And she believes her husband is a king.

Um, and anyone who disrespects that…she will personally kill! But she then, I think that scene with the gun is really interesting.

Because that’s when a lot of things bubble to the surface for her.

She’s a girl who grew up in a household where her father was well versed in criminal activity.

And she knows how to shoot a gun. Um, and that’s when she starts to become more bold.

With the cop, with the gun. You know, she now feels that she needs to step forward, and take charge.

What gets you interested in making movies?

JC: When it’s about relationships. And dialogue. And a director like JC, who is versatile, and takes risks.

What grabs you about him?

JC: He really left it free, for us to explore. Sometimes a director wants you to do what they thought in their head when they were writing.

And to be honest, that’s only how they would act overall!

So he wants us to forget about that.

And sometimes we’ll ask questions. But he won’t even fully explain something to us.

Because he doesn’t want to taint our natural instincts. And that was exciting to me.

You play a really hot tempered female from the Bronx. What’s up with that?

JC: Yeah, she hits him! Oh, Anna and Abel are fighting again! But we were like talking, has that ever happened before?

Has she ever hit him before. Because if you make that decision together, then when it does happen, we can both respond – this is normal!

Or, is this the first time she ever laid hands on him. Um, and all of those choices that you make with a partner, it’s very clear that…they’re on the same team!

It’s them against the world. And Oscar and I have known each other forever, and have been cheerleaders of each other’s work.

That gives you so much. And you don’t feel like you’re tiptoeing around another actor.

Um, or trying to have them…join you! So it was just great, from the very beginning. We started full steam ahead.

And what about the scene where you blow away a deer with your pistol? Oscar said that was a scary thing, but that audiences have started clapping.

JC: Ha! He was having a good time.

The director said you two had some oneupmanship going on, because you’re both brainy kids from Julliard, how about that?

JC: That’s actually not true! At all. I have no competition with Oscar. In fact, if I’m acting in a scene with someone who’s soaring, it’s gonna make me be even better.

I don’t want to do a scene and have someone fail. Because I’m gonna be terrible in the scene.

So when JC says, we’re gonna one-ups each other, I have been so supportive of Oscar. I’ve always been like, such a hero of who he is.

And a cheerleader of who he is, and his work. And on set, I felt like I was. Like I was so happy to get to be in a scene.

And you know, just watch him soar in this character. But I think in JC’s mind, he thinks it’s more fun if there is something like that! But I didn’t!

You’re really vocal about women in Hollywood and the lack of roles for them, talk about that.

JC: When I speak about that, I don’t speak from a selfish point of view. Because I know I’m in a very lucky position.

And I get sent scripts that are incredible. And I can work with the directors, to make the characters even more interesting, and rich. And usually there’s like a collaboration happening.

But I’m speaking as an audience member who’s going to the movies. And I’m not seeing films about women.

I don’t see Asian American actors on the screen. I don’t see women in their sixties on the screen.

I think it’s a huge problem. And I find it absolutely disgusting! To be honest. It’s really upsetting to me.

Um, I love cinema. I love European films. Because I love diversity. And there’s more diversity for some reason, in other countries.

You know, like French cinema celebrates women of all ages. So I’m speaking for others actresses I want to see in films.

I never see them in other movies, and I think we just need to get more female characters going. They’re just as interesting as male characters.

What can you say about The Death and Life Of John F. Donovan and working with Xavier Dolan, is it true he offered you the role at Cannes in a very crowded room?

JC: Uh huh. I um, did I have a film in Cannes? Of course I did! But I don’t remember what film I had in Cannes! I just don’t. Oh, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby played at Cannes this year.

But I have a thing now, whenever I go to a film festival, I always make it a point to see other movies. Because the first year that I went to festivals, I realized they don’t schedule that.

They expect you to go, and talk about your film, do press, and leave. So I will only go now to festivals, to watch other people’s films.

Because that’s the reason I like to be in this business, is that I love films. And somebody had told me about this 25 year old filmmaker Xavier Dolan, who’s incredible.

And I was like okay, I got time, I’m gonna go see his film. And I was absolutely blown away by what he did.

And I’m new to Twitter! And all I wrote was like, mom. He’s incredible. This film is fantastic.

And I guess someone had told him – do you know Jessica Chastain had tweeted about your film! And then he started tweeting me.

But like you know, in front of everyone he was like, will you be my beard. And sending me like Justin Bieber music videos!

And I like loved him immediately. I was like oh, we’re gonna have a good time, this guy and I! And then we had a conversation on the phone.

And he sent me a script, and we planned to meet for dinner. And I opened the door, and he was standing there with a huge bouquet of flowers!

You know, in front of his face. Like love at first sight! But I’m excited to work with him. I think he’s such an important new voice in cinema.

What’s next for you?

JC: I’m going to Budapest tonight! Bye now.

Continuing syndicated features of Arts Express: Expression In The Arts are hosted by Prairie Miller, and air locally and nationally on the Pacifica Radio Network and WBAI/Affiliate Stations, including WPRR Public Reality Radio. And if you’d like to Express yourself too, you can write to: [email protected]

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.