Jessica Chastain Talks Mama
In the stylishly freaky occult horror spree Mama, Jessica Chastain not only knows how to really handle a guitar as a Goth punk rocker, but perfects a knack for kicking in a pretty ballsy maternal instinct too. Jessica stopped by to clue me in as to how she got hooked on Mama; her on screen disappearing act involving a wig and octopus tattoo; and exactly what director Andres Muschietti may have had in mind by seeing to it that this damsel defying distress got effectively tranquilized.
Jessica, what did you like most about playing this rocker babe, Annabel?
JESSICA CHASTAIN: I kinda liked that in the beginning, she's a bit of a b*tch!
Okay. How about getting to play such a maternal role. Did it make you have thoughts about being a mother yourself?
JC: I do hope to be a mother someday. But if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, you know? And there are other wonderful things that will happen.
But a big concern I had at the beginning that made me nervous was, I don't want to make a movie that says women who choose not to have children, are wrong.
Or that our purpose, is to be mothers. Because I don't necessarily think that's true. But it was a very funny first meeting. Because Andy, his English was not so great.
So instead of saying let me put you at rest, Andy said, I will tranquilize you now! Yeah, there was a lot of laughing all of us had that first hour.
What was the biggest thing that got you hooked on making Mama?
JC: I was like, okay. If the Mama short film was that scary in three minutes and this is a character I've never played - and we're having such at this meeting - I'll do the movie!
Your physical transformation in Mama is amazing, you're almost unrecognizable.
JC: Thank you!
So did you like playing a brunette rocker chick, and was that a wig by the way?
JC: Yeah! That was a wig. But yeah, that was awesome. And what happened was that after Tree Of Life, I suddenly got all these scripts sent to me.
And they were like all really devoted wives and mothers! And you know, in The Tree Of Life I'm the most perfect, graceful mother in the world.
So I realized that there is stereotyping in Hollywood. Then this got sent to me, and it couldn't be further from my character in The Tree Of Life.
You know, Annabel, she's definitely the reluctant mother, and wants nothing to do with children. She's a bass guitarist in a punk band.
And she's not even that good that she'll ever be famous! She'd like just be happy going to community college, and living her whole life with, you know, her sexy boyfriend!
And like, just hanging out. And then she's forced to deal with the responsibility of these children. But I was really moved by this hero's journey.
You know, this woman becoming a hero. And being a little unlikable, but becoming a selfless person. And she grows a heart of gold, I guess, by the end.
But Alice Glass was the inspiration for the hair. And the idea of my octopus tattoo was Andy's.
And at first I thought, that's super-strange. You know, why an octopus. And he had a very good answer. That when a tentacle gets stuck, it detaches. And he liked seeing Annabel like that.
So whenever she starts to feel tied down, she's able to move away. And then I was listening to a lot of punk music. Like Lou Reed, Misfits. And wearing Alice tee shirts. So that was the whole physical look.
Who taught you to play bass in Mama? Because it's very convincing.
JC: I took bass lessons for about a month before we started. I learned this one song and I thought, okay great. And then a week before we shot it, the song was changed! I was really irritated.
Then I learned the second song. So okay, I feel comfortable now, shooting it for the band scene. But then they shot only three seconds of me playing, and I spent five weeks learning the bass!
Are you a horror fan?
JC: I really like horror films. I don't like slasher films. But I really like the tension of horror films. So I just got as many as I could, and filled my dressing room with them.
And we played them whenever we were hanging out in there.
And even if I was doing something else, they would always be on. And it's tough, man. I like horror films, but I realized that I only like horror films when I'm with other people! Yeah, watching one by yourself is no fun.
What did you figure out about your character?
JC: She doesn't want to grow up. And the idea of being a yuppie, is the worst thing that could happen to her. But I want to do all kinds of characters. I don't want to be typed. If someone tries to type me, I'm super-stubborn. And I will do the opposite.
Like with The Tree Of Life, that character is probably the greatest gift I've ever been given. But the second I found out they were typing me I thought, I'll show you!
You know, I'll do the exact opposite of a Terence Malick. I'm gonna do a horror film! And I'm gonna play the opposite of a good mother.
But I wanna do a western. And I wanna do a musical. As long as I play a woman who has an arc. And has something going for her other than playing the male counterpart. You know, when the woman is there to serve the male role.
And even if it's a small part, I don't mind. Like Celia Foote in The Help. That was a fun role. I was not the lead of that film, but she had her own interesting arc in it. And that's what I need in a film.
How about co-starring with kids?
JC: I'd actually rather hang out with kids than adults any day. I really like them. And we had a lot of dance parties in the trailer. Like you know that song Dynamite? [Jessica breaks into song].
Yup! And the little girl, Isabelle Nelisse, didn't know English. She's French. So that's how she learned to speak some English, singing those lyrics.
Did the movie scare those little girls while they were making it?
JC: No, it was never scary for them. It was always important that they feel safe and protected. So no. There was more laughing on the set, than anything.
What's up next for you, maybe join a rock band?
JC: There you go! Perhaps. Maybe I will join a band. Maybe I'll cut my hair off a la Alice Glass, and join a punk band! Yup.
But I'm not sure yet what's next. It hasn't been announced yet, but it's pretty obscure. Like in typical Chastain fashion, it might be a Strindberg thing. But we'll see.
And what scares you in real life? Or is it just the awards season that scares you.
JC: Ha! I think probably in real life, it's sounds in the night that scare me.
JC: I moved into a new apartment here in NY. And my dog always barks when someone comes in. And like a few weeks ago I was sleeping soundly, and he started barking like crazy.
And I sat up and thought, somebody's in my apartment! So anything like that, waking me up in my sleep. And when I was a child, I used to have really, really bad nightmares.
So I was one of those kids who would like run and leap on to the bed. You know, because if I stepped too close, something would reach out and grab me! And pull me under.
Or if I'd wake up in the middle of the night, I would put the covers over my head. And then I'd get too hot.
But I'd be too afraid to like take the covers down. Because I'd be afraid that there would be a face staring at me! So yeah, I had bad nightmares as a kid.
So you're not scared of the awards season.
JC: No! I went through it last year, and it was so much fun.
Whom are you taking along as a date?
JC: My grandmother will probably be my date again!
Because going with her, it's just such a reminder to enjoy it. And not take it seriously.
Okay, here's what may be a trick question...
JC: Uh oh!
If you were a porn star, what would your porn name be?
JC: My porn name!
Well, how about combining the name of your first pet, and the name of the street you grew up on?
JC: Oh no! Let's see. Kiki Fillary!
Nice, very good! Now, what about the thrill of being on stage with The Heiress?
JC: I don't know, I'm a crazy person! Can you believe - I'm really lucky to do what I do.
But I'll tell you right now, it's a very strange thing to be talking about my films coming out now and then to think, okay. At 6:30pm, I'm gonna start putting my nose on! And my pin curls.
And go on stage as Catherine Sloper in New York. But it's a great gift.
And the one thing, even though my other characters are very different - for me because I am a very emotional girl and very sensitive. And I like to have a good time! I'm very smiley!
But I'm in love with my work and passionate about my work. And that's what gets me on stage every night.
Prairie Miller is a NY multimedia journalist online, in print and on radio, and on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network's Arts Express. Read more reviews by Prairie Miller. Contact Prairie through NewsBlaze. Read more stories by Prairie Miller.
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