Time Out Sydney

With seven major movie roles in one year, Jessica Chastain is emerging as the breakout star of 2011


For Jessica Chastain, delayed gratification has its upside. The California-raised redhead got her first big break in a movie that hasn’t even been released yet: Al Pacino’s long-gestating theatrical documentary Wilde Salome. Pacino recommended her to Terrence Malick, and she ended up as Brad Pitt’s saintly wife in The Tree of Life. She subsequently scored major roles in last month’s The HelpRalph Fiennes’ upcoming Coriolanus, and two films this month: thrillers Take Shelter and The Debt. An auburn-haired beauty hasn’t generated this kind of fanfare since Julianne Moore.

Jessica, are you ready for stardom?
Oh gosh. No. I’m trying to figure out how, because really at first I was frustrated. Like, why are these films taking so long [to be released]? I’ve been making them for four years! I haven’t had to deal with any of the trappings of fame or what that could mean. [But] I’m not going to lie. I’m getting a little anxious about how my life is going to change by the end of the year.

How was it to play opposite Brad Pitt? Did he give you any tips?
He was great but I was intimidated – when someone says, “You’re working with Brad Pitt and you’re going to play his wife,” it carries so much weight with it. But he really goes out of his way to make you feel equal and at ease, and brave to be inventive in the scenes.

Any tips about fame?
He didn’t give me any pointers on that. [Laughs] But the movies I like to make are seen by smaller audiences. So I assumed that I won’t have to deal with the kind of fame that Brad has to deal with. For me it’s so important to be an actress. I’d rather not be a movie star. I’m reading a book about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton right now, Furious Love. And I got to the chapter where their acting started to suffer after Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf because they were so famous that no one could see them as the characters anymore. And I think that’s a huge trap.

Have you turned down any big offers because of that?
Absolutely. I’ve shied away from big franchise films. I don’t know why I would do them. I don’t need a lot of money. Take Shelter was made for hardly anything, but it was the kind of movie that made me so excited to be alive. 

Take Shelter
’s apocalyptic themes make an interesting counterpoint to Tree of Life
I thought it was a beautiful script and I learned so much from [co-star] Michael Shannon. But it was a super-fast shoot and so in that respect very different to Tree of Life. Terrence could take his time and so for me that movie felt more like a dance. On Take Shelter there was no money so we had to get in, get the shot and get out. 

How would you compare the two directors?
I think Terrence Malick is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. And I hope that Jeff Nichols will be, and I actually do sense that he will, which is why I asked him to put me in every film that he makes. I told him the second day of shooting, I said, “Please let me be your Julianne Moore.”

The fashion you wear in all of these films is fabulous. Do you like fashion?
I love clothes so much because it’s the same reason I love costumes. On Tree of Life, they gave me this room that was filled with the clothes that were approved. And every morning I would choose what Mrs O’Brien was going to wear. So then immediately, from the moment you arrive on set, you embody the character. 

What’s your next project?
I’m releasing six films so I think I’m going to be doing a lot of press. [Laughs]. But whatever I do next, I’m going to be very picky because it’s important to me to make sure the part is really good.

Take Shelter
 opens 13 Oct. The Debt opens 27 Oct 

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