With all the attention Jessica Chastain has been attracting ever since her Best Supporting Actress nomination for The Help last year, it’s hard not to catch her in one of her numerous roles. Be it independent work in Take Shelter or The Tree Of Life, the aforementioned The Help, a “gangster” flick called Lawless, or the highly recognized Osama Bin Laden thriller Zero Dark Thirty – Chastain is rapidly becoming a household name.
Her newest film, the Guillermo Del Toro produced Mama, is only going to propel her to even greater heights, as she undergoes a complete character transformation in an unrecognizable fashion. We were lucky enough to spend some time with the actress while doing press rounds in New York City to promote Mama where we heard about her want to never be typecast, her reaction after filming her first horror movie, and the bond she formed with the child actresses on set.
First addressing her breathtaking transformation, understand that Chastain plays a government agent type in Zero Dark Thirty, only to surface again in Mama as a bass playing punk rocker chick with tattoos and short black hair – which we later found out was a wig. But why make such a jump in roles? “The script was sent to me right after Tree Of Life came out, and Tree Of Life was at Cannes with Take Shelter, and all of a sudden I was getting these scripts sent to me which were all really devoted housewives and mothers…so I realized that there is typing in Hollywood…and this got sent to me, and couldn’t be further from Tree Of Life.” Well I’d say, considering in Mama Chastain has to fight an evil apparition! But this was also part of the draw for our ambitious actress, as she was drawn in by “the hero’s journey.” As she puts it, “This woman becomes a hero, a selfless person, and I kind of liked how in the beginning she’s a little bit of a bitch. She’s a little unlikable, she’s a little selfish, but she grows a heart of gold.” She went on to speak about how her character Annabel would be perfectly fine just hanging out and playing bass in a crappy band the rest of her life, chilling with her “sexy boyfriend,” which is exactly the kind of 180 turn she wanted to make in her career after being pegged as a mother figure.
In order to be a mother figure though, Chastain really had to connect with child actresses Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse, which was no problem at all. She had no problem expressing her love for the girls, even admitting “I’d rather hang out with kids than adults any day.” She exclaimed how lucky she’s been over the years to have such great scene partners who are children, and how Mama was no different. “The best thing about these kids is that they’re kids first, they’re not child actors that are trying to be adults. That really kind of disturbs me a bit. We had a lot of dance parties.” How is that not the most adorable thing you’ve ever heard? Chastain told us how little Isabelle only spoke French when she started shooting Mama, but she learned English as she went through the shoot, falling in love with Taio Cruz’s Dynamite, which immediately became the girl’s go-to rock-out jam when they danced in the trailers.
Chastain didn’t let the girls in right away though, trying to distance herself at first, just like her character Annabel. “I tried to be, not cold, but a little bit removed, because I thought ‘OK, I don’t want to just scoop them up and love them from the beginning because that’s not quite the character and I want them a little unsure of me.’ But after a week of trying, at one point Megan came to dinner and said ‘Jessica, you come sit by me!’ and I was just like ‘How do you not love these girls!'”
As for the horror atmosphere the girls had to deal with, Chastain commented “No, it was never scary, it was very important that they always feel safe and protected. There was more laughing on the set than anything, this group is like a family, cracking jokes at Andy’s [Andrés Muschietti’s] expense.”
Getting back to the transformation, Chastain explained she “started from the outside in” when constructing who Annabel was supposed to be, although it was very much “Andy’s world” as she put it. “Alice Glass was the inspiration for the hair, so there were a lot of photographs around.” And the tattoo? “The idea of the octopus tattoo was Andy’s. At first I thought ‘That’s super strange, why an octopus?’ He had a very good answer that when a tentacle gets stuck, it detaches, and he liked to see Annabel like that, where when she’s feeling tied down she’s able to move away.” Getting into the punk mentality, Jessica said she listened to a lot of Lou Reed, The Misfits, and dressed in band T-shirts constantly.
Being her first foray into horror, Chastain revealed she loves the genre, but not the slasher film type horror flicks. “I really like the tension of horror films, and fantasy, so I just got as many as I could and filled my dressing room with them and played them whenever I was hanging out in there.” But how did she handle them? “It took me three times to finish the movie [REC].” What I would have paid to see her reaction at the jump scare that even had me gasping for air in [REC], one of my favorite horror movies of all time.
Then came one of the stranger moments in the press conference when one of the more ballsy participants informed Jessica he had a game for her – tell everyone her porn name. Now no, before you all start googling for some secret leaked footage somewhere, Jessica Chastain has NEVER participated in any lewd video, and anyone can play this game. Simply take the name of your first pet and the name of the street you grew up on. Boom – porn name. Jessica’s? Kiki Fillery (not sure if the street name is spelled right, but that’s exactly as it sounds). Ok, back to the real stuff.
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