Sara Hemrajani on the rise of Jessica Chastain…
In the past five years, Jessica Chastain has gone from unknown actress to established talent. The Californian famously embraces all genres, from a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus to spy thriller The Debt to elaborate costume horror Crimson Peak, to name but a few. With the release of Zero Dark Thirty and Mama in early 2013, Chastain also became the first woman in 50 years to have the leading role in the top two films at the North American box office.
The two-time Oscar nominee will next be seen in cinemas in The Huntsman: Winter’s War, one of her most commercial projects so far. She plays a trained warrior alongside Chris Hemsworth and the pair battle against a cruel, loveless existence created by evil sisters Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron.
Let’s take a look at the roles and films which put her on Hollywood’s A-list:
The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick’s pensive and languid meditation on family relationships, childhood and faith made its debut at the Cannes film festival in May 2011. While Brad Pitt and Sean Penn took top billing, audiences and critics were generally impressed with Chastain’s quiet but commanding presence as the 1950s Texan housewife. Although her character barely speaks, Chastain ensured she was an intriguing enough counterpart to Pitt’s stern father figure.
The Help – A couple of weeks after The Tree of Life came The Help, a box office hit and Oscar-nominated film that put Chastain on Hollywood’s radar. The civil rights era story about a group of Southern socialites and their African-American servants features an ensemble cast, including Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Bryce Dallas Howard and Sissy Spacek. However, Chastain’s turn as the well-meaning, ditzy blonde Celia Foote earned her supporting actress nods from the Academy, Golden Globes, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild. Chastain eventually lost out to co-star Spencer at all those ceremonies but the recognition certainly gave her career a boost.
Zero Dark Thirty – Just a year later, Chastain was back on the awards circuit with controversial political thriller Zero Dark Thirty. Inspired by real-life events, the Kathryn Bigelow-directed movie chronicles the decade-long search for Osama Bin Laden. Chastain plays Maya, a steely CIA analyst who obsessively tries to uncover the whereabouts of the terrorist chief. Maya’s journey starts with the interrogation of prisoners following the 9/11 attacks and ends with the U.S. Navy SEAL mission to capture Bin Laden in Pakistan. Chastain proves to be a reliable anchor for the 2 hour 37 minute film and never shies away from showing the ugly aspects of intelligence gathering.
A Most Violent Year – This atmospheric drama from writer-director J.C. Chandor is lifted by the excellent chemistry between Chastain and fellow Julliard alumnus Oscar Isaac. She is the cool-headed American wife and accountant to his fiercely driven immigrant entrepreneur. Both are determined to keep their business empire running despite the overwhelming corruption in New York City in 1981. With her expensive outfits and poise, Chastain is magnetic on-screen. Her best scene is when she warns David Oyelowo’s investigator to back off: “So if I were you, I would start treating us with a little more respect or I guarantee he will make it his mission in life to ruin you”.
Interstellar and The Martian – Interestingly Chastain really came to public attention in two wildly ambitious sci-fi adventures. The first was Christopher Nolan’s complex and often mind-boggling Interstellar, in which the actress plays a scientist seeking answers to her father’s space mission. Then in 2015, she dealt with astrophysics and mortality once again in Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Her serious, but disco music-loving, captain is a great addition to the star-studded cast led by Matt Damon.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War opens in the UK on April 4th and in the U.S. on April 22nd.