Jessica Chastain has had a lot of firsts.
There was the time six years ago when she broke out as an “It” girl, making her debut at Cannes Film Festival and starring in five movies released in one year. The first time she was in a blockbuster (Interstellar).
The Huntsman: Winter’s War marks her first true action film, in which Chastain, 39, literally kills, fighting alongside Chris Hemsworth as two evil Queens, Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her sister Freya (Emily Blunt), impose their (glamorously costumed) will on lands of people.
She’s also the first person Hemsworth’s daughter India, about to be four, would run to on set. “India would walk straight past my trailer to go see Jessica and Chaplin, Jessica’s dog,” says Hemsworth.
One morning shooting Winter’s War, Chastain finally met Ravenna herself while she and Emily Blunt were in the makeup trailer.
“I remember when Charlize was coming,” recalls Chastain. “I said, ‘I’m so nervous’. Because she is a true movie star. Like, she’s a broad. I just loved all of her work and I’ve been so intimidated by her. She speaks her mind.”
Few would hesitate to call Chastain a true movie star in 2016, and her M.O. has been to try everything, from horror (Crimson Peak) to space dramas (The Martian) to war films (Zero Dark Thirty).
“I’m always looking at projects, and there are directors I really want to work with, and then I look at their record and go, ‘Oh, you don’t make movies with female protagonists,’” says Chastain. (Just ask her to rewrite a few classic fairytales such as Cinderella, and she begins: “First of all, she would never leave the shoe on the stairs …”)
In January, Chastain started her own all-female production company called Freckle Films. Her year ahead is packed: She’s almost finished shooting Miss Sloane, playing a Republican DC lobbyist trying to get a bipartisan bill passed that eliminates gun-show loopholes.
In the World War II tale The Zookeeper’s Wife, Chastain uses her bombed zoo in Warsaw to “sneak people out and hide them in the animal cages” as the ghettos are going up, she says.
Then there’s Woman Walks Ahead, shooting later this year, about “a friendship between Sitting Bull and this incredible woman who came to paint him.”
Authenticity was paramount. “I actually said I’m only doing this movie if real Native Americans are used,” she says. “I’m not interested in people putting makeup on.”
In her personal life, Chastain has stuck to a conscious decision not to put her love life on display. “I’ve never gone on the red carpet with a significant other. Never,” she says. And she can still walk around her home, New York, largely unnoticed.
Her decisions have made for a strong foundation. “I was afraid that it was going to be a lonely experience,” she says of fame. “And actually, it’s been the opposite of that. So that’s I think why I’ve become more confident.” – USA Today/Tribune News Service/Andrea Mandell