Strolling the red carpet and appearing on the big screen are just the flashy elements of the job most people see. Behind the scenes, she’s spearheading a movement for equality — and forging her own path to accomplish it all.
Jessica Chastain is a woman of many talents. There’s acting, of course. The two-time Academy Award nominee has starred in over 25 movies, including The Forgiven, which explores the dramatic fallout following a random accident (to be released this year); The Eyes of Tammy Faye, about televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker; and The 355, an international spy thriller about female agents trying to retrieve a top-secret weapon, which comes out in early 2022.
But you may not know that Jessica is also a trained chef who loves cooking, a former ballerina who once went on tour, and the founder of a production company, Freckle Films, who has some forward-thinking business ideas. Case in point: For The 355, which she also produced, Jessica, 43, came up with a plan for all the actors to be paid equally (she is a fierce proponent of fair pay) and share in the film’s profits. “A lot of times, our names are used to sell movies, and that’s how the money is raised for them,” Jessica explains. “So I thought, If our names are being sold, then we need to be the owners of the film.”
When she pitched The 355 to her costars Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, and Fan Bingbing, Jessica told them, “If you do this movie, you’re going to have to agree to sell it, because you will be an owner. We’re going to sell the distribution rights to raise the budget for the film, and then everyone owns a portion of the box office,” she recalls. The actors all agreed, and the film rights quickly sold. “I don’t know if anything like this has been done before, and honestly, I’m a bit shocked I got away with it,” says Jessica. “But hopefully it creates a new model in which artists can own their work.”
That move is classic Jessica — though she doesn’t like to talk about many of the things she does behind the scenes. Like the time she negotiated to get actor Octavia Spencer the same amount of money she herself was making for a film they were working on together.
When it comes to fighting for pay equality, I would rather just do it and not talk about it. I think it’s actually more powerful if I don’t have to explain it.
What she does like to talk about is the important women in her life. During lockdown last year, she was at home for several months with her loved ones. “It was great because my grandma was with me, and I got to spend time with my family,” says Jessica. “My mom has been with us a lot too. But I miss my girlfriends so much. I miss going out to dinner, just the girls. I miss getting a cocktail, sharing secrets, and getting advice from everyone. I’ve really been missing that sense of community.” (Related: How to Beat Loneliness In the Time of Social Distancing)
As she eases back into work life, rewriting her new normal, Jessica shares her strategies for finding joy and calm amid the craziness and making a difference.
Exercising for Her Mind As Well As Her Muscles
“During quarantine, I did [trainer] Isaac Boots’ Torch’d workouts with my grandmother, who is in her 80s. It was such a breath of sanity during that time to do it every morning with my grandma. And she really helped me be accountable. Now that I’m in film rehearsals in New York, I do Isaac’s workout a couple of times a week, and I also do power yoga online twice a week, and that helps clear my head.
Working out gives me confidence. It’s the sense of being proud of myself. The starting point of exercise is always difficult for me — finding the time and quiet space and feeling that I’ve got a million other things I need to do. But once I finish, I immediately feel like a superhero. It’s also a reminder — especially when you’re in a yoga position or holding a plank, and you’re shaking and thinking, I can’t do it! — that honestly, you can get through anything.”
Listening to Her Body
“I became a vegan about 14 years ago. At the time, I was very low energy, and I remember getting sick. I was making one of my first films, in which I had to play different ages of the character’s life, and I wanted to change my body accordingly. So I would gain weight and then lose it really quickly. After that, my body was wrecked. A friend said, ‘You should try this two-week vegan raw-food diet.’ I hated it. The first week, I was so miserable. But by the second week, I had so much energy. When the two weeks were over, I was like, I’m done! I went to a restaurant and ordered risotto and fish. And that night, I felt sick again. I decided that my body was clearly telling me the way it wanted me to eat. I was raw vegan for about nine months. Now I’m just vegan. (Even Lizzo has experimented with the raw vegan diet.)
I love to cook — so much that I went to the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York in 2012 and took the intensive chef-training program. In the winter I like to make soups and stews and anything roasted. I’m also really into food as medicine. Licorice root tea is my jam during COVID-19, because licorice is really good for your immune system.”
Working to Find Calm and Clarity
“I don’t want anyone to misinterpret this or do anything that’s unhealthy for them, but it’s really important for me to fast one day a week. I do a green-juice fast every Monday. I like to start my week in a quiet place, listening to what’s going on with my mind. It’s a sense of giving myself a moment to be clear and allowing my body to reset. It helps me start the week.” (Related: Lizzo’s Smoothie Cleanse Is Sparking a Conversation About Diet Culture)
Being Passionate About What She Does
“The 355 is the term for the group of women who work behind the scenes in intelligence, doing things we didn’t even know were possible. The point of the movie is to celebrate women in espionage. There are some extensive fight scenes in the film, and I wanted the actors to have the opportunity to do it all. Lupita has a really fun fight scene. Diane is so good — she’s tough, riding her motorcycle. Sometimes we get typecast, and I felt it was important to show that this person can do this and this too.
That’s something I’ve thought about in terms of movies I’ve done, like Interstellar, playing the physicist who solves the equation of gravity. Or The Martian, where I was the commander of the mission to Mars. Those images of women in media are incredibly important to me. In the last five years or so, I’ve asked myself, ‘What am I choosing? Am I showing women in a light that is different from what has been shown? How can I move the conversation forward?’ I was doing it in particular for young girls. But it’s important to do it for young boys as well. Because boys and men should be comfortable seeing women in these roles. Otherwise, we’re denying them the realization that the feminine is powerful and strong.”
Finding a Way to Spur Change
“I want to use whatever platform I’m given to amplify someone who doesn’t have a platform. I’ve always felt it was irresponsible to allow another person to be ignored, bullied, or unheard. I don’t want to live in a world where something like that is okay.
I started out in acting by choosing projects that let me explore experiences I wanted to have personally, or those that would help me grow as an artist. Then I felt that I had to be more socially responsible with the projects I chose. That doesn’t mean all the movies are great or even good, but it does mean that I’m trying to put images out there that challenge a preconceived notion or system or a stereotype of what a woman is.
That’s how I have been approaching any kind of activism: doing it rather than wishing it. You can talk about something; you can wish it to happen. But at a certain point, what can you do that actually shifts the conversation? For me, it’s about the action of doing.”
Update: January 17.
I just added the scans from Shape magazine. Be sure to check out the photo gallery to enjoy.