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.
The old adage goes, if you want a thing done well, do it yourself. That’s the approach Jessica Chastain has taken with The 355 – an all-new spy team movie that sees her unite with the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penelope Cruz, and Fan Bingbing in the name of international espionage. Except, the concept of an all-female spy team wasn’t something Chastain has seen done badly, per se, more that it hadn’t really been done properly. While former X-Men boss Simon Kinberg is director and co-writer on The 355, one of the driving forces behind the project has been Chastain herself, working behind the scenes as a producer, as well as placing CIA agent Mason ‘Mace’ Brown on screen.
“Instead of waiting for studios to do it, I think we have to take matters into our own hands,” she tells Empire in the new issue. “I thought, ‘What if I call a bunch of incredible actresses who I have always wanted to work with, and we all show up at Cannes together to raise the financing for the picture?’ So that’s what we did.”
With the aforementioned roster of co-stars, The 355 looks set to introduce a global spy team in which each member brings something different to the table. “I grew up in an era of spy films that felt really nationalistic, really insular,” Chastain explains. “I want to move away from nationalism. [In espionage] it’s a benefit to be diverse. Everyone’s uniqueness is their superpower. That’s why we chose the story we chose and the actors we chose.”
Read the full story about how Chastain willed The 355 into being by clicking here.
Jessica Chastain explains what it is like to quarantine with her grandmother, discusses the inspiration behind her female-centered new film The 355 and talks about what it was like filming during the pandemic.
Jessica Chastain revealed that The 355 came out of seeing little to no action films featuring women ensembles. After learning about the women involved in international espionage while working on Zero Dark Thirty, the producer and star said she knew a story about women spies was worth telling.
During the New York Comic Con Saturday panel, Chastain joined The 355 co-stars Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing to talk the impact they hope The 355 will have on audiences and the movie industry.
“My goals and dreams for The 355 is that we just accept the fact that women are awesome and tough and bada**,” Chastain said. “I’m excited for society to start acknowledging what’s happening in our world.”
The 355, directed by Simon Kinberg, kicks off when a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands. Wild card CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown (Chastain) will need to join forces with rival badass German agent Marie (Kruger), former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah (Nyong’o) and skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela (Cruz) on a lethal, breakneck mission to retrieve it, while also staying one-step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Fan) who is tracking their every move.
While the ideation of The 355 stemmed from her time working on Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain said the actual inspiration for the film’s title itself goes back to the 1860’s. She explained that the series of numbers was actually code for the first woman spy in the American Civil War, a woman who has since gone unnamed and under-appreciated. Given the significance of the numbers, Chastain said she and her co-stars think of the film’s title like a “badge of honor.”
The film, which sees the women face off against each other and eventually their common foes, required amounts of rehearsals and hours of combat training, Kruger said. While training for fight scenes is nothing uncommon for action films, especially those heavily featuring male ensembles, the stars also shared that they had to train to fight in heels and more feminine clothing than men.
Kruger said that working with a cast and crew on a film that centers women made she and her cast mates feel valued. She added that the women were even allowed to bring their children on set, which made production feel like a family. Fan, who said Chastain asked her to join the project shortly after serving on the Cannes jury, said that The 355 was an opportunity to learn from her fellow actresses.
When making a film, Chastain said she often thinks about how 13 year-old girls will feel. Citing The Martian and Interstellar, she said she’s proud to know that young girls can see women represented in impressive career paths and thrive in extraordinary circumstances.
“We all know that when you see examples of it that it’s possible, I wanted to show how important women are in society, especially in the international espionage field,” she said.
Theresa Rebeck and Kinberg wrote the script. The film is produced by Chastain and Kelly Carmichael for Chastain’s Freckle Films and by Kinberg for his Genre Films. Richard Hewitt exec produces. Huayi Brothers has Chinese distribution rights.
The Universal spy film is set to release domestically on Jan. 15.
You can also read the following articles related to New York Comic Con 2020.
A Q&A with Moni Yakim and Jessica Chastain on Moni’s work as a movement instructor at Juilliard where he is a founding faculty member.
Moni Yakim has taught movement at Juilliard since 1968. A new film, or rather a documentary, titled “Creating a Character: The Moni Yakim Legacy” captures his impact on scores of actors. (Available via First Run Features)
“He’s not a coddler. He demands 100 percent of you,” says Jessica Chastain.
More details can be found here: Nytimes.com
Onscreen, “Unorthodox” star Shira Haas breaks free of her restrictive upbringing to start a new life as an artist. Offscreen, she’s simply a breakout — as one the year’s most exciting rising stars.
The 24-year-old actress, who lives in Tel Aviv, portrays Esther “Esty” Shapiro on the Netflix limited series. She’s playing a story based on real life: As directed by Maria Schrader, with a largely female creative team and crew, “Unorthodox” is adapted from Deborah Feldman’s 2012 best-selling memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.”
But within a version of Feldman’s story, Haas finds something entirely new. Her work brings to mind the naivety of Carey Mulligan in “An Education” and the harder edges of Jennifer Garner from “Alias.”
On a recent afternoon, Haas spoke on a Zoom call with Jessica Chastain, her co-star in the 2017 war drama “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” about the role, how she prepared and why the show has struck a nerve.
Jessica Chastain: I’ve missed you so much. Where are you right now?
Shira Haas: I’m in Tel Aviv. It’s morning for you, isn’t it?
Chastain: Yeah, in this strange time when morning will last 12 hours.
Haas: That’s how I feel. Every day is upside down, but hopefully it will pass, like everything else.
Chastain: I loved your show. We’re here to talk about “Unorthodox,” and I am so proud of you.
Haas: It means so much for me to hear it from you. I can retire. That’s all.
Chastain: Stop it. How long was the shoot?
Haas: We started in May last year. I came like two months before for some preparation, but the shooting itself was something like four months. It was mostly in Berlin, because they kind of faked the indoor of New York in Berlin in the studios. And all the outdoors we shot in New York for like a week, because you really can’t fake New York streets in Berlin.
Chastain: I don’t think you can fake New York anywhere. Were you familiar with the book it was based on before you got the script?
Haas: I knew it. I didn’t read it, but I knew about it, because it’s such a big best seller. And after I knew it was going to happen, I read it and it only took me a few hours, and then I read it again and again. And even though the TV series is so different, some of it is really inspired by it. I took as much as I possibly can from the book.
Chastain: What were the feelings that first came to you when you read the script?
Haas: I was amazed by it. First of all, it’s very rare to have an opportunity to play such a strong and complicated lead character. To Esty, every time someone asks if I’m similar to her, I’m like: “I hope so.” I think that when I was really young, I was very curious. I always had questions. For Esty, it’s also her curse, asking too much doesn’t fit in for where she belongs.
Chastain: How did the script come to you? Was it something that was out there that you knew about, that you fought for?
Haas: I’d been told that it was for a German TV series. No one mentioned Netflix. They tried to keep it a secret. They only sent me a few scenes. I loved it. The director and the producers came to Israel to meet me. I fought for it.
Chastain: See this is crazy, because I thought while I was watching you that you must’ve naturally spoke Yiddish. But that’s something you learned for the role?
Haas: Nada. My grandparents obviously knew it, but I never heard them talk. My parents were born in Israel, so they don’t know how to speak it. I didn’t know a word. It was a very long process. I had the most amazing teacher, Eli Rosen. I recorded him and I listened to it while I was cleaning dishes or stuff like that. I went to sleep with Yiddish and woke up with Yiddish.
Chastain: One thing I really want to talk about is that the series has a female creative team — the directors, writer, producers and more. Did that impact the series for you?
Haas: Of course. Our director, Maria Schrader, is also a great actress, so it was really helpful. The director was female, the producers, the creator, the camera crew; there were so many women in this crew, which unfortunately is so rare. It’s always nice to have it, but in this specific story, it’s a story about a woman who is trying to find her voice. You can really feel the sensitivity. I really felt protected with them. I felt like they listened to me.
Chastain: Having a set that had more women on it … I’ve worked on both kind of sets and done nudity. Did you feel also when you talked about feeling protected, did you feel like your nude scene that you had in this series, did it feel like a safer environment?
Haas: Yeah, that’s not something that scares me. But it is very important to me to talk about it. For me, it’s always important to understand what’s being seen. And the fact that it was Maria, and there were female creators, really helped me to be very open about what I preferred to show, what is less comfortable for me.
Chastain: In addition to all of the research you had done months before, was there any daily ritual that you did before you got on set to play her?
Haas: Before we started shooting, I asked for the costume designer for a few — they’re called tichale, the hats that you have when you are married. I would wear it a lot. It was something in Esty’s costume that could really bring the physicality of this character. Wearing it helped me find her movement. And music always helped me. Since she had a lot of flashbacks, it was very important for me to know the chronological way of scenes and the journey that she’s going through.
Chastain: It was very clear, when watching your work, how specific it was. I imagine it wasn’t shot like this, because things are never shot like this usually. But it felt like it was shot in chronological order.
Haas: No, no — not at all. On the last day, we shot by the lake. The first day was the shaving scene.
Chastain: What was that like? Because in a sense you’re shedding Shira, right?
Haas: This is so true. That’s one heck of an opening right at the start. But then I thought that it’s good not to wait for it. I don’t need to wait and be like, “Oh my God, in 10 days it’s going to happen.” It really made me very commit to the role. It was a hardcore start, but I really understood the character. It’s only like 20 seconds of a scene. But you really have almost all of her conflict — because she’s looking forward to her married life, and she’s really excited and happy. She’s also very scared and saying goodbye to her childhood.
Chastain: How does it feel that the show has been such a success on Netflix?
Haas: I always believed in the show, and I love my character, of course. But I was not expecting that. To have such a universal love from so many different people from the U.S. and U.K., and Argentina and Israel; it’s amazing to get that love. It’s amazing so many people have seen it. Even though I’m in my home all day, I can still really feel the love. And really, it’s amazing. I’m very, very, very grateful for that, really. I truly am.
Chastain: You blew me away in this series. You blew me away when we worked together on “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” From the moment I met you, I just thought, “This is a very important actress.” Should we talk about how we met?
Haas: It was love at first sight.
Chastain: It was for me. I heard about you from Niki Caro, our director of “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” She had talked to me about your performance, how incredible of an actress you are, how you had kind of created this instinctual, emotional energy around your character. I was like, “Oh great. I’m so excited.”
Haas: When was the first time — maybe like at dinner or something? I remember the first scene we shot.
Chastain: The first thing we shot, was it the scene when I give you the blanket?
Haas: Yeah, in the cages downstairs.
Chastain: I remember, and perhaps it’s good that we don’t remember the first time we met, because in that scene I’m trying to get you to talk to me, to open up to me. So I remember sitting there and studying you as you were doing that scene, and really seeing what an actress you are. In our profession, we’re thrown into these situations, with people we don’t know. You’re hoping that someone is going to bring something out in yourself, teach you about yourself, teach you about a scene in a new way. And you absolutely did that for me. Your work is profound. I knew it that day working with you for the first time. I see it talking to you, and I see it in all of your work.
Haas: You are so supportive and such a huge role model, but also a partner. And thank you for that. I mean, what the hell? You are the best.