When Jessica Chastain received the MVP Award at the 2015 Critics Choice Awards for her performance in “Interstellar,” she spoke up about the lack of roles and stories for women across the industry. During a press conference following her speech, the actor-producer was asked, “What are your plans now on creating inclusivity?” That sparked the idea of founding her production company, Freckle Films.
“I went ‘well, okay, here I go. I need to put my money where my mouth is, and I need to start creating a company that will offer some opportunities for women and also highlight the stories that perhaps have been unheard and invisible,’” she said during a Variety Power of Women: Conversations event, presented by Lifetime and moderated by Kate Aurthur.
Last year, her company produced its first feature film, “The 355,” (now slated to debut in January 2021) that boasts actors including Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Chastain.
The project was first introduced to buyers at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, when Chastain found herself surrounded by action film posters featuring all-male ensembles. She looked around and said to her manager, “I have longed to work with other actresses. There’s so many people that I admire, but it feels like the industry doesn’t want us in a room together. Why do they never make stories with a group of women?”
So when casting “The 355,” Chastain put together a wish list of women actors she had hoped to collaborate with. “Everyone that I had asked to be a part of it were excited to be a part of it,” she said. “I said ‘the only thing is if you say yes, you’re the owner of the film which means you have to come to Cannes to sell the film’ — and they did.”
Kelly Carmichael, president of production at Freckle Films, explained that the creative process focused on providing opportunities for women actors to build characters they were interested in portraying in a spy film.
“Penélope Cruz, for example, had mentioned to us that she often had gotten stereotyped as this feisty Latina woman, and she wanted to play something else that showed another side of her personality that we haven’t seen her explore on screen,” added Chastain, pointing out that it was important for them to push against such typecasting practices.
Looking to the future, Chastain and Carmichael believe there are many more stories to tell with women actors and creatives. Reflecting on her initiative to produce movies, Chastain encouraged others to act toward the changes they hope to see: “You need to empower yourself, and you need to ask yourself what you can do in any industry. If you feel like there are injustice or there are flaws in a system you’re working in, change it; do what you can. Start making changes and people will follow.”