t a glance, Jessica Chastain is a Golden Globe winning, Oscar nominated Hollywood actress, tipped to become an industry legend, with a stunning portfolio of film roles and a career that shows no sign of decelerating. Many spectacular film performances and a private life that is kept largely under wraps, means it can be difficult to look beneath the roles she so expertly assumes. In reality, Chastain is an intelligent, strong and passionate woman who actively voices her concerns regarding gender in the film industry, using her position in the public eye to discuss issues that are affecting the money making machine that is Hollywood.
After a culmination of years of hard work, Chastain’s fierce rise to stardom is well deserving; attendance to Juilliard through a scholarship funded by Robin Williams was followed by playing a dead body as her first acting role. Chastain finally achieved stardom through the Palme d’Or winning film Tree of Life alongside Brad Pitt, and was propelled to the forefront of the Hollywood film industry in her thirties. She has since impressed audiences alongside Emma Stone in a racially divided 1960s Mississippi in The Help, and in Zero Dark Thirty as part of a team tracking down Osama Bin Laden. It is evident to say Chastain does not shy away from complex and challenging roles.
Dubbed as the next Meryl Streep, there is a unanimous feeling across the public and film industry that Chastain is here to stay. In an interview with The Telegraph she pinpoints the source of her predicted longevity as an actress. “If you’re playing the eye candy then sure, the roles dry up,” she says, “but the part I played in Interstellar for example, was meant to be played by a man.” It is clear that Chastain’s value and appeal lies outside of her youth and sexuality, as she admits that she has never been offered, what she calls “the babe roles”. Instead, it is clear that Chastain prefers the meatier, decidedly more badass characters, which is evident in her diverse repertoire of film roles. Her character in The Martian leads a rescue mission to Mars, whilst her role as a Mossad agent in The Debt required her to master the Israeli fighting system Krav Maga. This choice of roles alone is a clear indicator of her attitude towards the gender issue.
Perhaps her darkest role yet required her to assume the persona of a serial killer in Crimson Peak, a character who poisons the women that marry her brother before caring for them as they die. Chastain told The Guardian how she read up on female serial killers in preparation for the film, and created her own unique understanding of the character. “I played it that her fantasies are more about women than men”, she revealed to the paper, the depth of Chastain’s understanding indicating a level of intelligence and perception that explains her awards success. On her character Anna in A Most Violent Year she explains how “she understands that in 1980s NYC it’s a man’s world, and if she’s going to be the most powerful person in the room […] she’ll do it behind the scenes.” It is clear Chastain takes her work extremely seriously and becomes completely absorbed in the characters she takes on.
Despite her recent steep ascent to fame, Chastain has managed to remain grounded, confessing in an interview with The Independent, “I don’t get used to it, I feel like I’ve found a place in the industry, but that I’m observing everyone […] That I’ve got into the coolest concert ever and I’m backstage […] I don’t feel like I’m part of the band”. Perhaps it is this attitude that has afforded her the ability to make critical observations of the film industry’s approach to gender, as she often uses interviews and social media as a platform to highlight and discuss issues. In an interview with The Guardian in 2015 Chastain recalled her disappointment at the lack of balance at the previous year’s Oscars. “Last year at the Oscar’s I was so disappointed, all the Best Picture nominees, not one of them had a female protagonist,” she said, highlighting fundamental flaws in the roles given to actresses. Comparing this to the 2016 Oscars where four out of seven films nominated had a leading actress, there is perhaps hope that the views of figures such as Chastain are gradually having an impact. She has also pointed out the gross injustice of the gender pay gap, telling the publication how a fellow female actress had been paid significantly less than her male counterpart. “This woman, she’s very famous and she’s been nominated for many many Oscars”, she revealed. “For one film the man got paid 4 million and she got 250, 000”. Perceptively commenting that “the only industry where women get paid more than men are industries where their value lies in their body,” Chastain has also spoken out on another crucial imbalance, stating “it’s silly that we don’t have more female directors […] a good director is a good director.” As an industry that extends it influence to such a vast audience, it is easy to agree with Chastain that Hollywood should be taking responsibility and leading the fight for gender equality, rather than lagging behind.
Not only does Chastain boast incredible talent and fierce determination, she also has enviable style on and off the red carpet. Speaking to Stylist magazine she explains how she finds fashion to be “incredibly emotional […] it’s an expression of this is how I’m feeling today”, a sentiment that is easily seen in the dazzling array of different dresses and styles she has been photographed in. Sharing a stylist with the likes of Cate Blanchette, Julia Roberts and Freida Pinto her red carpet looks rarely disappoint, and the stunning red-head beautifully showcases fifties style skater skirts, plunging necklines, dramatic gowns and of course the classic Hollywood red lip. Not afraid of a bright colour, Chastain proves that red heads need not worry about coordinating hair and outfits whilst beautifully mixing modern, clean cut pieces with touches of retro glamour.
Whilst her look encapsulates classic Hollywood allure, it is clear that Chastain is not your typical starlet. Having just launched the all-female production company Freckle Films, Chastain looks set to change the landscape of the film industry, paving the way for female producers, directors, actresses and the like, as well as being an inspiration to young girls everywhere. This woman proves style, success and strong opinions can all work hand in hand.
Words by Phoebe Williams