Jessica Chastain discusses prohibition drama Lawless
The actor has experienced a meteoric rise thanks to parts in The Tree of Life and The Help
Since bursting onto the scene with The Tree of Life a year ago, Jessica Chastain is collecting quite a few treasured memories. Like her time on the red carpet at Cannes, holding hands with her Tree of Life co-stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. 'I’d never done anything like that and they were very protective,' she explains. 'My whole body was shaking, and they were holding me up. Whenever I see a picture of that, it’s emotional because it’s the beginning of this journey for me.'
It’s a journey that has since seen this striking red-head star in a host of films – Israeli thriller The Debt, the sublime Take Shelter and Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus among them – and travel to the Oscars. Nominated for her breezy southern belle in last year’s breakout hit The Help, she took her grandmother to the awards as her date – another keep-sake moment. 'Her mouth was just open the whole time – she was so excited. It was really emotional for me to share that with her, because she took me to my first play when I was a little girl.'
Her grandma aside, the California-raised Chastain, 35, has been very careful about who she exposes to the glare of publicity. Like her younger siblings. 'I have a little brother and sister in high school and none of their friends know that I’m in the business – still. It’s been very important to my family to keep it private. We don’t want anyone treating my siblings differently. I’ve also heard stories where it’s hard to go home for Christmas, when people start to know where someone’s family is.'
Still, it’s going to be harder to maintain this if she keeps going the way she is. Already this year, she’s filmed Kathryn Bigelow’s forthcoming Osama bin Laden movie Zero Dark Thirty. Before that, there’s Lawless, a 1920s prohibition gangster film. The true story of the Bondurant brothers, Chastain plays Maggie, 'the only gun moll in the film', who hooks up with this trio of rural bootleggers. 'They are not experienced with women,' she notes, 'though they’re very experienced with violence.'
Co-starring Guy Pearce, Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf, Chastain had a remarkable research resource close to hand. Having just worked with director Ami Canaan Mann on Texas Killing Fields, it meant Chastain had access to her father, Michael Mann. Useful, when you consider his last film was 2009’s John Dillinger tale Public Enemies. 'He wanted to sit down with me, and he gave me books, and all this research he’d done. So he was very generous that way.'
Such has been the impact Chastain has made, in recent months she’s become as known for the things she’s had to drop out of. The Tom Cruise sci-fi Oblivion, Iron Man 3, and Princess Diana biopic Caught In Flight have all seen Chastain attached, then not. Heading instead to Broadway next for The Heiress, one thing’s for sure – she’s not going to be pushed around by agents. 'I’m the softie on the outside,' she smiles, 'and then you realise when you get to know me that I’m tough.'
Lawless is on general release from Fri 7 Sep.