Jessica Chastain’s film debut came in 2008, when she starred as the title character in Jolene—a role that won her the Best Actress award at the Seattle International Film Festival. Since then, she’s been on a rapid upward trajectory: starring in Tree of Life with Brad Pitt, and in The Help alongside Emma Stone and Viola Davis. Her new film is John Madden’s The Debt, in which she plays Rachel Singer: a Mossad operative who, along with
Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington, is tasked with taking into custody a Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christensen) in 1966. The film takes place over two time periods; Chastain plays the young Singer, while
Helen Mirren plays her in 1997. The newly buffed action star sipped on a supersized Starbucks coffee while she talked about her new film, as well as her rapid rise to stardom.
You get the stuffi ng kicked out of you in this movie, more than once. I do. But I’m tough.
So should I be scared? Should I move my chair away from you? No!
Talk about working with Sam Worthington—he’s your leading guy in Texas Killing Fields, too. He became like my action coach, and he nicknamed me “Tommy Cruise.” I guess he was teasing me, because in my running scenes, I was running like Gumby—like, I had my arms by my side. And Sam told me, “You have to really pump your arms, like Tom Cruise. There’s nobody who runs better than Tom Cruise in a movie.”
How about starring with Helen Mirren as not quite your body double, but playing your older self? Oh my gosh, I was like, “This is is perfect. She’s five four and I’m five four!” But then it was like, “How on Earth am I going to share a role with Helen Mirren?” She’s like a goddess. So to hang out with her, I was a little
intimidated. There were moments where I was telling myself, “OK speak up. Don’t be too shy.”
What has the journey been like for you as an actress? Did you start out selling shoes or what? I was really lucky. I got to study at Julliard. I was on a scholarship from Robin Williams [the Robin Williams Scholarship is a two-year, full-tuition Juilliard scholarship], who’s an alumnus there. He actually made it possible for me to go to school there, because my family was not wealthy. I was the first one to go to college in my family. Most of my friends in school were worried, thinking, “Gosh, what am I going to be doing after graduation? Wait tables?” But I got work right away. I’ve always completely supported myself as an actor.
Now about meeting Robin Williams… I know someday I will meet him. I was telling someone in a restaurant the whole story, how he paid for everything, my school, books, back and forth home in California for Christmas, everything. And then as I was telling the story, Robin Williams comes into the restaurant and sits down at the table next to me. And my friend was like, “You need to go talk to him!” And I thought, “OK, I’ll wait until he’s done eating.” But before the waiter even cleared his plate away, he jumped up and ran out like he was running late. And I had the urge [to] run after him, and be like, “Oh my gosh, you changed my life.” But then I thought, “He’s gonna think I’m crazy!”
I saw you in this movie a while ago—when you were Jessica Chastain, of course—but you hadn’t yet become “Jessica Chastain.” So how is it getting used to being a celebrity with all these movies you’re in lately, including the smash hit The Help? I’m still unknown. I’ve only been recognized a couple of times in the past three or four months, even since Tree of Life came out. So it’s a very rare thing for me. I still get really shy on red carpets; I’m really nervous about them. But my life has been basically the same. I think like two people have come up to me and recognized me. But they said really nice things!