Oscars 2022: Jessica Chastain: “Several colleagues have told me to stop talking, to be careful” | Culture | icon

Actress Jessica Chastain, nominated for an Oscar for 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye' and also the protagonist and producer of the action film 'Agents 355'.
Actress Jessica Chastain, nominated for an Oscar for ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ and also the protagonist and producer of the action film ‘Agents 355’.Charlie Gray

Jessica Chastain (California, 44 years old) celebrates these months her first decade in the cinema. “Can you believe it?” She wonders in a room at the María Cristina hotel in San Sebastián. “Are you going to bring me a cake? Because this celebration… She points to the juice detox a green one who sips from a straw and the one with two identical glasses on his little table (they just brought him the second one without telling him what was wrong with the first one). Among many other things, Chastain has dedicated this decade to, among many other things, trying to get a movie about televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker off the ground.

During the 1980s, Bakker and her husband Jim built an empire based on evangelical Christian preaching that included a television channel and a theme park. When he was arrested for embezzlement, her media coverage turned Tammy Faye into a national joke for her outpouring of naivety, enthusiasm and makeup. The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which opens on February 25, has earned Chastain one of the Oscar nominations for best actress. It is not the first film as an actress and producer that Chastain has released this year. agents 355, about a group of international superspies that also includes Penélope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing, is still on the bill. This year, Chastain is on the boil.

The world discovered her premiere from The Tree of Life (2011) at Cannes, when she walked the red carpet with Brad Pitt on one side and Sean Penn on the other, evoking the glamor of classic Hollywood. He actually didn’t let go of their arms because he was afraid his legs would give out. I was not overwhelmed by connecting with other artists through my work, but by being in front of the media. It’s the first time I realize this, as I’m telling you. In the same way that the media devoured Tammy, in a sense they devour all women by treating them like merchandise.” In 2011, five other films were released with Jessica Chastain, and this woman who was embarrassed to be sung to Happy Birthday in public she found herself presenting in a year a film in Berlin, another in Toronto, two in Cannes and another two in Venice.

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Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield in 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye'
Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield in ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’

The succession in poster Take Shelter, Debt or maids and ladies it functioned as a showcase for his amazing versatility. She began to receive epithets such as “The best actress of her generation” or, according to her discoverer Al Pacino, (who signed her to star in his Salome on Broadway) “The Next Meryl Streep.” New York Times he praised her ability to “infuse inner emotional life into her characters” and fashion magazines compared her beauty to that of Rita Hayworth, Liv Ullman or a Botticelli painting. She felt that it was only a matter of time before she disappointed all those people. “I am the unknown that everyone is fed up with,” she said then.

In his Golden Globe acceptance speech for Zero Dark Thirty (2012), the actress warned that she had worked very hard to get there. Variety published the anonymous statement of a Hollywood PR warning that such comments tended to be unfriendly. Not like the new hot girl, Jennifer Lawrence, who everyone liked. It was then that rumors began to spread that the two actresses were getting along terrible, to which Chastain, instead of letting it go, opened his Facebook and posted a denial (a common practice today, but not in 2013). He hasn’t been quiet since.

“There were critics and journalists who did not like that my character in Zero Dark Thirty I didn’t have a love story,” he recalls. “I spent that promotional campaign explaining that this woman was defined by her work, not her relationships. And it was very shocking to society because it didn’t fit with the media’s idea of ​​what a woman is. Since then, I started to say what I thought.” And he continues, without taking his eyes off the faces of his publicist: “Several colleagues in the industry, friends of mine who love me and want the best for me, have told me to stop talking, to be careful about saying too much. , that they are worried that he will not have a long career.

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Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain pose during the after party for the premiere of the play 'Salome' in Los Angeles in 2006.
Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain pose during the after party for the premiere of the play ‘Salome’ in Los Angeles in 2006.Stephen Shugerman (Getty Images)

Chastain was coming from the theater. At the age of 21, she got a scholarship at Juilliard, the most prestigious Fine Arts school in the United States, which allowed her to be the first in her family to receive a university education. At that time she got used to playing complex female characters, but when she landed in Hollywood she found that the cinema did not have much to offer her. Not even after her two consecutive Oscar nominations. In 2016 she founded Freckle Films, a production company named after the freckles on her body that gave her a complex as a child. “I wanted to use my career for political cinema, to address how we see gender, race, class, sexual identity and sexual preference,” she sums up.

Over the past decade, the conversation in Hollywood has paralleled Chastain’s guts. The actress is one of the most visible faces of this new sensitivity: in 2017 she pointed out on Twitter the sexual abuse of which the filmmaker Bryan Singer was accused, the same one who was producing the very expensive commercial bet X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019). When asked about Johnny Depp’s habit of acting with an earpiece in his ear so as not to have to learn her lines, he clarified that she prefers to “be professional” and learn the script. In 2018, when it became known that the producers always negotiated with the actor first to offer the actress the leftover money, she denounced this system in the press. In 2011, she helped Octavia Spencer, the unquestionable star of Maids and Ladies, to charge five times what she asked for her role.

“There was a moment in Cannes that…I didn’t plan on saying it and it went viral,” he explains. She refers to the closing press conference of the festival in 2017, where she participated as a jury. She confessed that she had found the portrayal of female characters in the films in the official section “disturbing”. If the festival included female filmmakers, she said, there would be more diversity in the female characters in the films in the official section. “After I said it I thought, ‘Ugh, did I just put a disservice to a festival that has been so generous to me?’ But in the end she turned out fine. Thierry Fremaux [director del festival de Cannes] He said a year later that he was very grateful that we had talked about women because he had made changes in that regard.” She herself has experienced those changes. I don’t think things before I say them, I just say them. There have been times where I’ve thought, ‘Wow, she’s becoming something big now.’

Fan Bingbing, Marion Cotillard, Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz and Lupita Nyong'o at the presentation of 'Agents 355' at the Cannes festival.
Fan Bingbing, Marion Cotillard, Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz and Lupita Nyong’o at the presentation of ‘Agents 355’ at the Cannes festival.George Pimentel (WireImage)

“Early in my career, every time I had an idea for a scene, it was met with a negative attitude, like, ‘That’s it again…’. I had to talk to the actor and tell him my idea so that he could propose it to the director. I had to disguise my contributions. Now I don’t have to work like that anymore. I am not interested in working with people who are cruel, stupid or who do not have a collaborative attitude, ”he says. She has also noted that being a producer and an actress in a film means accepting two conflicting roles: “The producer wants the film to be made, the actress wants more time.” This clash caused him real trouble when it came to approaching a character that required as much preparation as Tammy Faye Bakker: the more he resembled her, the more risk she would run of falling into her caricature. “I was afraid that for the rest of my life they would say, ‘Oh, Jessica Chastain’s Tammy Faye is crazy.’ I had to expose myself to complete ridicule for this role, which is not fun. I was afraid that joke would haunt me for my entire career, but I had to face it.”

Tammy Faye’s eyes avoid falling into ridicule because he treats his protagonist with affection. And it fits into the current revisionist current that examines how certain women (Britney Spears, Monica Lewinsky, Rocío Carrasco) were treated in the press of the 1990s and at the beginning of this century. That does not mean that she avoids her eccentricity but, far from perpetuating the parody that the media and comedy shows made of her, the film portrays her as a woman who succeeded in a male industry and who advocated unconditional love: in 1985, Two years before President Ronald Reagan uttered the word AIDS for the first time in public, Bakker interviewed a patient on his show and defended his dignity as a human being and a “child of God.”

Bakker said that when “everything went to waste”, only the gay community came to his “rescue”. “And I will always love them for it,” he assured. After her scandalous divorce, Bakker was vindicated as a gay icon, thanks to which Chastain discovered her: the 2000 documentary Tammy Faye’s eyes, narrated by RuPaul, is the basis for the film of the same title. “Tammy was fabulous campBut I didn’t want to be alone in that. She liked to have fun and make others laugh, but I only saw loneliness in everything she did. Even when she was funny. She was a single woman. That is why she wanted to love others, the marginalized, because she felt marginalized”.

As a producer, Chastain believes that the best strategy is to alternate adult films such as Tammy Faye’s eyes with other businesses like Agents 355. The idea for the latter occurred to him precisely during that Cannes festival in 2017. “I felt a certain… sadness. I looked around and saw all these posters and all these people looking for financing for movies full of male casts. I turned to my agent and said, ‘Why are they all men? Why doesn’t anyone want to make an action movie about a group of women?’ And she told me ‘I think you’re going to have to find a way to do it yourself’. Agents 355 It is produced through a kind of cooperative: the five of them would be the owners of the film and the profits would be divided. Several Hollywood studios tried to buy it from him, but refused: “They already had their chance to make this movie.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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