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Jessica Chastain Explains How She Helped Shape TIFF Wonder ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ With Director Ned Benson

Jessica Chastain Explains How She Helped Shape TIFF Wonder 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' With Director Ned Benson

As Indiewire’s Eric Kohn declared in his review, you’d be hard pressed to find a project more “innovative” at the still underway 2013 Toronto International Film Festival than Ned Benson’s astonishingly ambitious two-part opus “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” Clocking in at a whopping 190 minutes (each film runs approximately half that length), “Rigby” examines the dissolution of a marriage
from the perspectives of both halves of the couple (played by Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy). The husband’s section is titled “Him”; the wife’s “Her.” Audiences in Toronto have been treated to the project in both orders, depending on the day.

Labeled as a “work in progress” cut for its premiere here in Toronto, “Rigby” came to the festival as a question mark only to emerge as one of the true hits of the event with a splashy buy courtesy of The Weinstein Company and stellar word of mouth. Indiewire sat down with Chastain and first-time feature filmmaker Benson to discuss the film’s 10-year journey to the screen, and the Toronto reaction to the film.

This film’s been 10 years in the making for the two of you. I caught a press screening of it the morning following its world premiere where I heard you got very emotional, Jess.

Chastain: I was very emotional trying not to cry. It’s so embarrassing. We’ve all known each other for 10 years. The past two years, being here is shocking. “Take Shelter” and “Coriolanus” were here two years ago. So my movies have not been out for very long. My life, the way it is now, it was a very quick thing. Sometimes people people think I’m used to it. It’s still very new to me.

It’s been a wonderful two years. It feels like my dreams have been coming true. But we all spent so much time going to see Hitchcock movies at the Aero theater, and Isabelle Huppert [who plays Chastain’s mother in the film] movies at the Ludlow, and dreaming of someday being in the movies and making films.

Yesterday, to be in an audience of 2,500 people, and to see the reception that it got, and basically see somebody that I love go through the experience that I’ve had for two years, is in a strange way more meaningful than when it happens to you. When you watch it and celebrate it for someone else… I was a wreck.

Benson: I don’t think it hit me till after when were at dinner. I just kind of lost it in front of Jess. It was a pretty special moment. You try to do this for so long. Since the moment I started writing the first one it’s been 10 years in the making. It’s pretty magic to be able to wake up every day and do this for a living.

Chastain: And no one likes to take a chance in the industry. It’s tough to take one on a newbie. I know it as an actor. It took forever to break through.

Benson: First-time filmmaker is a dirty word.

Chastain: Oh my god, it’s like, you want to get a film made? Good luck.

This is a remarkably ambitious directorial debut. What you made you take that leap with Ned, Jess?

Chastain: Well, I chased him down 10 years ago. I won tickets to the Malibu Film Festival when I first moved to Los Angeles. I went to see the shorts and there was an incredible short that he acted in and directed. I went up to him and said, “Sorry, I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m an actress and that was such a moving, beautiful short. Can I have please have my manager send you my reel because I’d really love to work with you someday.” I’d like done a guest spot on “ER.” That’s all I had on my reel! [Laughs]  And from that moment we became friends. He came to see me in plays off Broadway.

Benson: It’s crazy when I think about it, because that one moment defined it. It’s why it got made. She was still running around on auditions when I was writing the script. It’s insane that all of a sudden because her career took off this project got to take off too. It’s pretty amazing thing how one moment in your entire career, when you’re fighting to make it happen… we were just two kids trying to make movies.

Chastain: I was at a point in my career where I could help get the movie made. But also this was a very tough movie to get made. There were times when we didn’t think it would happen. There was a weekend when I had one offer that was a huge movie, lots of money, and then this. When I found out that it could happen, then I decided to do this.

I’m glad you chose this.

Chastain: Oh my god, me too!

I was shocked to learn after seeing it that you didn’t have both films in mind when first conceiving of the project, Ned. You initially just wrote “Him” as a standalone.

Benson: I’m all for inference. With that first script there’s a lot left to the imagination. And that’s where Jess…

Chastain: He has a bossy actress. [Laughs]

Benson: When Jess read the script she was like, “Where does this person go? Who is she?”

Chastain: But also, in cinema today — I’m such a feminist, I can’t help it [laughs] — we always get the male perspective. I want the female perspective too. He asked me if I wanted to play the part and I said, “Yes of course, I’d love to play the part.” But basically she’s serving his story. Where does she go? And maybe I was such a brat —

Benson: No, it spurred a whole conversation in my head. I knew the subtext, but I was like, alright, I’m going to write this out. And then I started writing it. As we were developing it I was giving her scenes and all of sudden there were two scripts.

It’s rare to hear of an actor coming on to the picture and changing the filmmaker’s vision.

Chastain: I didn’t change his vision.

You expanded it.

Chastain: In a group like we are, we all inspire each other.

Benson: That one question forced me to open it up and start thinking about it.

Chastain: He changed the first script. That script was on the black list. It was a great script. But when he actually started to write “Her” he realized “I’m going to connect these two.” So he went into a script that was already celebrated.

Benson: Once I’d finished the two I had to back to intertwine them in a way to make a cohesive whole.

Can either of you talk about the challenge of portraying the two sides of the relationship? The two scenes in which the couple interact differ not only in blocking from film to film, but in dialogue too.

Chastain: James and played two characters. I played Eleanor Rigby, but then I also played a character that was his perception of her. You don’t really go very deep into who she is because it’s his film. You can’t penetrate her. She’s distant, cold and mysterious and doesn’t know where she’s coming from. But then I got to play her from her point of view. That was very strange. I’d never done anything like that before.

Benson: It’s a feat of acting for both of them. If you think about it, Jess had to play his idea of that character. When somebody gets broken up with, their perception of that person is very cold.

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Chastain continues to impress and surprise me. Her range and technical ability is unrivalled among actresses of her age (she don't just look different, but sound different, in every film — a product of her formal Julliard School training). But perhaps what really impresses me is that, after so many years of struggle, she could have just cashed in her fame and do big blockbusters. Instead she is making these challenging independent films. She will also be in a new version of _Miss Julie_ (the lead role is an actress' dream), to be directed by Liv Ullmann herself! It is so easy to be cynical and jaded about cinema, but when you see someone like Jessica Chastain, you realize there is real hope.

I've met Chastain in person. It was after a performance of _The Heiress_ on Broadway. Despite having given an emotional, draining performance, she was incredibly warm and generous, signing autographs for her fans and posing for photos with them. (All of them happened to be female, except me, for whatever reason. I was the only one who shied away from photos.) She was the opposite of the self-absorbed movie star, radiating such incredibly empathy and emotional intelligence. In her own way, she is truly a genius.

jean vigo

It works like this
1. It's immaterial what any "moviegoer" thinks about Chastain.
2. What matters is what "value" is added to her name by "sales/equity" financiers who have their own computational formulas.
3. I sincerely doubt this film cost even $10M to make; far from it.
4. If the film is as good as the hype, then it's a testament to people who maintain long-standing relationships back when they were still "struggling." Kudos to her for helping get it off the ground because she believed in Benson's abilities. More of this is what's needed, imho, to sustain a viable indie marketplace.

Such a culture of fear permeates this biz, especially on the "suit" side of it (agents, execs, sales people) that the only courage comes from those who actually write, direct, perform, and those creative-minded producers who fight for the cause of the filmmakers they believe in.


What a interesting interview. And the movie seems fascinating too. Great concept, plot, characters.


Stella. I see what you mean… Elaine`s story is shocking, last week I bought a gorgeous Subaru Impreza since I been earnin $8311 thiss month and more than $10 thousand lass-month. it's by-far the nicest work I've ever done. I began this four months/ago and almost immediately was bringin in over $73, per-hr. her explanation …….

haters gonna hate

Well, Susan, JC is an it-girl if that means that everyone wants her in their movies right now, which they do, and that she can get difficult projects off the ground now, which she apparently can. She's about to star in 'The Zookeeper's Wife,' a WWII thriller which is told from a woman's POV (unusual for this genre too). JC seems like such a warm, authentic human being. But haters gonna hate no matter what.


I am so excited for this film. I am thrilled it was picked up. Been highly anticipating it for a long while now.


Hollywood people are so delusional, -which I guess is not surprising given an actor's ego and the way it gets fed in the business. An it-girl actress like Chastain is one of the biggest purveyor's of the "male perspective" in Hollywood, yet at the first chance she gets up on a soapbox. Please, if a "female perspective" is Zero Dark Thirty, I think we need to walk it back a little.

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