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Honor Roll 2012: Jessica Chastain on the Obsessive Secrets of Her Role in 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire December 17, 2012 at 10:51AM

On a rare day off from performing on Broadway in "The Heiress," Chastain sat down with Indiewire in a posh suite at the Ritz Carlton overlooking Central Park to discuss "Zero Dark Thirty."
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Zero Dark

You slay one of the most quotable lines of the year: "I'm the motherfucker who found this place." It brought the house down, in a good way, at my screening. I can imagine that was a tough line to own and deliver.

Yeah! Especially for someone who doesn’t really cuss. It could go so cheesy. It could be like “The Terminator.”

Was that the hardest scene to play?

I found every scene with Maya difficult. The scenes where I’m talking to Kyle Chandler and I go, “Twenty detainees recognize this photo of...,” and I had all this information about it, but I have to make it be like, “[snaps fingers three times in quick succession] We’re just talking here, it’s not a big deal,” and I’m talking really fast. A scene like that requires a lot of work, and we were moving really fast when we were shooting. And it’s a lot of work when you’re thinking, “I have three lines in the film, and one of them is that line.” What I do is I just play with the reality of the situation: what happens when this girl, for close to a decade, works on this thing. No one believes in her lead, no one listens to her. She finally finds something, she gets traction, she takes it to the head of the CIA, she’s there and they tell her, “Okay, you sit in the back.” And I sat there and watched everyone else take ownership of the model, which I made with my own hands. When they start saying, “This is here, and this is here,” and they’re acting like it’s their thing... and when [Leon] Panetta says, “How far is this from the Military Academy?” and someone answers in a half-assed way, Maya says – by the feet – how far it is. And when he looks at her and says, first of all, “Who are you?” to be talking to me when you’re not being spoken to?


"Next year at some point, I need to sit in a room by myself and be like, 'Where do you want to go, Jessica?' because this year and a half has been...a lot."

All I had to do was have inside of me the subtext of what the entire scene was already. It’s like someone touching my stuff, and that scene is about claiming what’s mine. It makes it easier to say a line like that, because then you’re not thinking about that being a line of film that everyone would talk about. I just played it as real as possible, and that’s what she would’ve done. And the next time she’s in that room, she’s not sitting in the back of the room. She’s at the table.

What attributes do you share with Maya, if any?

You would imagine that there’d be a lot, but there’s less than you think. I grew up in Northern California, I’m a vegan, I despise competition, it makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t really cuss so much. I’m happy, and I’m very emotional.

But there is one thing I can understand with her, and that is obsession. And also – she was an ‘A’ student, I was never an ‘A’ student. I did horribly in school, until Juilliard. Juilliard was the very first time I started to really succeed at something. That’s when I realized: It’s not that I’m not smart, it’s not that I can’t do this – it’s just that nothing has really ever interested me before. I hadn’t found someone to light the passion inside of me. And when a subject inspires me, I can stay up all night reading about it. I can forget to eat.

I became like that with Maya. I was so blown away by the sacrifices she made, and the loss of self. It really is an interesting story because you see the evolution of this woman, where, along the way, she becomes a stranger to herself. At the very end, she’s confronted with that. That’s something that I share with her, because, next year at some point, I need to sit in a room by myself and be like, “Where do you want to go, Jessica?” because this year and a half has been... a lot.

This article is related to: Honor Roll 2012, Interviews, Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty





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