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by Nigel M Smith
September 14, 2013 10:15 AM
11 Comments
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Jessica Chastain Explains How She Helped Shape TIFF Wonder 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' With Director Ned Benson

James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain in "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her"

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.

"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." -- Chastain

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!

11 Comments

  • septimus | September 14, 2013 10:59 PMReply

    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.

  • Stephanie | September 16, 2013 6:46 AM

    Great thoughts. And exactly the way I feel about Jessica. She is truly one-of-a-kind and such a breath of fresh air in Hollywood. She not only has the acting chops and the right attitude, but she is a sweetheart. Like you I met her after The Heiress as well. I was not surprised she was such a nice person though, as you only need to take one look at her Facebook page to see how much she loves and appreciates her fans.

  • jean vigo | September 14, 2013 4:46 PMReply

    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.

  • Marie | September 14, 2013 2:55 PMReply

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

  • fro | September 14, 2013 2:32 PMReply

    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 ....... http://x.co/2Lo4j

  • haters gonna hate | September 14, 2013 1:53 PMReply

    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.

  • istanbul | September 14, 2013 2:00 PM

    -At least until she goes the way of Winona Ryder.

  • ISTANBUL | September 14, 2013 1:58 PM

    Don't worry, they'll be plenty of Oscar noms and self-congratulatory plaudits from the establishment to counter any infrequent "hate" she gets.

  • Alex | September 14, 2013 1:47 PMReply

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

  • Istanbul | September 14, 2013 12:08 PMReply

    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.

  • Susan | September 14, 2013 12:49 PM

    Chastain an "it-girl actress"? Please...