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

"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." -- Chastain

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.


  • 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 .......

  • 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...