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

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire September 14, 2013 at 10:15AM

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."
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"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.

This article is related to: Jessica Chastain, Ned Benson, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers, Toronto International Film Festival, Romance, Drama, Interviews





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