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Jessica Chastain is Slumming It and Loving It

Jessica Chastain is Slumming It and Loving It

Since coming out of seemingly nowhere in 2011 to become one of Hollywood’s most sought after talents, two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain has not slowed down. She can currently be seen in Ned Benson’s directorial debut “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” (the longer cut, “Him/Her”, opens October 10), which she produced. This fall sees the release of her first film with Christopher Nolan, “Interstellar,” and the thriller “A Most Violent Year,” in which she co-stars opposite Oscar Isaac. And she was just in Toronto to world premiere “Miss Julie,” her drama directed by Liv Ullman. Despite all this activity, Chastain is actually on a much-needed break from acting. Indiewire sat down with the actress in New York to find out what prompted the decision to lay low for a few months.

READ MORE: Jessica Chastain Explains How She Helped Shape ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ With Director Ned Benson

You were everywhere in 2011 and ran the risk of being overexposed. Yet you’re still here and more revered than ever. How did you manage the crazy expectations placed upon you when you first broke out?

I remember I saw some headlines of some articles that year and I was like, “Woah.” [Laughs] There were a lot of very heavy expectations on what my career would be and I just thought like listen, this is the first year that I’ve had movies in the movie theater, people are liking that and that’s a great thing. I am not interested in being the ‘IT’ girl or the flavor of the month because then I know there’s always going to be another ‘IT’ girl.

I’m a private person when it comes to my personal life and I love being out there talking about film and whatnot, but I try to avoid any tabloid stuff as much as I can because I think sometimes when a person is overexposed it really hurts them as an actor because when you see them as the character, you see them as the celebrity playing the character. You can’t forget and fall into the movie and the world of the film.

That’s how I’ve tried to be the past two years. I’ve been taking a break, this is the first break I’ve taken since this all began, actually since even before I started shooting “The Help” and “Take Shelter”; I’ve been going nonstop since then. And since I finished working with Guillermo del Toro — who I am obsessed with and I love — in the beginning of May, I haven’t worked. Haven’t taken another film, which is huge for me because I’m normally going from set to set or start immediately working on something. I’ve had some time off and I’ve noticed a big change in my life. I love being on a set and being with other artists, but my happiness has actually raised a lot because now I have the time to spend with my family that’s not them coming to visit me on a set when I’m distracted. I can really be present with another person and that’s a great gift. 

Was it a conscious choice on your part to take this break, or was it because no good projects were coming your way?

No it was a conscious choice. I shot two films at once at the beginning of the year: “Crimson Peak” and J.C. Chandor’s film, “A Most Violent Year.” One was in New York and one was in Toronto and it was like the coldest winter — and we were outside. One was a girl from Brooklyn and one was a woman from 1905 who was British — completely different personalities but flying back and forth!  It’s something I wouldn’t do again. I’m glad I did them ’cause I love the films, but it completely drained me. When I finished I got to a point where I just was like: I’m so unhappy. [Laughs] Which is not my personality! So I just thought, okay, I just need to just kind of re-evaluate what I am doing and who I am instead of a character I am playing. 

What’s it going to take to bring you back?

It’s not going to take a lot to bring me back. I love it, it’s my great passion, but I’m just really enjoying this time so when — and I believe everything happens for a reason — something pops up that I feel super excited to go to work again I’ll be there. 

Ned is a first-time filmmaker. What does it take for a first-timer to grab your attention and make you want to take that leap?

I like it when someone has their own distinctive kind of view. When they’re not just a technician hired by a producer or by a studio. I really respond to an artist that is an individual. Like if you look at the filmmakers I work with, or I have been lucky to work with: Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Nolan, J.C. Chandor, Ned Benson, Jeff Nichols, and then there’s Terrence Malick, Kathryn Bigelow, they’re all so incredibly different.

And accomplished.

And accomplished, but also some, like Jeff Nichols, that was his second film. He did “Shotgun Stories” for I think $58,000 before that. But I really responded to “Shotgun Stories” and “Take Shelter” is a very different film than “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” it’s a very different film than “Crimson Peak” — and it’s because of the directors I’m working with. I don’t want to be the most important part of a film, do you know what I mean? I want the director to be. I want it to feel like them, otherwise I’m in the same lead over and over again. 

Now you have the power to get a film from an unknown filmmaker funded just by attaching your star power to the project. What’s that like?

[Laughs] It depends on the project!

I’m talking very indie.

It’s amazing. It’s super exciting that any part of me being attached to a film can help get it made. I am an actor because I am a film fan first, and when I go to film festivals I make it a point to see other people’s movies, and I especially make it a point to see not just the films of the seasoned directors. I want to see who everyone is whispering about — the really young, up and coming directors. That’s exciting for me because to me they’re the future, just like new actors. What are we all going to be talking about in ten years? Where’s this industry heading? What different points of view are coming out? So the idea that perhaps I can meet someone so interesting and exciting and innovative and help them tell their story, get their vision out there, of course that changes everything for me. 

You were talking earlier about how you’ve steered clear of becoming tabloid fodder and yet you’re so active on Facebook. You share so much of your day-to-day with your fans on your page. What went into that choice?

Well, I love my Facebook page because of what I can do on it. I remember at one point I was talking about Isabelle Huppert — this was before we even made the movie — and how much I loved her. So I asked my fans, what other performances do you guys love? And I go these incredible lists! I’m the nerdy girl that like wants to talk about things like that. I post pictures of my dog and I try to keep it as positive as possible. I don’t post pictures of anything that I deem like too private. I’ve never posted a selfie. 

That’s true. 

I’m not the girl who posts a picture of myself in a bikini. I know that gets a lot of exposure, but I’m not so interested in that part of social media. I am interested in the idea of connecting to other film fans.

Do you manage the page yourself?

I do it all myself. There’s no like PR person in there tweaking it, changing something because they are afraid it’s going to look bad. Like during the Oscar season there was this whole, crazy, annoying — which always happens to women— thing about a feud between me and another actress. I was so angry about it that, so I immediately — I was like on an airplane or something sitting at the gate [laughs] — wrote in my cell phone to put it on Facebook. I love that I can do that and I don’t have to call someone and go, “You know what? This is bothering me. Could we put a statement out?” I can just immediately I write something and then other people can pick it up.  

You control your own public image. 

Yeah and it’s not even about controlling it it’s about, this is how I feel. [Laughs]

Blake Lively just launched her own lifestyle site, following Gwyneth Paltrow’s lead. You’re clearly web savvy. Would you ever go down that route?

Probably not a home site. I would be like terrible for that. But yeah, there’s so many things out there that could be interesting. Like even the whole idea of the ice bucket challenge. It’s really kind of like changed the game of social media. I mean, they’ve raised over $50 million. If you look at that compared to last year it’s crazy. So the idea of now using social media to put a positive impact on the world — that’s what’s really exciting to me about it.

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