James Gray’s autobiographical new film “Armageddon Time” was already one of the more hotly anticipated titles to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, but audiences received an additional surprise in the form of an unexpected cameo. Jessica Chastain, hot off her Oscar win for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” makes an appearance in the film as Maryanne Trump, the sister of former President Donald Trump.
Chastain appears in one brief scene, speaking to children at the prestigious Kew-Forest School in New York City. She gives a speech steeped in conservative rhetoric, lecturing the wealthy students on the value of hard work and ambition. She is accompanied by Fred Trump, Donald’s father, who reappears at the end of the film. The scene was inspired by a real speech that Maryanne Trump gave at the school when Gray was a student there.
Gray has long been open about Trump’s appearance in the film, telling Screen Daily in 2021 that Cate Blanchett was originally slated to play the role.
“[Blanchett’s] only in it for three days, she’s doing me a favor,” Gray said. “She has a really long speech to deliver, it’s a real scene-stealer. I’ve tried to recreate the real speech as best I could from memory.”
While Chastain’s appearance comes as a surprise, the inclusion of the speech fits firmly within the film’s tone. Much of “Armageddon Time” deals with the shortcomings of those Reagan-era values and the inequalities Gray believes they helped create.
In his review, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wrote that “’Armageddon Time’ is more invested in the value of the pyrrhic victories that keep our heads on straight and our souls connected to whatever traditions they came from. In forgetting the kind of bullshit that Jessica Chastain’s Maryanne Trump tells Paul’s class when Fred Trump brings her to speak at Kew-Forest. In scoffing at candidate Reagan when he tells Jim Baker that ‘we might be the generation that sees Armageddon’ as part of an effort to scare his white Christian voter base into submission. Assimilation may seem like a necessary evil, but it’s not always a bad thing that we bring a part of ourselves with us wherever we go, especially when it’s a part of ourselves worth leaving behind.”
Focus Features will release “Armageddon Time” in theaters later this year.