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Jessica Chastain: Don’t Typecast Me!

Posted 21/02/2013

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Jessica Chastain: Don’t Typecast Me!

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

She’s been a trashy 1960s Southern belle, a CIA agent hunting Osama bin Laden, a 1950s doting wife and mother…and now she’s playing a tattooed punk bassist in a horror flick. Jessica Chastain has an amazing versatility and the uncanny ability to physically transform into characters. And it’s paid off with two Oscar nominations in two years! At a press conference to promote her new horror film ‘Mama,’ Chastain (looking absolutely luminous in a Rachel Roy dress and Louboutins) discussed why she chooses such diverse roles and how she disappears into her characters.

In the super-creepy ‘Mama,’ the ginger Chastain plays Annabel, a tattooed 30-year-old with a dark brunette shag, who plays bass in a punk rock band and generally refuses to grow up. So her world is shaken up when she’s forced to care for two very troubled little girls…who just happen to be shadowed by an evil spirit they call Mama. Eventually, though, Annabel steps up to protect the children. And Chastain says she was drawn to the role due to the ‘hero’s journey’ in which her character evolves from selfish to selfless.

But the fact that Annabel is initially such a ‘reluctant mother’ is also a factor that drew Chastain to the role. She recalls, ‘This script was sent to me [when] ‘Tree of Life’ was at Cannes with ‘Take Shelter’, and all of a sudden I started getting all of these scripts sent to me with these really devoted wives and mothers. So I realized that there is typing in Hollywood. And this got sent to me, and this couldn’t be further from the ‘Tree of Life’ character.’

‘If someone tries to type me, I’m super stubborn and I will do the opposite,’ Chastain explains. ‘‘Tree of Life’ is one of my favourite things I’ve ever done; that character was probably the greatest gift I’ve ever been given,’ Chastain acknowledges. ‘But the second I found out people were typing me, I was like, I’ll show you! I’ll do the exact opposite of a Terrence Malick—I’m going to do a horror film. And I’m going to play the opposite of a good mother.’

The actress says the process of getting into character ‘depends on each character I play,’ but for ‘Mama,’ ‘I started from the outside in, because there was so much in the script about who she was; there were a lot of clues.’ A brunette wig, fake tattoos, and rock T-shirts aided the transformation, as did ‘a lot of listening to punk music’ and constantly watching horror movies.

‘Mama’ was Chastain’s first foray into horror, and might seem like an odd fit with prestige pictures like ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ ‘Tree of Life,’ and ‘The Help.’ But she says she had no qualms about signing on. ‘Was there any trepidation of dismissing this because it’s a genre film? Not at all. I want to do all kinds of films, all kinds of characters, I don’t want to be typed…. I want to do a Western. I want to do a musical. As long as I play a woman that has an arc’—and not, she notes, a female character who ‘is there to serve the male role.’

Now up for a Best Actress Oscar for ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ is Chastain—who famously brought her grandmother to last year’s ceremony—apprehensive about awards season? ‘No, I went through it last year and it was so much fun,’ she declares. ‘And my grandmother will probably be my date again, because going with her, it’s just such a reminder to enjoy it and not take it seriously.’ She may not get caught up in the trappings of movie stardom, but when it comes to her film work, it’s clear Chastain takes that very seriously.