Miss Sloane star Jessica Chastain is redefining the role of leading lady, conquering Hollywood on her own terms.
“I think the reason I can be so busy is because of my [clean] diet,” declares Jessica Chastain. The committed vegan and California native is calling from New Mexico, where she is currently filming the Susanna White-directed period drama Woman Walks Ahead. It’s just past sunrise on a Sunday morning and after shooting until 3 a.m. the night before, Chastain is running on little sleep and no coffee (“I only drink it when I’m in Italy,” she says). It’s a 45-minute drive to set, where there’s no Internet or cell service. “Once you leave in the morning, you’re completely cut off from society, which is beautiful, I think, when making this film,” she says of the feature, set in the late 1800s and based on a true story.
Chastain portrays Caroline Weldon, a widow from Brooklyn who travels to the Dakota Territory to paint the famous Sioux leader, Sitting Bull. What transpires is an unlikely connection between the two, with Weldon eventually becoming a trusted confidante to the Native American chief. “Women in American society didn’t really have a voice then, and the Sioux tribe did not have a voice in a country that was being run by white men,” she explains. “This friendship came about from two people who were struggling to be heard in this world. I found that so inspiring.”
It’s the latest in a string of impactful leading-lady roles for Chastain, who is set to star opposite Mark Strong and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in December’s political thriller Miss Sloane as a success-driven strategist who takes on Capitol Hill over the divisive gun-control debate, and pulls back the curtain on the D.C. power game and its players. Chastain first worked with director John Madden in the 2010 espionage film The Debt, and felt immediately compelled by the chance to work with him again. After reading the script, she was equally drawn in by her character and her win-at-all-costs approach. “She’s got shades of gray in there, which is what I love. She’s very flawed,” says Chastain, who immersed herself in the world of Washington lobbyists to prepare for the role.
Chastain is known for the intense preparation she puts into all her characters, from her Oscar-nominated portrayal of a CIA agent in 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, to an astrophysicist in Interstellar (2014). “My experience with making movies is that I want to walk away from each role, and each set, having learned something and grown as a person. That’s really important for me when choosing a role: What am I going to learn and what am I going to gain from this experience?”
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Photography by Jan Welters.
Styling by Alison Edmond.
Written by Lesley McKenzie.