Cannes had the privilege of discovering Jessica Chastain in 2011. She burst onto the scene playing the role of Mrs O'Brien, a loving mother, in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. The film picked up the Palme d'or and her career was launched. She was daring in Zero Dark Thirty, moving in The Help, intrepid in Miss Sloane. With seven films under her belt, Jessica Chastain is at Cannes this year as a member of the Feature Film Jury. She comes bearing a message, written in black and white on her t-shirt: 'We should all be feminists'. An interview with a funny and inspiring young activist.
Have you been sleeping well since coming to Cannes as part of the Jury?
I have had little sleep but one time I went to bed and then when I woke up I wanted to write something about a film that I had seen a few days earlier so I was writing in my journal. I’m actually getting more sleep as a Jury member than if I was here to represent a film. I’m delighted about that!
Do the films you have seen give you dreams or nightmares?
Only ever dreams. Every film here in Competition is great. I love cinema, it takes me right into the lives of other people so it always makes me wonder about what it's like to be someone else.
How do you deal with your shyness in the Jury?
I was shy on the first day but now we're all very close. It’s like family because we quickly got to spend so much time together. You have Pedro who is so gentle and so loving, and Paolo, Park, Maren, Gabriel… we just have the most incredible group.
How do you interact?
Everyone shows the utmost respect for each other. It’s not like we’re going there and there’s fighting. Some people tell me there will be at the end but I don’t think so. I think in our temperaments we are very similar in the way we deal with people.
On your t-shirt, it says you're a feminist…
So should you be!
I am actually! But has cinema created enough room for women?
No… Anyone who thinks that cinema had made enough room for women today, must be very old-fashioned and have no time for gender equality.
What’s happening now is that there aren't enough films being made by women or told from the female point of view. I don’t blame festivals for this, I blame the industry.
Who is your favorite female director?
Oh gosh… I can’t really answer that because some of them are in Competition. But I can tell you films of directors that I love. I loves all the ones in Competition but I’m not going to include them obviously. I would love to work with Andrea Arnold, she’s incredible. I love Ava DuVernay It’s hard not including people who are here! I can actually say Maren Ade. I would love to work with her.
Could you one day make a film?
I have no plans to do that but who knows... in the future I will. I’ve started producing films and I like doing that.
Turning to your work as an actress, when you receive a script, what makes you jump into a project?
It has to tick a lot of boxes. In the script I want to feel like I’ve never played the character before, for there to be something new to the experience so I can grow as an artist. I also look at the female character. I ask myself “is this a well-written part?” It can be a very small part. For me it’s not about size at all. It has to be a character that has her own sense of agency and is not just some man's object. I’m not interesting in playing puppets. Women in reality are more interesting so I want to play interesting women on the screen.
What has been your biggest challenge as an actress so far?
I don’t see anything as a challenge. Many times I come up to get something that’s hard but even if I fail, I learn so much. Fighting a war is challenging. Being a police officer is challenging. Being an actor for me is a great joy: sure, it challenges me but I never see that as a burden.
I have a challenge for you. Since you’re vegan, would you accept a role which involved eating a lot of meat?
No! Wait… I would accept a role where my character ate a lot of meat but in fact I'd eat something that looks like meat but isn’t. Just like if I was playing a drug addict, I wouldn’t really shoot heroin into my veins. I would pretend. That’s the great thing about acting.