Zero Dark Thirty: Jessica Chastain's Oscar Card?

In 2011, her breakout year, Jessica Chastain had appeared in seven movies. Chastain is refers to 2011 as her “reel” year, one which included a Supporting Oscar-nomination for “The Help.”

Director Kathryn Bigelow didn't ask her to audition for “Zero Dark Thirty,” in which plays Maya, a character based on a real CIA operative who spent nearly a decade tracking the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. In the film, her detective work leads to the raid on Bin Laden's compound, which gets depicted in breathtaking detail.

Story's Ending
We all think that we know the ending. I was expecting, when they sent me the script, it would be like, “Yay! America!,” you know? “We did it!” It's definitely not that. The last note of the film I found to be really deep and profound. And the fact that Kathryn ends the movie with a question, “Where do you want to go?” It's bigger than Maya. It's for everybody. And I found that incredible.

“I'm the motherf–ker that found this place”

A lot of people say, “Were you just so excited to say that line?”–but for me, it was pretty easy to get there. Because in this scene, all I was doing, I was standing in the back watching them put their hands all over my stuff. You know what I mean? For close to a decade, this has been mine. Nobody wanted it. Now they're telling me that I have to go stand in a corner. I built that model with my own two hands and they're answering questions with not even the correct information. So, when James Gandolfini goes, “Who are you?,” and he says it in almost a dismissive way, it's like, f–k you. That was actually really fun to say that to Gandolfini. “The Sopranos” is one of my favorite TV shows of all time, so I was super excited. On set I was like, “Tony Soprano!”

Did you meet your real-life character?
No, because she's an undercover agent. I did a lot of research about her. But, the interesting thing is, this woman, who sacrificed so much for this mission — she lost a lot of who she was. She became a stranger to herself, and she can't take credit. Because she's undercover, she can't come out and be like, “I did it, you guys. Look what I did!” For me, being a part of this movie is thanking her. It's giving her credit, anonymously. It's like saying that there's this woman and she did this.

Torture Scenes
It's awful. We were filming in an active Jordanian prison. It was really disturbing to shoot that stuff and I was very uncomfortable. I took a break one day and walked away and cried. In the middle of a scene, we finished and I said, “I'm sorry,” and I walked away. I'm not as unemotional as Maya is, or as she tries to be. It's tough to watch and it's tough to be in those rooms acting it out.

I think being in that kind of situation for close to a decade, you descend the rabbit hole and you don't know where you are at the end.

Getting Cast
They had inquired about me. I was making a movie in Toronto and I had a movie after that already scheduled. So they were told, “She's busy.” And then I worked with Megan Ellison on a movie called “Lawless,” and I came to L.A. for a weekend to do press for one of the movies last year. And I got a text message from Megan that said, “If I ever ask you for anything, please call me right now.” So I called her back and she goes, “There's this movie. They want you, but we were told you're not available and I cannot accept 'no' for an answer.” She was really gung-ho about it. The next week, Kathryn Bigelow called. The second I read the script, I was on. I said, “You guys make the schedule work, I'm there.”

Choosing Screen Roles

I mostly think about, “What's a character I haven't played before?” And if you look at my seven movies that were out last year, there were none like this. I had never played a character like this. I've always wanted to work with Kathryn Bigelow, and when I read the script and I found out I'd be making this movie about this important moment in history, and surprise, there was a woman at the center of it. That was a no-brainer.

Controversial, Pro-Obama Movie?
Maya keeps badgering her supervisor about many days it's been with no action taken against the compound. It's not a love letter to the Obama Administration. You see her there, she was like, “This has been 200 days. What is all of this red tape?” I think Maya was just frustrated. She's not used to everyone being scared of covering their asses. They were all afraid to make a move because of what happened with the weapons-of-mass-destruction debacle. No one wanted to say, “OK, 90 percent he's there.” It was, “40 percent, 60 percent,” no one is ever taking a stand. She's the only one who said, “100 percent.” And that's all true, and it's in the book “No Easy Day,” that just came out that the Navy SEAL wrote. He talks about her as “Jen.”

Seven Films in 2011
It was overwhelming, especially to kind of go from zero to everything. I went from one disappointment to another. Where I'd be so excited about having a premiere and bringing my grandmother and my mom, and we would set it up and it would get canceled for some reason. That a studio would get sold or, you know, Terrence Malick wasn't ready to show the film yet. There were so many last-minute changes and disappointments that I felt like, Well, I'm just going to keep on trucking and we will see what happens. Then when it all came out at once, it went from being so unlucky to being very lucky.
At first, when “Tree of Life” came out, immediately I started getting a lot of scripts where I was the supporting wife. Immediately! It's like all I got. And then “The Help” came out and “The Debt.” Then, all of a sudden, I don't think people knew really what category to put me in. Which makes it more interesting.

I can tell you right now, my very first movie has still not come out yet. “Salome,” with Al Pacino. That was my big break. Al Pacino directing and I was playing Salome– it's called “Wilde Salome.” It has not been distributed. I think it's similar to Pacino's 1996 meditation on Shakespeare's “Richard III,” “Looking for Richard,” but there's more of Oscar Wilde's play “Salome” in it. So it's not a typical film. But that was my first break. And that was seven years ago. So we went from, “Mom, I'm acting with Al Pacino,” or, “Mom, I'm playing Brad Pitt's wife” (in Tree of Life) all these things, but it’s taken years for it to happen. I hope if this movie goes well, people might go, “Wait a minute, let's see Jessica'a first film.” Even if it's an art-house release, I just want it to come out. I love the movie so much.

Finding out Bin Laden had been killed?

I learned from The Rock, strangely. The Rock tweeted about it before anyone. Apparently he has a friend who is a Navy SEAL, but he tweeted before he was supposed to. I was actually in New York when I found out. I was at a restaurant with friends and a waiter came over and said it.