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Jessica Chastain On Interstellar Being ‘Ahead Of Its Time’ And The 355

by : Cameron Frew on : 05 Jan 2022 15:05
Jessica Chastain On Interstellar Being 'Ahead Of Its Time' And The 355Alamy/Warner Bros./Collection Christophel

James Bond, Ethan Hunt, Jason Bourne; in Hollywood, female spies rarely break the glass mould. Jessica Chastain wants to change that with The 355

There’s always a caveat or ‘but’: Melissa McCarthy’s Spy is one of the funniest comedies of the past decade; Jennifer Lawrence’s Red Sparrow is perhaps too graphic for everyone’s tastes; Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde takes cues from John Wick‘s aesthetics but fails to land the story; Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow movie is, well, naff; and Angelina Jolie’s Salt should have been a launchpad.

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Blockbuster ensemble spy movies, whether it’s the Bond franchise, Bourne or Mission: Impossible, are predominantly male-led. Reuniting with her X-Men: Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg, Chastain wanted to make a female contribution to the genre that was ‘more serious’ and not quite as ‘silly’ as some movies.

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Ahead of The 355‘s release, I sat down with Chastain to talk about the film, becoming a badass spy, and gun safety and coordinating stunts as a producer. I also squeezed in a question about Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece which recently turned one hour old.

What attracted you to this sort of movie?

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Jessica: I realised that there was a gap in the industry in terms of these kind of films; you don’t really see female ensemble films like this being made before we made The 355, unless it was a bit silly, or fun and a lot more comedy in it. I wanted to make something that was more serious, along the lines of the male ensemble films in the marketplace.

Did you take inspiration from other female spy movies like Atomic Blonde, Salt and Red Sparrow?

Jessica: I think I took everything as inspiration. We had an amazing screenwriter: Theresa Rebeck, she’s an amazing American playwright. She’s the most produced playwright in the US. I’d been a huge admirer of her work for a long time, so she wrote the script. There was a lot of conversation about this genre, and we were inspired by certain films; but also in some sense we wanted to create something new. So really, Theresa and Simon Kinberg hammered out the story alongside the actresses.

The 355. (Universal Pictures)Universal Pictures
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As a fan of your work generally, what I like about this film is while it’s serious in tone, it’s still a lighter character for you. Do you want more of that, or are you just as interested in bringing difficult characters to life?

Jessica: I think I’m dedicated to not being able to be pigeon-holed; I don’t want anybody to be able to guess what I’ll do next. ‘Oh Jessica, she’s a sci-fi actress! Or horror actress! Or drama actress!’

I have been watching the industry so long, and I was obsessed with movies as a child, and I’d realised with actresses, they were definitely put into categories of the what type of films each actress was allowed to be in, and I wanted to break those restrictions. I’ve got quite a rebellious spirit, and I like to do things that people don’t expect me to do.

The 355. (Universal Pictures)Universal Pictures
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This movie is more interesting with you as a producer, especially coming off the back of Ava. Is that something you’d like to retain going forward – a hand on the movie?

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Jessica: That’s a good question. I can’t produce everything, because I’ll tell you: producing a film is a lot more difficult when I’m producing and acting, rather than just acting. When I’m acting, I’m honestly just thinking about my character and the journey and how to best serve the story.

In producing, it’s very important to me that everyone feels taken care of and safe. So I could have a tough day shooting then I’m at home up for hours on phone calls, writing emails… it’s a lot more difficult in terms of maintaining the energy.

Producing and acting together is going to start to be few and far between, but producing perhaps and not acting I hope to do a lot more. I really like using my platform to amplify others, and that’s the thing I love so much about this film: you see Penélope (Cruz), Lupita (Nyong’o), Diane (Kruger) and (Fan) Bingbing, you see them excel and in ways we haven’t seen them before, and I like being able to do that.

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Jessica Chastain in The 355. (Universal Pictures)Universal Pictures

Safety is an interesting point. As a producer, how do you approach that with regards to action sequences, given gun safety is a major topic in the news right now?

Jessica: Well, we showed up about three weeks before the cameras started rolling and really trained. We trained on our own all over the world depending on where we were. Then we had three weeks where we did hand-to-hand combat stuff, weapons training, and we learned all the fights.

Diane and I knew the freezer fight before we started shooting on day one. It felt so secure. Even the stuff where Diane is running high up on the crane, she practiced that before shooting on day one. We knew we were making this film for little money for what we wanted to accomplish, and we’d have to move quickly and so that meant every actress needed to feel completely comfortable and safe in what they were doing.

We wrote an article recently about Interstellar being one hour old… because on Miller’s Planet, one hour equals seven years. How often do you think about that film?

Jessica: [Laughs] Well I love that film. It’s interesting, because I like doing projects that are a bit polarising when they come out, and people are like, ‘What did I just see?’ and they’re all confused about it and makes them feel uncomfortable. I felt like Interstellar in some way did that.

I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to read The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne, but it’s incredible and it talks about all of his theories and how they’re shown in our film. But they’re so out there and so radical in some sense, I feel it’s a bit ahead of its time, and when a movie is ahead of its time I feel it has a longer life than something really current and isn’t as discussed in the beginning.

Interstellar is a film I believe people will ask me about throughout my career, because it’s such a powerful story. I mean, who makes a science-fiction film that basically its thesis is ‘love is the thing that transcends time and space’? That’s so beautiful! I love it.

The 355 hits cinemas on January 7, 2022. 

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Cameron Frew

Entertainment Editor at UNILAD. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the best film ever made, and Warrior is better than Rocky. That's all you need to know.

Topics: Featured, Film, Film and TV, Now