Why Jessica Chastain is the talk of Hollywood

Sep 30, 2011

Get used to the red-head not just stealing the show in The Debt, but starring in countless other upcoming movies too

IF THE MAN of the moment is Michael Fassbender, then the woman of the moment must be Jessica Chastain, the slightly off-key Californian beauty from Terrence Malick's recent Tree of Life, who by the end of the year will have been in more movies than there are days in the week.
Coverage of the 30-year-old actress has been riddled with phrases such as "overnight success story" and "came out of nowhere", and while cliched, they're partly right. Chastain's first credited role was in an ER episode back in 2004, and it wasn't until Al Pacino picked her for his stage version of Wilde Salome - precisely because of her unknown status - that she began to land her big film auditions.
Chastain attracted praise as the angelic mother in the acclaimed Tree of Life, but it is in this week's Israeli thriller, The Debt, that she really steals the show.
She is "outstanding" as the younger version of Helen Mirren's Mossad spy, says Tim Robey in the Daily Telegraph. In an otherwise lacklustre film, "the gorgeous and game Chastain quietly salvages everything she can". The movie could have been much more, remarks A O Scott in the New York Times, but Chastain's "exquisite sensitivity nonetheless provides The Debt with its emotional centre of gravity".
Two films, however, do not a new star make. So audiences wary of her new found cult-status will be able to watch her opposite Sam Worthington in Texas Killing Fields; as a Southern outsider in the civil rights movie The Help; as a struggling wife in the Cannes winner Take Shelter; alongside Ralph Fiennes in the Bosnian war film Coriolanus; with Gary Oldman in depression-era epic The Wettest County in the World; and in the film version of the play that started it all, Al Pacino's Wilde Salome.
She's purposefully picked films that allow her to play strikingly different roles in order to keep audiences guessing, and has already lined up parts in a Guillermo del Toro horror film and a Joseph Kosinski sci-fi.
"After Tree of Life," she told the Guardian, "I got so many scripts for 'graceful wife' roles. The only thing I'm definitely ruling out [for the future] is things I've done already."

Sign up for our daily newsletter