Jessica Chastain: 5 ways she wants Hollywood to change

By Steven McIntosh
Entertainment reporter

image copyrightKerry Hayes
image captionChastain plays the lead role in Miss Sloane, which is released in the UK this weekend

It's difficult to find a more varied CV in Hollywood than Jessica Chastain's.

She's played a CIA analyst in Zero Dark Thirty, a housewife in The Help and is about to be seen as a ruthless lobbyist in political thriller Miss Sloane.

But having worked in the industry for well over a decade, Chastain says she remains disappointed by many aspects of Hollywood.

The actress spoke to BBC News during a visit to London last week, and shared her thoughts on what exactly needs to change.

1) Some film critics need to open their minds

image copyrightKerry Hayes

Obviously all actors dislike bad reviews, but Chastain's problem is a little more specific - she thinks some critics are too close-minded.

"I had a lot of problems with Zero Dark Thirty and some reviews of Miss Sloane," she says.

"[Some reviews] said 'Yes it's a great character, but why can't she be a woman, why does she have to be so masculine?'.

"And I want to go back to those people and say Elizabeth Sloane is a woman, so that makes her feminine.

"Femininity for each person is whatever they define it to be, and to say that femininity is to be soft, kind, loving, compassionate and weak, and masculinity is aggression, power, ambition and strength - [we're in] 2017 and we need to move away from that."

2) Learning lines needs to be second nature to actors

media captionJessica Chastain reacts to some interesting news about Johnny Depp

Earlier this month, Johnny Depp's former managers claimed the actor is often fed his lines through an earpiece instead of actually learning them.

Chastain had, err, an interesting reaction to this when we mentioned it to her (see the video above).

And it's fair to say her policy for learning the huge amount of dialogue in Miss Sloane was slightly different to Depp's.

"My technique is working hard," she says simply. "So on the weekends before I go into my work week I spend my entire day working on a script.

"I couldn't search for my lines, it had to be cold, it had to be second nature, and the only way to get that is to spend the hours doing it."

3) More films with female ensemble casts need to be made

image copyrightUniversal Pictures
image captionA third Pitch Perfect film is currently being made after the huge success of the first two

You could certainly argue that Hollywood has come along way since Chastain's 2009 film The Help, which had an all-female principle cast.

Since then, we've seen films with female ensemble casts slay the box office - such as Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters and Pitch Perfect.

But, in the grand scheme of things, such films are still few and far between, perhaps because of Hollywood's reluctance to put women centre stage.

"It's so old-fashioned, we don't have very many of them," Chastain says.

She points out: "Films with male ensembles don't work all the time and no-one talks about it."

"So I think we need to acknowledge that movies with female ensembles have a greater chance of making money than movies with male ensembles, and it's because the audience wants diversity in their storytelling - they want stories they haven't seen before."

4) Actors need a little less conversation, a little more action

image copyrightKerry Hayes
image captionMark Strong co-stars in Miss Sloane alongside Chastain

Diversity has been a hot topic in Hollywood for some time, not least with #OscarsSoWhite and the move by some awards ceremonies to scrap gender-specific categories.

It's become fashionable for actors and industry types to back campaigns for more diversity, but Chastain thinks not enough people are putting their money where their mouth is.

"I think there's a lot of talk going on, but if you're part of the industry you're part of the problem, so you need to put your talk into action," she says.

"It's not enough to say 'Oh there's a wage gap' and 'Oh only 7% of American film directors are women', you have to say, 'Well if I'm part of the industry I'm part of the problem, what can I do to help?'.

"And so I'm doing whatever I can to work with female film-makers. I'm always speaking up whenever I see an injustice. I'm always doing whatever I can to create opportunities for people who haven't had a voice in American cinema.

She's not kidding - one of Chastain's most recent films was The Zookeeper's Wife, directed by Niki Caro, who recently became only the fifth woman to direct a film budgeted at more than $100m.

"I feel like 'okay I'm doing my part', but everyone needs to do their part and once we do we're going to hopefully have a more balanced industry," Chastain adds.

5) Audiences need to be challenged more

image copyrightKerry Hayes
image captionChastain plays the lead role in political thriller Miss Sloane

Chastain's character in Miss Sloane is ruthless, tough and smart - a role she thinks will help audiences start to see female characters in a new way.

"I was really excited about playing the smartest person in the room, I knew it was going to be a big challenge," Chastain says of the role.

"I liked to play a character who shattered a stereotype of what a woman is supposed to be.

"I think an audience isn't used to seeing a woman who isn't a caregiver. Society expects women to be the nurturers of their families and to be mothers and to want that - and Elizabeth Sloane doesn't want that.

Miss Sloane is released in UK cinemas this weekend.

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