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Jessica Chastain on ‘hiding’ from her co-stars and allowing herself ‘not to be liked’

Jessica Chastain says she “hid” from her co-stars during her latest project, going out of her way to distance herself and allow herself “not to be liked”.

The 46-year-old Oscar winner, who stars in Michel Franco drama Memory, told Sky News: “Sometimes I play characters who know everything. They’re the smartest person in the room, and they know what’s going to happen.

“It was interesting to play something and to work in a way where you just didn’t know, and you were free to discover.”

She plays Sylvia, a recovering alcoholic, whose past trauma is reawakened when Saul, played by Peter Sarsgaard, follows her home from their high school reunion.

Dopesick star Sarsgaard, chips in: “I don’t mind the smartest person in the room as they also listen.”

Happily married to Oscar-nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal for 15 years, he tells Sky News: “I remember when my wife was younger, some arsehole telling her, ‘Oh, you always have to be the smartest person in the room, don’t you?’

“And I think that’s something that’s levelled on people, certain women, especially, and those same people, if they’re really good at what they do, also really listen”.

More on Jessica Chastain

Despite their good working relationship, Chastain explains how she used a method approach to bringing her character’s conflicted emotions towards Saul to the screen.

Memory. Pic: Ketchup Entertainment/Bohemia Media
Image: (L-R) Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain. Pic: Ketchup Entertainment/Bohemia Media

‘I didn’t know if the sound of my voice annoyed him’

“Peter and I didn’t really talk on set. We would say good morning to each other, but I kind of hid from everyone. And then we got to know each other as the characters in chronological order.

“So, every time we would get to set and speak, I was looking at him, not knowing how he felt about me, not knowing if he liked me, not knowing if the sound of my voice annoyed him.

“Just these normal things that we think about someone else, I was experiencing as Sylvia because I was allowing myself to not be liked.

“Sometimes you feel like you need to woo someone when the cameras aren’t rolling, so they’ll like you. And I was willing to be ok if he didn’t like me, to find out how the characters would interact.”

Chastain used the same approach with her onscreen daughter, Anna, played by Brooke Timber.

“I hung out with her, I had a lunch with her, but at the same time I kept her this little bit at arm’s length because Sylvia would have acted like that. And I allowed that to create a little bit of an unknowing and a tension between us.”

She goes on: “Sylvia never had an example of what good mothering would be. So, she doesn’t really know how to communicate, and to solve a problem she buys an iPhone for her daughter… I really was discovering a whole new way of mother daughter dynamic in this film.”

Memory. Pic: Ketchup Entertainment/Bohemia Media
Image: Pic: Ketchup Entertainment/Bohemia Media

‘The goal was Jessica Chastain’

Meanwhile, Sarsgaard’s character Saul faces a different challenge – he is suffering from early onset dementia.

Sarsgaard says he’d never seen this aspect of dementia bought to the screen before, “the period where families are adjusting, people are adjusting to new conditions and trying to figure out how to live their lives”.

Gleaning insight from real-life dementia sufferers, including his own uncle who had the disease, he pieced together a way to faithfully portray the condition in the film.

“For me, the condition in the end was just the obstacle. The goal was Jessica Chastain… He’s just a guy who wants something incredibly beautiful. You know, he wants something that we all want in our lives. And so, it was very easy to play on some level.

“I was playing someone who had nothing to lose and didn’t mind being rejected or partially rejected – I mean I minded it – but my reaction to rejection was always to put my heart out a little bit more, show a little bit more of myself, show up, try to connect.”

Michel Franco’s next feature

Both Chastain and Sarsgaard speak incredibly highly of the man leading the film, Mexican director Michel Franco.

Chastain says the 44-year-old filmmaker whose movies often depict dysfunctional families, kept his cast on their toes.

“He did surprise me from day one when he said during rehearsals: ‘Go to the Target [a big US discount superstore] and find some clothes for Silvia’. I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never worked like this before, except in drama school where I’m getting my costumes together for scene study class’.”

It’s a process she clearly enjoyed, reuniting with Franco over the summer on his follow-up feature Dreams, which is currently in post-production.

Memory is in UK and Irish cinemas now.

Sky News Source