Anyone who’s met Jessica Chastain knows two things immediately: She is a total, genuine sweetheart, like, of the birds-flock-around-her-and-help-her-get-dressed variety; and she’s deeply American, specifically Northern Californian. Her mom runs a vegan food truck, for Christ’s sake! So it was a bit of a shock to run into her at yesterday’s Cannes Film Festival opening-night dinner and discover that her voice sounded, well, different.
Chastain doesn’t have a film in competition, but was there to officially “open” the festival at a big ceremony preceding the dinner. (You may have heard a bit about it.) As we cheerily caught up, she started emphasizing words in odd places, and I started doubting my memory. Did I somehow forget that she’s not a native speaker? Was the classic American chirp I remembered actually some part she was playing on me? Was I even talking to Jessica Chastain? Yes, of course, there’s no one else that beautiful. So I just asked her: Do you have an accent?
“Well, my last film was set in D.C.” she said, referring to Miss Sloane, where she plays an ambitious gun-control lobbyist. “Do I sound like I’m from D.C.?”
No. Not that. Her face suddenly lit up with recognition.
“Oh my God, my boyfriend! He’s Italian so he taalks liike this-uh.” She grabbed my arm and doubled over laughing; said boyfriend, by the way, is the impossibly handsome Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, an actual Italian count and a fashion executive for Moncler. “You know how if you spend a lot of time with someone you start talking like them? Four years! Perché! Certo! Youuuu knoow.”
Her American accent came springing back, but every fifth word or so, she’d throw in an elongated vowel. “Oh my God, I just heard myself do it there!” she said. “The problem with talking like that is I talk so slowly! He’s very smart, and he sounds great, and it makes sense because he’s Italian, but I probably don’t sound so smart.” Has she started talking with her hands more? “Yes! He does that too!” Chastain turned to her assistant, who’s clearly been too sweet to point out her boss’s fluctuating speech patterns, and looked her in the eye. “Next time I do that, you have to tell me, ‘You sound Italian.’ And I’ll switch to American.” Sì, signorina, naturalmente.