While the internet was going mad confirming that Jessica Chastain would not be on True Detective season two, Chastain (who later weighed in on the rumor herself) was at the Cannes Film Festival, looking gorgeous and promoting a long-brewing passion project, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.
In the film, which begins with a breakup and moves backwards, Chastain plays a woman married to a restaurant owner (James McAvoy) who seems to suddenly leave her entire life behind. And what appears to be a single movie is actually three. At the Toronto Film Festival, it premiered as Him (McAvoy’s character’s perspective) and Her (Chastain’s character’s perspective), both of which were shown consecutively over three hours. Depending on the screening, either Him or Her would play first. Some of the same scenes appear in both movies, but with slightly altered clothing, dialogue, and sentiment, reflecting how each character perceived the interaction. Harvey Weinstein bought the project, from first-time director Ned Benson, for a reported $3 million. But the version that showed at Cannes is a more conventional re-cut: a two-hour version, titled Them, which alternates between scenes from both points of view and focuses on the linear story of the two characters as a couple. It got a ten-minute standing ovation here at Cannes. Weinstein is reportedly planning to make a big Oscar push for both leads and will wide-release of Them on September 26. A limited art-house release of Him and Her will follow six weeks later.
Chastain, who’s also a producer on the movies, has until now been adamant that it would be impossible to edit the two films into one. So much so that reporters at Cannes read back to her quotes from Toronto in which she said just that. She’s known Benson for ten years. They met just after he’d graduated Columbia and she’d graduated Juilliard. She happened to see a short film of his at the Malibu Film Festival and was so impressed, she went up to him and gave him her reel and said she’d love to work with him someday. They became friends, then had a relationship. He’d already written the script for Eleanor Rigby, but with a scope that was so ambitious that there was no way a first-time director and an unknown cast could get it made. Then Chastain had her incredible 2011, with Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and The Help, and voilà. I spoke to Chastain about working with her ex-boyfriend, her adorable Facebook page, and learning about the space-time continuum for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
What’s it been like for you to have Him and Her cut into one movie?
It’s tough because, to be honest, they were envisioned as Him and Her — the idea of the male perspective and the female perspective. But, you know, in thinking about it, it’s like, okay, Olivier Assayas made a great film called Carlos that’s five hours long, and that’s the one I saw. There’s also a two-hour version of it that’s also really good, and most Americans saw the two-hour version. [Laughs] So it’s a situation like that. We saw the choices. The audience will be given the opportunity. They can see Him and Her, or they can see Them.
What’s your recommendation?
Well, for the cinephiles and the people who really want to commit, I would definitely say, “See Him and Her.” It’s the full experience.
In what order?
I don’t know! It depends on how you initially saw it. I’ve always thought Him and Her. But it’s funny, in Toronto, when Harvey Weinstein saw the film for the first time, he saw Her and Him, and he was determined. He was like, “That’s how it has to be seen!” So it depends.
I know the story about how you went up to Ned with your reel at the Malibu Film Festival. Did you date?
Did your relationship have anything to do with what’s portrayed onscreen?
Well, he wrote The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, the male point of view, before he and I ever met. And this movie is about a breakup. And we became friends first, and then we started a relationship years later, so we would travel around together. I was on the set of Tree of Life. He was with me, and he asked me [if I] would play Eleanor Rigby in his film. And I said, “Yes, but it’s so much the male perspective,” [whispers] like the majority of films that are made. I said, “I’d like to know more about the woman. I’d like to know her perspective as well.” So he went and he wrote Her. And it was very collaborative because every day as he’d write, I’d be working, and I’d come back and he’d ask me questions about sisters or whatnot and how women talk with each other, and I found that to be really exciting.
You don’t have a co-writing credit?
Nor should I. No, he was the full writer. I was his bounce board. Not story things, because that’s the main part of the film, but just things like, you know, cutting the hair. You know, because girls, we all tell each other, “Don’t cut your hair when you’re pregnant, don’t cut your hair when you have a breakup or when a tragedy happens.” It’s something that we like to do when we’re in an emotional place for some reason. Right? But that’s something that a man may not know, that’s inherently female. And so it was my idea, I wanted Eleanor to cut her hair off, because then it connects to then her disappearing herself as well.
Did you film that before Tree of Life?
It’s a wig! The short hair is a wig.
I was like, I don’t remember when Jessica Chastain had short hair …
It’s a good wig, huh? Also because we made the movies for no money, there was so much going back and forth from modern day to the past, and in the past, it was longer hair, that we needed a wig.
Your styling is awesome.
The modern day? It’s cool, right? Very French. I loved it.
Were you in a long-term relationship with Ned?
Yep. We lived together. We broke up right before the beginning of 2011. And then the beautiful thing was just — it’s still love, it’s just sometimes love changes, but it doesn’t diminish. So a year after I had this incredible breakthrough, I was able to go, Wait a minute, let’s get these movies made. Some people said to me, “What? Are you crazy? You’re going to make two movies with your ex-boyfriend?” And I said, “No, no, no. It’s important to me.” It’s wonderful when your career explodes, but it’s more beautiful sometimes when you can help shine a light on your friends and the people you love. So that was important to me.
You probably couldn’t have gotten them made on the basis of your name alone without that year.
No, no, no. So we had the films for — four years we were trying to make the films, and then I had the incredible 2011 that I had, and we were able to kind of use that energy to get these films made.
Is that when James McAvoy came in? [Writer’s note: I spoke to McAvoy briefly and he said he’d initially turned the project down because his wife had just had a baby and some of the film’s subject matter hit too close to home. But it took so long to get made that a few years later, when Benson approached him again, he didn’t have the same reservations.]
He had read them before 2011 and it really all just fell into place. We’re very, very lucky.
How did you create that kind of intimate relationship onscreen?
It’s funny because we’d just met for this film. He’s really easy. That puts you at ease in the very beginning. I never felt like he was going to try to take advantage of a situation or anything. [Laughs] He’s a good guy, he’s a team player, we had no money on this film. He’s just part of the group, part of the family.
I was looking at your IMDB page yesterday. It’s like back when you first started — you’ve got like eight movies you’re working on.
It’s crazy! It’s a lot of mish-mosh.
I think everyone’s most excited about Interstellar.
Yeah, the trailer’s amazing.
It seems like it’s cut from the first 15 minutes of the movie.
I can’t say ANYTHING. Everyone knows pretty much who I’m playing. [Ed note: She seems to be playing space traveler Matthew McConaughey’s daughter, grown up.] I just — Christopher Nolan is the kind of person you NEVER want to disappoint. [Laughs] Not because he’s mean, but just because, you know, if your dad ever said to you, “I’m really disappointed in you,” you’d go, “Oh my God!” That kind of thing. If he ever said, “I’m really disappointed,” you’d be like, [pretends to sob] “I’ve ruined everything!”
And there are Christopher Nolan fans out there who don’t even like to watch the trailer. They like to walk in completely free of it. To me it’s a beautiful film because it’s a metaphor, too. There’s more than just outer space. It’s very emotional.
Do you see similarities between Terrence Malick and Christopher Nolan?
Definitely in terms of their brilliance. They’re both people who are, like, way, way smarter than me. You know, I’m not stupid, but I’m not smart at all. I would ask Christopher Nolan a question about, like, time-space continuum, and then he just talks about science! In the very beginning, I wouldn’t be able to follow. You kind of go, Yes, uh-huh. Okay, yeah. Sure. But he’s just so easy with it. His brain works in a different way, and Terrence Malick is that way, too. He’s a very intelligent person. And I love like family people who keep their families close, and when they make a film, you don’t stop your life to make a film, your family’s included in the experience. It’s important.
Do you do that, too?
I try to. I mean, I’m not a mom, yet. Someday. And I’m not married. But I definitely have — if my grandma’s available, she’ll come visit me on a set, or my mom. I was just filming Crimson Peak with Guillermo del Toro, and my 15-year-old brother was super excited, so I flew him to Toronto to stay with me for a week and be on set with me.
He’s a big Guillermo del Toro fan?
Yes, and he loves the film industry. Like, he’s writing and directing and acting in short films. I’m actually enrolling him in a summer camp, a film camp, this year.
You mentioned the space-time continuum. Do you have to know that much detail?
There was some … yeah. I’m playing a character where I should know certain things, so I try tried to do what I could. I mean, your brain either works a certain way or it doesn’t. My brain is more like an artist’s brain, not a science brain. But I had conversations with [theoretical physicist] Kip Thorne, which were really cool. He’s one of the most famous physicists. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but he works in a certain types of space studies. He was on set, and I rue the day I did not get a photograph with him. That’s one I would really have liked.
You’ll get a chance at the premiere.
I hope so! If he comes.
I work for Vulture, and we’re obsessed with your adorable Facebook page.
By the way, I’m trying to connect them all. I’m trying to connect my Instagram to my Facebook, because really, I can’t post to different things all the time. But what I love so much about social media — in the beginning, I was wary of it because I was just seeing pictures people were posting of themselves in their underwear. Just things that embarrass me. But what I love so much about Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, now that they’re all connected, is that you can use it as a place of gratitude, and of giving thanks.
Like the Donatella Versace roses.
Yes! Exactly! Which are right there! [Points to the window, where there’s a huge vase of what might be 100 white roses] Which is, like, the most roses I’ve ever gotten in my life. I want to say think you for things. I want to say thank you for the first female Saudi Arabian director [Haifaa Al-Mansourto], who made Wadjda. Or I wanted to write about Broken Circle Breakdown, the Belgian film. Or Oscar Isaacs, and how talented I think he is. So I try to keep it as a place of giving thanks, because I’ve been given so much.
With the roses you just wanted to be like, “Thanks, Donatella!”
Yeah, and also like, “Really?!” Like, I couldn’t even lift them! Someone lifted them and handed them to me. I don’t think I’d ever get used to something like that. I’m not blasé, you know? It’s still — crazy. But in a fabulous way. It’s not my everyday life, getting — I don’t even know how many roses that is.
Fifty, at least.
That’s only 50? No, it has to be more. That’s insane. It’s also the pot, too. Try to lift it.
What people seem to respond to about you on Facebook is that you’re very genuine and you respond to everyone.
With the “xx”es. Which is actually really tough! [Laughs] I used to respond personally — personally — to everything. “Thank you so much! That means a lot!” Like, answering questions. Then, I forget at what point, I was really busy. I don’t know what I was doing. I was filming or whatever. And I had to write, “Okay, guys, I’m so sorry. I can’t respond personally to each thing. But I will respond with ‘Love, Jes,’ because then you know I’ve read it.”
There are just not that many actors at your level who would do that.
Well, I mean, everyone posts really nice things. And they post music that’s really cool that I listen to. Sometimes they post interviews about other actors, which I read, that are fantastic. It’s a way of connecting to people.
Even if it’s a guy who makes a montage of all his favorite scenes of yours, including nude scenes. You were like, “Thank you so much! I wish you hadn’t posted the nude scenes.”
Yeah. [Laughs] “Thaaaankkkks! Okaaaay!” Also, depending where you are in the world, like France, not a big deal. [Laughs] I remember I went to — it was a fun event — a Women in Hollywood event, and it was the beginning of the big year that I had, and they did a collage of my work, and some of it was me naked! And I’m sitting in this room of people watching this, and I’m like, Oh my God! That’s something that I — I mean, I know it’s a movie, but I’m still naked. But some people, they just go, “Eh, it’s art. You should feel comfortable. You did it, right? So it’s no big deal.”
You were on the Cannes red carpet the other night, and it was super windy and blowing your dress up. A bunch of headlines were like, “Jessica Chastain has her Marilyn Monroe moment!”
That was so scary. To be honest, I knew as soon as I got off the carpet. I was like, “Oh my God. People are now going to be talking about that.” I mean, [Marilyn’s moment] was like absolute joy. Mine was horror! “Oh, God. Please. I hope my dress didn’t go higher than my leg.” Immediately after, I was like, “Nicole” — who’s my publicist — “Can you check to see if there was a Jessica Chastain wardrobe malfunction somewhere?”
Did it give you any prep to be playing Marilyn Monroe in Blonde?
No, because like I said, mine was absolute fear. [Laughs] Listen, with that project, I love Andrew Dominik. I think he’s an incredible filmmaker and artist. He has his own different, unique voice. I wasn’t interested in, and I’m not interested in, making a Marilyn Monroe biopic, because I feel like we’ve had so many of those and so many people are fantastic and it’s not a competition, you know what I mean? It was not exciting to me. So I read Joyce Carol Oates’s book, Blonde, and what surprised me is that it’s not a biography. It’s actually a work of fiction. And I found it to be a great feminist novel, because it takes the archetype of the blonde, as represented by Marilyn Monroe, and we see what society does [with] her and what the film industry in particular does with her, and how she’s devoured up. And I think in a day and age where we’re fighting to have female voices in cinema and perspectives of women [in] a film industry dominated by male voices, it’s a good story to tell.
And a different one for you to tell as a natural redhead.
Oh, I’ve been blonde! I’ve been blonde in The Help and A Most Violent Year.
But the world sees you differently when you’re a blonde.
Oh, completely. When I was starting out and I could not get in an audition, I was told many times to dye my hair blonde. [Laughs] And I was like, “Really? Then I just look like everybody else!”
Well, I’ll be the first to inform you that you didn’t have a wardrobe malfunction.
Did you see what happened to America Ferrera?
Yes. Poor thing. Did he get all the way under her dress?
No, I think he got under the first layer of tulle.
Oh, good, so she was okay, because otherwise [raises fists in fighting stance]. After that, people were asking me, “Are you afraid that someone’s going to [do that to you]?” And I was like, “Uh, yes! Because my dress is so big, it could fit five people.” So if someone ever tries to get around me, it’s gonna be a problem.
Can I look closer at the roses?
Yeah. Look. Try to lift. It has to be more than 50. [Starts counting] That’s ten right there.