Jessica Chastain: I will not admit my age because I'm an actress

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Carving out a Golden Globe-winning role as a CIA agent on the hunt for Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty was a harrowing experience, the actress tells Gill Pringle

When Kathryn Bigelow calls, most people drop whatever they're doing; in Jessica Chastain's case, that meant abandoning plans to star in Iron Man 3.

If Iron Man would have been a fun ride, then Zero Dark Thirty took her to the depths of hell – or at least to a squalid Jordanian prison where she was humiliated by prison guards, an experience that ultimately delivered an Oscar and BAFTA-nominated performance. She has already taken home a Golden Globe.

As recent evidence has indicated, it was actually a woman who helped to locate Osama bin Laden after a decade-long hunt for the 9/11 terrorist. And who better to play this brilliant but elusive female CIA analyst than this highly accomplished actress, who has conquered Hollywood while, at the same time, managing to preserve her own secrets.

"I learned as much as I could about her. She's a real woman, but we wanted to protect her because she's still a member of the CIA," says Chastain, referring to her character Maya, a version of the same agent referred to as "Jen" in former Navy SEAL Mark Owen's book, No Easy Day, an inside account of the raid that killed Bin Laden.

The film's title is actually a military term for 30 minutes after midnight, but it also refers to the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the entire manhunt.

"I didn't want to play her in a way that would expose who she is. We didn't want another situation, like when Valerie Plame was outed and her career was ruined as a CIA agent," adds the actress, who likewise prefers to keep much of her own identity private to the point of not even revealing the Northern California town where she was raised, one of five children, by a firefighter father and home-maker mother. Nor does she confess to her age, although she is widely understood to be 35 years old.

"I will never say my age because I'm an actress, and I want to play different ages," she demurs when we meet at a hotel in Los Angeles.

Almost as covert as the character she portrays in Zero Dark Thirty, she slinks unannounced into the windowless, unmarked basement room where I have awaited her arrival, interrupted every few moments by misdirected actresses attending a casting call in a neighbouring room.

"What did they look like?" she asks, blue eyes sparkling in freckled skin as I describe the scenario. "They mostly looked like models," I tell her in all honesty.

"That sounds like my life in LA, five years ago. I would show up at auditions and be like, 'What's going on?'" sighs the strawberry blonde, classically trained thespian, who exploded into Hollywood in 2011 with six films, including Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, Al Pacino's Wilde Salome and Ami Canaan Mann's Texas Killing Fields.

If her arrival threatened to go unnoticed by all but independent movie audiences, then her break-out role in that same year's people-pleaser, The Help, cemented her future, with a best supporting actress Oscar nod.

And, as she said in her Golden Globe acceptance speech last Sunday, she has worked very hard for a long time, mostly in theatre, before receiving any recognition.

Having already played a spy in 2010's The Debt, she had strong ideas about her performance in Zero Dark Thirty: "Most of the time when you see a spy movie with a woman, so much of it is about their feminine wiles – and they're seducing and using sex all the time; but this is a woman who uses her brain."

During the course of filming in Jordan, there must have been many times when Iron Man 3 started to look appealing. "I had a hard time doing the torture scenes. All those scenes were filmed in a Jordanian prison and there was a very dark atmosphere, especially with regard to the way women are treated," she says, recalling a particular incident when soldiers insisted that she walk to the prison instead of being driven. "They don't see women that often. I was like, 'I'm not getting out of this car, how dare these guys', but then you think: this woman had to live in Islamabad and all these places when she was doing this job – and had to experience the same treatment of women where she had no control.

"I got pretty depressed while we were shooting all that, and Kathryn did, too – so we would send each other videos of dogs getting rescued! I would come home to my hotel room, where I had taped up on my walls all the pictures of the terrorists in the movie, and I'd sit there all by myself. I'm on the other side of the world and I would go to my computer, crying about my day, and then I would see a video of this sweet dog being found in a garbage can and being brought to a happy home," she says, sipping thoughtfully on green tea.

Chastain had just begun her studies at Juilliard in New York in 2001 when the World Trade Center was obliterated. "Those few months after 9/11, I lived by the Red Cross building. There was a tank on my street, and there was this whole anthrax scare, where we were all afraid of opening letters. We just didn't know what was going on and I felt so far away from my family and friends. It was really traumatic. And I've actually never been down to the World Trade Center site. I didn't want to see it when it happened and I still don't now.

If most actresses will spill their guts for a Vanity Fair cover in the US, in contrast Chastain revealed very little in her own recent cover, claiming that her life was relatively unchanged.

"I said that because I really believed it at the time," she tells me now, the day after Zero Dark Thirty's Los Angeles premiere. "But after the screening, when we got home, as soon as I got out of the car, there was another car that pulled up behind and someone got out and said, 'Jessica, I'm so sorry, but we couldn't get into the screening', and they had followed me to my house. That's when I'm like, 'What's happening?' I mean, they were very nice, but they were strangers and they had followed me for half an hour, tailing my car because they wanted a photograph with me. That was when I realised: 'My life is different now'.

"The one thing I've always worried about is that, for me, acting makes me feel connected with society, a part of something bigger than I am; a part of mankind. But they say that sometimes what happens when you receive fame is that you're excluded. And I've been really lucky, because for the last year and a half I haven't been. And now suddenly I'm starting to see a change where people are treating me differently. And I don't want to be treated differently."

As clandestine as the character she plays, Chastain has tended to keep her love life under wraps, although this week was rumoured to be dating Tom Hiddleston: "I still want to relate and have conversations with people, but I don't want the balance to shift, so it becomes about a man in my life. Most actresses are forced to talk about the men in their life and I just don't find that interesting," she says before an awkward silence elicits a truth: "I'm very shy when it comes to guys. I like to be wooed, but I'd have to be more outwardly available, I guess."

'Zero Dark Thirty' opens on 25 January

This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of Radar Magazine

Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map