What Jes­sica Chas­tain wants you to know about her wed­ding, fe­male friend­ship and life on the A-list.

A con­ver­sa­tion with Jes­sica Chas­tain about sis­ter­hood, fem­i­nism and be­ing a woman in Hol­ly­wood.

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - By Sarah Laing


in New York re­cently, she was at once just how you’d ex­pect her to be and ex­actly the op­po­site.

Ar­riv­ing from the Hamp­tons on a sea­plane? That’s proper movie-star be­hav­iour—what you’d an­tic­i­pate from one of Hol­ly­wood’s A-lis­ters. Crisp white jeans, gi­ant shades, im­pec­ca­bly be­suited Ital­ian hus­band by her side? Well, that’s pre­cisely how some­one who has just been named the face of Ralph Lauren’s new­est fra­grance, Woman, should look, right? She is, af­ter all, a highly re­spected ac­tress who made her mark in block­buster films like The Mar­tian and The Help, has been nom­i­nated for two Os­cars and won a Golden Globe for her role as a bin Laden-hunting op­er­a­tive in Zero Dark Thirty. And, of course, in con­ver­sa­tion, as you’ll see, the 40-year-old is as ar­tic­u­late, sharp and sure of her opin­ions as you’d want one of the in­dus­try’s most vo­cal fem­i­nists to be.

And now for the un­ex­pected—start­ing with the buoy­ant ef­fect she had on the mood at the photo shoot. On any set, there’s a tiny bit of ten­sion be­fore the celebrity be­ing pho­tographed shows up, and that was cer­tainly the case here un­til Chas­tain ar­rived...15 min­utes early. The dif­fer­ence, how­ever, was that the next usual phase of worry—Will she be friendly? Tired? Hate the clothes?— never came. The Sonoma Val­ley na­tive was fresh off her honey­moon, hav­ing mar­ried fash­ion ex­ec­u­tive Gian Luca Passi de Pre­po­sulo in Tre­viso, Italy, weeks ear­lier, so we’d an­tic­i­pated a sheen of new­ly­wed glow but not the level of deep-sprung joy that over­flowed into a Molly Ring­wald-in­spired Run­ning Man, flaw­lessly ex­e­cuted in hot pants to ’80s-era Ge­orge Michael. Nor would we have guessed that, halfway through a se­ries of shots that were all cover-wor­thy, she’d con­fess to feel­ing out of prac­tice af­ter weeks away and that she was grate­ful to ev­ery­one on-set for mak­ing it eas­ier on her. Then there was that over­heard kind­ness to her as­sis­tant, who got lost on the sub­way while fetch­ing ve­gan food on her first real day of work—Chas­tain told her not to worry and that a car would meet her wher­ever she was.

The next day, we caught up with Chas­tain over the phone from her beach house—to which she had re­turned via that same sea­plane—and it turned out that the rea­son for her very Hol­ly­wood mode of trans­port wasn’t the I’mtoo-fa­mous-to-sit-in-traf­fic diva va­ri­ety you would be for­given for as­sum­ing. She ac­tu­ally had a house­ful of guests, she re­vealed, and was ea­ger to get back to them. That be­hav­iour—at once a mix of con­sid­er­a­tion for h

oth­ers and a healthy pro­tec­tion of her own needs—ex­em­pli­fies Chas­tain’s MO. She is flex­i­ble but not a pushover— if, like at our shoot, she doesn’t think a beret looks good on her, she won’t wear it. On sub­jects she wants to talk about—the role of women in so­ci­ety, em­pow­er­ing girls, her films—she is a gen­er­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tor, but on more per­sonal top­ics, like her wed­ding, she will firmly make it clear that it’s not up for dis­cus­sion. It’s a mind­set that Chas­tain ar­tic­u­lates as “not apol­o­giz­ing for tak­ing up space in this world,” and it in­forms the way she ap­proaches her work, her ac­tivism and her life in the spot­light. Is this at­ti­tude some­thing you’ve learned over time? “Ev­ery­one has to learn how to live in an en­vi­ron­ment that has not made it easy for women to claim their place, so I think it’s all women’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to step for­ward. My goal is that a girl will watch The Mar­tian or In­ter­stel­lar and think ‘I want to be an as­tro­naut or a quan­tum physi­cist.’ It’s im­por­tant to show pow­er­ful women who are good at their jobs be­cause young girls need those ex­am­ples.” Was there any­one in your life who had that kind of im­pact on you as a child? “I re­mem­ber my great-grand­mother telling me that women shouldn’t drive cars. I have such a strong mem­ory of her say­ing she felt she’d paid too much for gas and ‘It serves me right be­cause I have no busi­ness driv­ing; women shouldn’t do stuff like that.’ I al­ways thought you could do what­ever you wanted to do, and then to have some­one tell me that women were lim­ited was dis­turb­ing. It wasn’t un­til I got older that I re­al­ized, ‘Oh, the pro­gram­ming starts so young!’” Do you think you’d have made any dif­fer­ent de­ci­sions in your life if you’d had dif­fer­ent rep­re­sen­ta­tions of women when you were grow­ing up? “I don’t think so. My whole life I wanted to be an ac­tor. Per­haps the seed was planted when I saw Sigour­ney Weaver in Alien, wip­ing the floor with the men on the ship. Who knows? Maybe that’s why I al­ways saw film as a way for women to break through stereo­types—al­though I re­al­ized as I got older how few and far be­tween those char­ac­ters are. That’s why I now work very hard to cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for women.” You’re the am­bas­sador for Woman by Ralph Lauren—a per­fume in­spired by the de­signer’s idea of a “fear­less yet fem­i­nine” heroine. How does it feel to have been cho­sen as the em­bod­i­ment of that ideal? “I’m thrilled to be the face of Woman by Ralph Lauren, es­pe­cially at a time when the idea of fem­i­nin­ity is evolv­ing. Women can be pow­er­ful, grace­ful and com­plex, with the abil­ity to make any choice they de­sire. To me, the fra­grance is mod­ern yet time­less. It is del­i­cate yet strong, sen­sual and so­phis­ti­cated.” Are you some­one who wears per­fume ev­ery day? “If I’m not work­ing, my beauty rou­tine is pretty sim­ple: mois­tur­izer with at least SPF 50 and a spritz of Woman by Ralph Lauren be­fore I head out the door. I like nat­u­ral prod­ucts, such as rosewater and co­conut oil. If I’m go­ing out or do­ing a red car­pet, I love a bold red lip and glam­orous hair.” Speak­ing of red car­pets...that segues quite nicely into talk­ing about what hap­pened at Cannes this year. You were on the film fes­ti­val’s jury, and at the clos­ing press con­fer­ence you ex­pressed that you found the rep­re­sen­ta­tions of women in many of the films you’d seen “dis­turb­ing.” Did you ex­pect that com­ment to get the at­ten­tion it did? “The thing I’m sad about is that my com­ments were the only ones that went ev­ery­where, be­cause ev­ery other woman who was on the jury said some­thing in­cred­i­ble in that press con­fer­ence too. We’d been talk­ing about it as a group, say­ing: ‘Are you guys see­ing a pat­tern here? When are we go­ing to see a film from a woman’s point of view with a fe­male lead? How come all th­ese women are just there serv­ing the men’s sto­ry­line?’ When the press con­fer­ence hap­pened, I wasn’t plan­ning on say­ing all that stuff, which is why I was a bit shaky. It was one of the first ques­tions, and the [jour­nal­ist] said he wanted to ask the women ‘A lot of fe­male di­rec­tors were ac­knowl­edged this year, so do you think the in­dus­try is in bet­ter shape?’ Which ba­si­cally asks ‘Since so many women won prizes, is the prob­lem fixed?’ All us girls laughed, and I went first, but ev­ery­one hit a dif­fer­ent part of the in­dus­try that needs to be looked at in terms of how we view fe­male char­ac­ters.” Why did you feel shaky? “I’ve al­ways been some­one who speaks her mind, but the thing is I love Cannes so much. I talked to the fes­ti­val di­rec­tor be­fore­hand about what I was wit­ness­ing in those films and how it made me feel about how the world sees women. He ac­tu­ally said, ‘You should say some­thing.’ It was never about me go­ing against Cannes or stab­bing some­one in the back.... But my ex­pe­ri­ence with the press is that some­times things can be taken out of con­text, so in a sit­u­a­tion like that, where I’m in front of all th­ese jour­nal­ists, speak­ing what I be­lieve in my heart, I feel very vul­ner­a­ble. In many cases, the me­dia like to find some­thing neg­a­tive or turn it into a fight, es­pe­cially when it pits women against each other, and I was aware of that while I was speak­ing. Like, ‘Here I go speak­ing my truth, but some­one is go­ing to mis­in­ter­pret th­ese words.’” Why do you think they are so in­ter­ested in see­ing women fight each other? “It’s di­vide and con­quer. It’s like kings and com­mon­ers back in the old days: When the com­mon peo­ple get along, they can over­throw those in power; h

when you have a mi­nor­ity group fight­ing each other, they are less strong. There’s a myth that women don’t work well to­gether; they hope that by per­pet­u­at­ing that myth, we will never have power. I have never been in a sit­u­a­tion where I’ve had bad ex­pe­ri­ences with women. To me, we’re so nur­tur­ing and sup­port­ive and the best col­lab­o­ra­tors.” That re­minds me of a re­cent head­line spec­u­lat­ing that Lorde was no longer in Tay­lor Swift’s girl squad—it was the big­gest celebrity news of that day. “They don’t write those sto­ries about men. I’m very in­ter­ested in sis­ter­hood, and many times I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a strong bond work­ing with an ac­tress that doesn’t end when the movie does. There is no one else who un­der­stands what it’s like to be a work­ing ac­tress. I can’t imag­ine life with­out my girl­friends.”

What do ac­tresses talk to each other about?

“Oh, God, ev­ery­thing! Fam­i­lies, jobs, who’s good to work with, who’s bad to work with. We warn each other in terms of di­rec­tors or stu­dios or pro­duc­ers.” What has your ex­pe­ri­ence of fame been? “I have a very strong sep­a­ra­tion be­tween my per­sonal life and my work. I know there are cer­tain restau­rants in L.A. or New York where there will be pho­tog­ra­phers, so I avoid them. I do my best to be as quiet as I can when I’m not work­ing or do­ing press for a film. For the most part, peo­ple have been re­ally re­spect­ful. The one thing I will say—and I’m not go­ing to talk about it—is that the worst I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced was at my wed­ding. There were heli­copters in the sky dur­ing the cer­e­mony, and it was re­ally shock­ing. I was like, ‘I get it. This is the trade-off,’ be­cause, to be hon­est, I’ve never felt in­vaded be­fore in this in­dus­try.” You ac­tu­ally took to so­cial me­dia to call out those pa­parazzi. “I wanted peo­ple to un­der­stand what they were view­ing [when they looked at those shots]. Just like with hacked nude pho­to­graphs of ac­tresses, if you’re look­ing at it, you’re par­tic­i­pat­ing in it. I un­der­stand what I signed up for as an ac­tress, and I know pa­parazzi comes with that, but I wanted ev­ery­one who was send­ing me beau­ti­ful com­ments to un­der­stand why I might not look su­per-happy in those pic­tures they were see­ing. At some point, I will share a per­sonal photo be­cause it was one of the best days of our lives and I want peo­ple to know that it was about love, not in­va­sion.”

Is there a ques­tion you get asked a lot that you hate?

“To be hon­est, I get pretty great, var­ied ques­tions. I will say that the very first year I did press was when The Tree of Life came out and I was this un­known. At the end of the movie, my char­ac­ter kisses Brad Pitt’s char­ac­ter, and I was al­ways get­ting asked, ‘What was it like kiss­ing Brad Pitt?’ You get that when­ever you do a movie with a fa­mous male star, and I’m like, ‘Guys, come on!’ be­cause it fo­cuses on some­thing that it’s not about.”

Peo­ple do re­al­ize you guys are ac­tors do­ing a job, right?

“Ex­actly. I have no idea what it’s like kiss­ing Brad Pitt be­cause we were play­ing char­ac­ters and do­ing what our char­ac­ters would do in that sit­u­a­tion!” This fall, you star in Molly’s Game, a film based on a real woman who went from be­ing a world-class skier to run­ning a high­stakes VIP poker game. Why was it im­por­tant to you to tell her story? “I didn’t know much about her, but when I read Aaron Sorkin’s script, I was blown away, and I started to re­search her. What re­ally fas­ci­nated me is that her story is about how so­ci­ety sees a woman tak­ing charge, es­pe­cially what that woman has to be­come for men to ac­cept her in that po­si­tion. I thought about that a lot.” And what were you think­ing? “I think that in the United States, and prob­a­bly in many other coun­tries, it’s eas­ier for men to ac­cept a woman in power if they find her sex­u­ally de­sir­able.” Be­cause be­ing hot is es­sen­tial to hold­ing of­fice, right? “It’s ridicu­lous. The way for­ward is we need to un­der­stand that women have more to of­fer than their sex­ual de­sir­abil­ity—what about their in­tel­lect or am­bi­tion? It’s sad if we as a so­ci­ety deem women only valu­able for their looks be­cause ev­ery­one ages out of that.” What would you like your legacy to be, your ul­ti­mate im­pact on the world? “It’s not a bad thing to want to make your mark on the world, but I don’t think it’s all that im­por­tant to have your name with­stand the test of time. It’s more about what I’m do­ing right now and what I’m do­ing to con­trib­ute to mak­ing the world a bet­ter place, as cheesy as that sounds.” n

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