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People In Film | Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain | The Debt and Dame Helen

Jessica Chastain, the auburn-haired classical beauty being hailed as the new Cate Blanchett, is arguably the breakout actress of 2011. And in John Madden's spy thriller, The Debt, the multi-faceted actress demonstrates her ability to be both tough and vulnerable. Chastain plays 25-year-old rookie Mossad agent Rachel Singer who in 1965 is tasked –– along with fellow operatives David (Sam Worthington) and Stephan (Marton Csokas) –– with capturing a Nazi doctor so he can be tried for war crimes. Dame Helen Mirren plays Chastain's character 30 years on, and Chastain took very seriously the challenge of playing a younger version of one of the greatest living actresses, immersing herself in the character's world as much as possible. “I did a lot of research about the Holocaust and medical experiments and I took Krav Maga [an Israeli martial art] and I learned German because I speak a lot of German in the film,” Chastain told HollywoodOutbreak.com. “And I speak with an Israeli accent and got to rehearse with Helen Mirren because we play the same woman.” For Chastain, working with Mirren was clearly a huge honor. However, the young actress shows the potential to have as illustrious a career as her esteemed co-star.

Jessica Chastain | Beginnings

Jessica Chastain in Jolene

With a slew of movies – including The Debt –– coming out one after the other in 2011 and 2012, Jessica Chastain is destined to go from an unknown to a household name. However, as with all so-called “overnight” successes, the path to prominence has been long and arduous, and Chastain has worked hard to get to her current position. Originally from the Bay Area, she studied dance in her teens and then transitioned to acting, and was performing Shakespeare around San Francisco when it was suggested she study at the Juilliard Acting School in New York. Chastain loved her time at Juilliard, and after graduation began climbing the ladder by working in television, appearing on shows like ER, Veronica Mars and Law and Order: Trial by Jury while also doing stage work. In 2008, she played the lead role in Jolene, an adaptation of an E.L. Doctorow short story, about the picaresque experiences of an orphan who is irresistibly alluring. The performance, which won her Best Actress at the Seattle International Film Festival, not only showcased Chastain's immense talent and potential, but was a portent of things to come. Jolene, as Screen International’s Mike Goodridge exclaims, “serves as the perfect showcase for new star Jessica Chastain, a dazzling redhead whose talent and radiance keeps its many parts watchable.” And indeed after Jolene, directors lined up to cast Chastain in their movies.

Jessica Chastain | Malick's Muse

Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life

A pivotal moment in Jessica Chastain's career arrived in 2008 when legendary director Terrence Malick plucked her from obscurity to play the female lead – the loving mother, Mrs. O’Brien – opposite Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life. Chastain, who had been repeatedly told by casting directors that she didn't look modern, felt a kinship with her character –– a 1950s suburban mother with a timeless grace –– from the moment she heard about the role. Working on The Tree of Life presented unusual challenges: Malick ultimately cut almost all of Chastain's dialogue, instead asking her to express the same emotion non-verbally, and though shooting started in 2008, it was 2011 before the long-gestating film saw the light of day. However, at the end of it all, Malick described Chastain as the best actress he'd ever worked with, and Brad Pitt also had only praise for his co-star. "She just walked into this thing, and she was throwing punches with me on par and dealing with the unwieldiness of going off-script and working with non-actors,” Pitt told the Associated Press. “Man, I really relied on her. It takes great talent to keep that focus, and there's real charm and beauty, and she's really bright, this woman. So I think she's capable of a lot of things that we've yet to see."

Jessica Chastain | The Brightest of Futures

Jessica Chastain in Take Shelter

In 2011, Jessica Chastain was clearly the new queen of Cannes: she had two movies at the film festival, and each took the top award in its respective category. The Tree of Life won the festival's highest honor, the Palme d'Or, while her other movie, Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter –– in which she plays the wife of a man who has apocalyptic premonitions –– was given the Grand Prix in the Critic's Week section. Moviegoers who have their appetites whetted by seeing Chastain in The Debt and The Tree of Life can look forward to seeing the actress not only in Take Shelter, to be released in Fall 2011, but also in a number of other prominent productions. She will play the eponymous lead opposite Al Pacino in the actor's Wilde Salome (a role she originated on stage), and appears with another actor-director, Ralph Fiennes, in his modern take on Shakespeare's Coriolanus. She is part of ensemble casts in the thriller The Fields, acting alongside The Debt's Sam Worthington, and in The Help, an adaptation of the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett. She will soon play a moll in The Wettest County in the World, a 1930s-set gangster movie from The Road's John Hillcoat, and she also has a small role in Terrence Malick's next, as-yet-untitled project. Truly, more to come.

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