Jessica Chastain chats Feminism in Hollywood: 'I'm so proud to be alive in this time.'
Recently I was lucky enough to attend a press conference in London for the upcoming film Molly’s Game which opens in UK cinemas on 1 Jan. The film is based on the incredible true story of ‘Poker Princess’ Molly Bloom, who for years ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game before becoming one of the FBI’s top targets. This marks lead actress Jessica Chastain's second outing this year as a seriously bad-ass female force to be reckoned with, her first being the awesome Miss Sloane - check out my review here. Co-starring home-grown British actor Idris Elba, Miss Chastain chatted the Hollywood pay gap, fierce feminism and her (surprising) take on the Kardashians...
What were your first impressions of the character?
I think I had preconceptions... I Googled her and then I noticed that I was starting to kind of have this judgement against her. You know, I was watching some interviews and I was thinking ‘ok, I wonder what her goal is in all of this.’ Then I realised that the media was conditioning me to feel that way... This is what we do. For me it was very much a Kardashian story... I actually had pictures of the Kardashians all over my trailer. In the sense, I was thinking, who are the most powerful women in the society we live in, and how did they get their power? And for me, it was the Kardashians.
Have you seen who TIME’s person of the year is?
The ‘Me too’ women, yeah! Poor Donald Trump.
To what extent do you think the film has special resonance in the ‘me too’ year and to what extent is the game we see in the film the game of Hollywood itself?
There’s a great moment – it’s one of my favourite scenes – on the park bench with Kevin Costner (who plays her father). He starts out this scene by saying, ‘you want to have power over powerful men.’ Most people grab onto that line and they keep it, right? But at the end she repeats it and he says, ‘no, I just said that to make you mad.’ Because in reality, she wants to have power over her own life. She wants to have power over her body, her industry... I think we are living in a society where women are now speaking to that. It’s not about having power over men, it’s about having power over our own agency. So for me, the film is very timely. I’m so proud to be a part of this. I’m so proud to be alive right now in this time, when so many women are coming forward, and so many men are allies in creating gender equality.
When you saw the script, what were your first impressions, and why did you agree to do this movie?
For me before I even opened the script, I kind of knew I was going to say yes to it. I had always wanted to work with Aaron (the director). When I started reading [the script] I was so blown away that for his directorial debut he would put his attention on this – the female protagonist. A lot of people who have been in the industry for many, many years, haven’t done that, so I was really pleased.
There are at least 2 men in this film who try to cap Molly’s pay. You’ve taken a really powerful stand regarding pay equality. How big a problem do you think this is, how big a push back have you had form speaking out?
I think there’s a lot of attention right now on actresses in Hollywood, because the media is really focused on that. But I think it’s also really important to recognise that what’s happening is not only in Hollywood. It’s a problem that’s happening in society in terms of wage equality and harassment. There was an article written to the actors of Hollywood by over 700,000 female farm workers talking about what they suffer to try and get food onto the table for their children. So whenever I discuss wage equality I’m not talking about trying to get more money for people in Hollywood, because let’s be honest, we are all over-compensated! We are paid very well. It’s about if there are two people working a job, and one man is making ten dollars an hours and the woman is making three dollars an hour, it’s not right. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, there just needs to be some sense of equality. I don’t understand – it’s 2017 – why are we even having this conversation still? So I have definitely taken a stand and I have been very proactive I ask my agents what other people are being paid.
You’ve had the chance to play a really strong female character. How often do you see that opportunity come up in Hollywood, and what similarities/differences do you have to Molly?
I think for me there’s a big difference, because I see every female – sorry, every woman – as being really strong. I think that in the media and in films especially they’re just not well-written female characters, so they haven’t portrayed them to be strong. I have a problem with that. So I always search for well-written female characters so they’re not defined by the men in their life. They’re defined by what they do or what they say. Shockingly, it’s rare to find. I’m really lucky that people now... if they send me a script and it’s not a great female character they know I’m going to tell them. So for the most part I’m sent really well-written female characters. But also what’s interesting to me is that strength in a female character varies – she can be ambitious and aggressive and intelligent but she can also be gentle and kind and compassionate and shy, but have a great strength. So there’s no characteristic that defines what strength is. All women are strong.
Amen to that. I think I just developed a new girl crush.
Molly's Game opens in UK cinemas 1 Jan, US cinemas 5 Jan and NZ cinemas 1 Feb - go see it!