Since she invaded the consciousness of the masses in 2011 with a tsunami of releases such as Cannes Palm D’or winner “Tree of Life,” and the Oscar nominated pictures “The Help” and “Zero Dark Thirty”, for which she garnered nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress respectively, Jessica Chastain has become one of the hottest stars in Hollywood and was featured in Times’ 100 most influential people of the world in 2012. This year, she stars in Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster, Christopher Nolan’s space odyssey, Interstellar, in which she plays, Murph, the daughter of astronaut, Cooper (Matthew Mcconaughey), who is dispatched to a distant galaxy to find a new habitable planet in order to save humanity when earth has become increasingly unlivable, due to deadly sand storms.
Meeting her at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Chastain tells me that she knew Interstellar was going to be a epic, “like everything else Nolan had done”, with a thrilling space adventure at its core, but for her it was about the bond of love between a father and a daughter. “I don’t do a lot of big films because I get worried that relationships get sometimes forgotten and it’s all about special effects and explosions, but at the forefront of this one was love and family, and that was so exciting to me.”
Though she couldn’t fathom Nolan’s complex script when she first read it, Chastain leaped at the opportunity of inhabiting Murph, who is a world class scientist, destined to save humanity. “For some reason I usually get cast as characters that are smarter than me,” she laughs. “I am not a brain, but whenever there’s something I don’t understand it actually propels me to do it.”
With the help of physicist Kip Thorne, the 37-year-old actress embarked on a mission of expanding her knowledge on wormholes, Einstein’s Relativity and gravity until she felt confident in her ability to project Murph’s uncanny intelligence. But Murph is not only the voice of reason in the movie, she is also its emotional heart. Having lost her mother and been deeply bonded to her father in her childhood, she feels betrayed when he departs. Her pain and anger is heart-wrenching. Interestingly, this pivotal character was originally a man.
When Nolan got the script from his brother Jonathan, he changed it to a story about a father and daughter instead of a father and son without changing the name Murph. “Thinking about it the last few days makes me realise we’re really not that different,” Chastain chimes. “I am playing a woman who is intelligent and emotional and active in participating in the world around her, but yet fragile at the same time. She’s not the prop of a man.”
Chastain is no stranger to strong female characters that are normally reserved for male actors, having played CIA agent hunting Bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty” and a Mossad agent chasing a Nazi in “The Debt.” “That’s what interests me and actually it inspires me to want to go into the vault and look for other films with these great male characters and go what happens if I just change it to a woman – there’s probably not that much different, right?”
Indeed, the soft spoken and gentle starlet has been a powerful voice and advocate for women’s empowerment in Hollywood, on and off the screen, calling for superhero female characters and more female directors. She has often called upon women to stand up for their rights, saying that their value is in their talent and intelligence, not in their sex.
Aside from Interstellar, Chastain will be seen soon in “Miss Julie,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” and “A Most Violent Man.”