2011 has been the year of Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain, but the latter hasn't really been around much to enjoy it.  I spoke to "The Help," "Tree of Life," "Coriolanus," "The Debt," "Take Shelter," "Texas Killing Fields" actress Wednesday evening at a relaxed and holiday cocktail party DreamWorks held at SoHo House Los Angeles to celebrate "The Help."

Chastain has spent the last three months in Toronto where she was shooting "Mama," a Warner Bros. thriller produced by Guillermo Del Toro and (arguably) her first paycheck role.  She's also spent the rest of the year shooting Terrence Malick's next untitled drama (with Ben Affleck) and appearing in John Hillcoat's follow up to "The Road." As friendly as ever, Chastain said she'd just gotten back home which -- surprise -- is Los Angeles.  In fact, she says she's been so out of the loop on the awards goings on that she found out about her Golden Globe nomination last week after getting off a plane in Morocco (she was a jury member at the Marrakech International Film Festival and no, I'm not sure why either).  The 30-year-old actress admitted she'd always thought having her backlog of movies hitting theaters in one year would be a bad thing, but it turned out to be exactly the opposite.  It kept Chastain in the spotlight even when she couldn't hit the press circuit to promote them (although she did her part when she could).  Moreover, it helped solidify her current awards season bounty which includes SAG and Golden Globe best supporting actress nominations for "The Help" as well as a slew of other critics groups awards.

I asked Chastain whether she'd thought any of her five films would hit with audiences more than another.  She immediately said she knew "The Help" was going to be good when she rehearsed with Spencer and the "chemistry" was just there.  As for one of her other celebrated roles, alongside Brad Pitt in "The Tree of Life," the California-native said she loved working with Malick because he'd always move the camera and keep you on guessing on where a scene was going.  Unlike other actors, Chastain credits the exercises she discovered while attending Juilliard for making Malick's shooting technique so easy to adjust to.

Chastain will get just a short rest over the holidays as she'll be prepping for a new film lined up to start in February (one I promised not to reveal, but it's absolutely high profile) and has nominations at the SAG Awards and Golden Globes to celebrate. I asked her if there was an out clause so she could return for the Oscars, but Chastain insisted she didn't think a nomination for the big show was in her future.  She sees her chances as too difficult because Searchlight is also pushing "Tree of Life" and Sony Classics is promoting her work in "Take Shelter," two roles that are in the best supporting actress category alongside "The Help" and might split her vote.  On the other hand, I reminded her that didn't stop her from landing a crucial SAG nomination and this pundit thinks she's absolutely in for Oscar alongside Spencer (now who wins in that wide open race is a completely different topic).  Perhaps she was just being more humble than necessary (although, yes, which contender is going to tell you they expect to be nominated?).

Other attendees at the classy soiree included Chastain's co-stars Viola Davis (in a swank leather jacket), Octavia Spencer, Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson, producers Donald DeLine and Laurence Mark as well as numerous industry and press looking for one last drink for the holiday break.  

Clearly though, the awards season road for "The Help" and Chastain is just beginning.

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