Jessica Chastain on mining for details and feminism's new moment in 'Zero Dark Thirty'
She pauses and needlessly apologizes. "Sorry. I talk a lot about acting because I really love it. So if I start talking too long you can just cut me off."
But that spotlight and, indeed, reliance on the character's actions above where she comes from or who she is in a contextual sense is in some ways the essence of cinema. "Shakespeare's even like that," Chastain's co-star Jason Clarke said in a separate interview. "The thought is on the line. There's not subtext; it's just there in the line. What you say is what you mean and what you mean is what you do…You are the sum of all your actions."
Which brings us to that single tear by film's end, and a closing line Chastain has frequently noted as resonant for both the character and the greater themes of the film.
"It's not just like a propaganda, 'Go America,' fist-pumping thing," she says. "It ends with a question. 'Where do you want to go?' And she doesn't know. There's an emptiness. And it's more than just her because it represents us as the audience. Where do we go now that we've killed bin Laden?"
Maybe we go into a certain state of reflection. Much has been made of the film's depiction of torture, leading it to become a political football amongst agenda-driven outlets looking to kick it around. But the depth of its matter-of-fact handling in the script is what resonated for Chastain.
"You see this argument that you don't expect of someone in the CIA saying, 'I cannot bring you proof because I can't do anything without the tools that you've taken away from me,'" she says. "When I was reading the script the first time, I was kind of shocked by that because in the press it had been PC to say the opposite. And here you have so many views. You see how brutal those interrogations were, and then you also see someone fighting for it."
Another difficult-to-resist narrative with the film is the notion that the story of a woman in a man's world standing up for herself and spearheading one of the most important intelligence missions in US history is being told by Kathryn Bigelow, a female figure in the largely male-dominated film industry. But Chastain sees it from a more nuanced angle.
"I do see a similarity between Kathryn and Maya in that when you're on set with Kathryn, you don't think about her as being a woman," she says. "You just think about her as being an amazing director. And she's really good at her job and she never has a speech about the glass ceiling in Hollywood and she never talks about how hard it is to be a woman in Hollywood or in a man's world. She's so focused and just does it.
"And the same with Maya. Maya, no matter what she comes up against with her colleagues, primarily who are men, she doesn't have this speech like, 'You're sexist,' because that takes away from her energy of doing her job well. And I don't know that Kathryn thinks of herself as fighting for women in a man's world. We just talked about the idea that here is this incredible character that stands alone, and it's very rare to see that in a movie, in Hollywood, in America, the female character not being defined by whatever the man was in the film."
Deeper still, Chastain ponders it as representative of a moment in time. "There are so many women that are choosing not to get married, to take their careers and to stand on their own, which, in our society, is a strange thing. I have people even asking me about it. Like why am I not married? I'm sure more people ask me that than they ask a man my age. There's this thing about being the bachelorette.
"So of course it's exciting because this film is bucking all conventions of the typical idea that you would expect with this character. And I think Kathryn's the only one who could really direct the film like this because even if you had someone else who was so great, they might then give her the speech about the glass ceiling in the CIA."
Still, Chastain registers a note of sadness at the fact that the real-life Maya can't be a public element of the story. "Because you want to say, 'Thank you,' you know, for the sacrifices she made. It kind of breaks my heart to think this woman went through all of that, fought even with her colleagues and superiors, everything she kind of gave up, a life, for close to a decade, and she can't get credit for it."
But "Zero Dark Thirty," she says, is the least she and those involved can do to pay tribute.
"Zero Dark Thirty" opens in limited release tomorrow.