Since then, her acting career has exploded, and due to the release of her several backlogged movies, she has become a household name this year!
Jessica was raised in Northern California and attended high school there. Her name was Jessica M. Howard, but she adopted her mother's maiden name at least as early as high school. Jessica has told a number of interviewers about the event that planted in her the desire to be an actress when she was just a child, "My grandmother took me to see David Cassidy in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and I thought, I want to be up there." In later interviews, she shared more details, "We sat down and the play started and there was a girl of my age who opened this huge book and started narrating and I thought, 'This is a job. She gets to wear cool costumes and this is what I am going to do.' Ever since then I have always known I was going to be an actor." She performed in plays in school and won some trophies, such as the District Middle School Dance Competition.
She said of her childhood, "I was always a little awkward, a redhead, and very freckly. Kids like to make fun of people who are different. I had short red hair and wore workout boots, so I got teased really badly for having red hair and being different." No one makes fun of her red hair today!
Jessica became a vegan and influenced her mother to become vegan as well. In fact, her mother is now a vegan chef and caterer and is Jessica's number one fan. Jessica reported that "My poor mother is telling everyone she knows, 'Jessica is doing a movie with Brad Pitt, with Al Pacino', and everyone is looking at her two years later going, 'Sure, sure.'" Jessica's father is a fireman. She has two sisters and two brothers. One brother is in the army and served in Iraq.
She was able to grant her younger brother a wish. She reported, "My 12-year-old brother came to stay while I was doing press for The Help. He really likes Emma Stone, so I asked her to go over and speak to him. She went over, and he absolutely clammed up, couldn't even look at her," she laughed. "There's a picture where she's smiling with her arm around him and he just looks like he's going to faint! It's my favourite."
Because her birth name was Howard, the question frequently arises whether she is the daughter of director Ron Howard. She is not. However, both Jessica and Ron Howard's real daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, are among the cast of the movie The Help. Interestingly, Jessica and Bryce Dallas Howard are both red-heads and bear a strong resemblance.
Marilyn is a fan of the book The Help. When she learned that Jessica had been cast as Celia in the movie, she thought they had ruined the film because Jessica was not a good match for Celia, but she was happy once she saw it. She is also proud of the photo she had taken with Al Pacino at the Venice Film Festival. Marilyn was introduced to the world when she accompanied Jessica to the 2012 Academy Awards wearing Marina Rinaldi. See a Ryan Seacrest interview of Jessica and her grandmother on the red carpet.
Jessica's line of descent from French Huguenot immigrant Pierre Chastain (1700) has not yet been established.
Romeo and Juliet. The artistic director of Romeo and Juliet remembers Jessica in the role of Juliet when she was still a teenager. He said, "She was beautiful, high-energy, charismatic, and she had a real joy about her. She was very good with the language. She was great for Juliet. The audience just completely fell in love with her; I guess everybody did. That was the effect she had on people. There was an exciting chemistry between her and the guy who played Romeo; it was unmistakable. Given her success in film and all that, I think the chemistry is something she brings with her anywhere she goes."
Another reviewer gives a very nice description of the play, including, "Fourteen-year-old Juliet (Jessica Chastain) appears at the rollicking party given by her father (Robert Parnell), very much the beneficent host, unaware that Romeo and his friends have crashed the party. Amusingly, the only disguise they wear are dark glasses. True to the original script, Romeo and Juliet have only to cross glances once at the party before falling hopelessly in love. Chastain's Juliet acts touchingly adolescent with her sighs, emotional mood changes, sunny smile and overwhelming despair when she learns that her soon-to-be husband is a forbidden Montague."
A partial listing of her early plays includes Auntie Mame, A Christmas Carol, Fiddler on the Roof, Much Ado About Nothing, Once Upon a Mattress, Our Town, A Piece of My Heart, Romeo and Juliet, Scarecrow, Seascape With Sharks and Dancer, and You Can't Take It With You.
Upon arriving at Juilliard, Jessica moved into the dorm with other first year students. She was awed by some of the people she saw at the school, such as Itzhak Perlman, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Yo-Yo Ma. Ralph Fiennes came to speak to her class. While at Juilliard, Jessica developed a love for Ibsen, Checkov, Strindberg, and many others to which she had not been previously exposed. And she was there in New York during the 9/11 attacks.
The New York Times reports, 'A turning point in her Juilliard career came at the end of her second year, when she was Arkadina in a production of "The Seagull" directed by Rebecca Guy. "That's when my confidence started to kick in," she said. "It's tough, acting. You have to walk two lines of a tightrope. There's the all-consuming fear of failure: I'm about to fall flat on my face. There's that and there's also confidence - you have to be confident in order to try things - and they fight each other all the time."' Jessica continues to talk about both themes in interviews, and she constantly anticipates a huge failure while confidently taking on daunting roles.
After graduation from Juilliard in 2003 in her early twenties, Jessica moved back to the west coast to continue her journey as an actress. In her last year at Juilliard, Jessica was spotted in an acting showcase by John Wells, creator of The West Wing and ER. He signed her at once to a 12-month holding contract. A holding contract binds an actor to a network or producer for a certain period while they develop a role or show for her.
Juilliard was not the end of Jessica's training. She mentions regularly that the directors she works for are also her teachers, and she specifically points to Al Pacino and Terrence Malick as being master teachers. Pacino taught her how to act differently for the camera than for the stage, and she told Flaunt Magazine that Malick was, "probably one of the greatest teachers I'll ever know. A great teacher for filmmaking, for acting, but also and mostly, a great teacher of what it is to be a great human being. I value him so much." She also likes Malick for his use of expressive silent film technique, which she was able to use in The Tree of Life; she is a fan of silent film artists Clara Bow and Charlie Chaplain.
Jessica lists among her dialects: Irish, Standard English, Southern, and Israeli. She also speaks some German. Among her other acting talents are a soprano singing voice, skills in scuba diving, bicycling, and the ability to wiggle her ears and nose! When violence is needed, she can bring out kickboxing, stage combat (unarmed, quarter staff, and rapier), and Krav Maga. Don't pick a fight with Jessica! She hopes for a role where she must learn to swim, as she can only move about almost like treading water.
Here are some quotes from Jessica describing the girl she is...
During 2011, the media began using a special designation to describe what kind of girl Jessica is--the IT girl! Another term often used in the latter part of the year was 'suddenly ubiquitous'. One writer commented that Jessica's "abruptly ubiquitous face left a lot of moviegoers feeling as if they had been living under a rock. Rising talents...usually have origin stories, but Chastain just sprang, fully formed, onto casting lists."
After her big movie hits in 2011, she seemed to enjoy that she was still infrequently recognized in public. In fact, she was once almost turned away from a party in her honor because she didn't have ID. More recently, she was asked again whether she could walk down the street without being noticed. She replied, 'It hasn't changed much and I think that's because I've been working. I was rehearsing Kathryn Bigelow's film [Zero Dark Thirty] in Jordan before the Oscars and then went straight back and filmed it. Now I'm filming in New York and I do notice the difference a bit: when I'm shooting a scene, outside there's paparazzi, which I've never experienced. For the most part, though, people don't know and don't care.' She also guards against becoming 'tabloid fodder' by not creating press opportunities with behavior that has nothing to do with film, such as going dancing at night clubs.
Jessica appreciates those actors, such as Brad Pitt, who do not make a big deal of being a celebrity, but while she tries to be down to earth with her fans and the public, she also tends, herself, to be a bit starstruck when meeting other big stars. One example was when she first met Meryl Streep. Jessica was in the lobby of a New York play she in which was starring when she saw Meryl Streep. Meryl approached her to tell her how much she enjoyed the play and Jessica's performance, and Jessica, in a daze, held her hands and said, "Thank you, thank you. It means so much to me that you came," and then she just walked away. She does not deny feeling starstruck; she told Daily Mail, "I do! Oh my God, of course. When you meet someone like Helen Mirren or Brad Pitt or Al Pacino, I mean, these people are huge stars and actors that I've admired all my life. And, you know, it's great for my family, too. I remember my grandma had her picture taken with Al at the Venice Film Festival premiere for Wilde Salome, which she had framed and keeps on her bedside table! That's so sweet - I love it."
She told Guardian, 'I love being around great actors and film-makers, and I try to hide the fact that I'm in awe of them. I try to pretend with Al Pacino or Helen Mirren that, you know, we're just part of the same team, we're all in this together, but really, secretly, the whole time my heart is beating very fast.'
Among the stars she greatly admires and has worked with are Helen Mirren, Brad Pitt, Ralph Fiennes, and Al Pacino. However, her idol is Isabelle Huppert, who played in such films as The Piano Teacher and 8 Women, Jessica told Le Modalogue, 'Isabelle Huppert is for me the greatest actress in the world. She always plays very bold characters, very daring women. She always challenges herself, working with directors from other countries, she's never lazy. To play with her is one of my dreams.' Jessica once said she would love to work with Huppert, but that Huppert did mostly French movies.
That was before Isabelle was cast in Jessica's double-movies The Disappearace of Eleanor Rigby! Jessica is ecstatic now.
While in New York filming Eleanor Rigby, Isabelle attended Jessica's NYC premier of Lawless, which was hosted in part by Jessica's new fragrance Manifesto. Jessica had several photos taken with Isabelle Huppert at the after-party. On her facebook page, Jessica said, 'My new all time favorite photo. Ok guys...remember how I said that Isabelle was a genius actress and that it would be my dream to work with her? Well... She is beyond. I just got a Huppert master class. :) Yes, she's a genius. Obviously.. ...But she's also funny, intelligent, and very kind. My favorite moment from time she was in NY was taking her to see Uncle Vanya at Soho Rep. The look on everyone's faces when they realized who was there was amazing. I also loved when Harvey Weinstein introduced Lawless at the premiere, he took a moment to acknowledge Isabelle Huppert's presence. He said she was acting royalty. Yep. xxjes'
Jessica also posts new information, announcements, and photos. She has a nice picture of her grandmother Marilyn and some of her dog Chaplin. Her photos from the foreign places she visits, like the Pyramids and Taj Mahal, are particularly interesting. She posts information on new developments and pictures from public events. Often, she corrects false rumors. For example, a specific 2012 release date was rumored for Mama, but Jessica double-checked and not only was there no specific date but Mama is not even releasing until 2013. Chastain Central reflects this 2013 release while other sources, including IMDb, continue to show 2012. In the same way, many sources continue to list Jessica as part of the To the Wonder cast even though Jessica has announced that she is not in the final cut.
Chastain Central discovered Jessica's facebook page not long after it was established on March 4, 2011; there were only 200-300 'Likes' at the time. But her following began to grow right away and in May of 2012, after Jessica posted that she would not be in Iron Man 3, a news site published a short article based on her facebook comment. That report was picked up by numerous other news organizations catapulting Jessica's facebook page to international attention. Her 'Likes' increased significantly the same day.
Three artists graced Jessica's facebook page beginning in July 2012 with wonderful tribute portraits of Jessica. Fan Isaac Choi was first with an elaborately embellished rendition. Soon after, fan Teff Pixie weighed in with four portraits and Aurore Clement with a drawing of Jessica and children. Graciously, all three artists granted permission to Chastain Central to display those portraits here.
Jessica Chastain on facebook is a nice way to keep up with Jessica!
In her acting, Jessica is a professional. She describes how she prepares for roles, 'I love researching. When I get a role that's one of the very first things I do. I just want to fill myself up with knowledge of what the character might have come from. Not just even reading about the history of the time, which of course I do, but I also love learning about the music of the time, listening to that; thinking of the food of the time; what someone would have done for fun.' She throws herself into every role with her extensive research and by dissolving into the character. She commits to the character even if it means gaining weight or learning German.
Jessica enjoys playing a wide range of characters and genre and is pleased that the releases of her earlier films were delayed until she had the chance to play a number of different roles to reduce the likelihood of being type-casted. She is alert to her directors and considers them to be her teachers. She likes interesting and complex roles and does not seem drawn to 'easy' ones. She is willing to pass up opportunities in blockbusters like Iron Man 3 or Tom Cruise' Oblivion in order to play parts that appeal to her and stretch her range.
Jessica delights in choosing roles for her own reasons and not for the money. She tells interviewers all the time that she chooses roles in order to learn and to stretch herself. Often she talks about certain failure, but this is not due to a lack of confidence, but to a healthy sense of reality. Because she pushes herself and takes risks instead of playing it safe, she knows that she will sometimes fail. She laughed as she told an interviewer, 'I've been very lucky so far, so failure is right around the corner for me!'
In approaching her roles, she looks for challenge and follows-up with intense reearch and preparation. She works to understand her characters, 'Every character I play I feel is like a woman I got to meet and learn from getting to hang out with. I see them as their own people. So I think I take something away from everything.'
Jessica is not pretentious about her success; in fact she anticipates a time when her movie fame will fade and she will return happily to a life of performing on stage. She is pleased with her success, but says, "I know this is all gonna go away. I'm not some naive 20-year-old trying to cling to this amazing year. Because a year like this... it's just not normal."
Growing up, a big expense was a fashion magazine. I got $100 for clothes at the beginning of the year, and I had to be very careful about what pieces would last - I bought thrift and vintage.
For me, fashion is incredibly emotional. I go to shows in Paris and try not to cry. Fashion is the expression of, 'This is how I am feeling today.'
Fashion to me is not about 'this is the cool brand', or 'this is the best silhouette on me.' I like fashion where it tells stories each time. I love to show different sides of myself and that's why I love fashion. I love working with designers. It's not about the prettiest dress; it's about being interesting. 'What does this dress say?' Fashion to me is like a piece of music or a painting. I like it when it means something.
I love clothes; I love fashion. Clothes are very emotional to me and to have designers offer me dresses and beautiful things to wear makes that whole experience all the better. I try to not look the same all the time. I try to change my look a lot and play different roles. My job as an actor is to be a storyteller, so I think for a campaign it would be very exciting to work with a designer and a label to do something that was telling a story. Not just 'Jessica wearing a designer'.
I like a more retro look than a lot of the latest designer things I get to wear. But fashion is something I love to explore and I whenever I get to go to the big fashion shows in Paris I feel so much anxiety because I'm so fascinated by the art and creativity that goes into creating beautiful clothes.
I've been fortunate to get to know a lot of important designers like Zac Posen and I have so many clothes now that I had to build a closet in my garage to store all the outfits! I think I have to buy a new house now or stop collecting clothes!
I like art, and fashion to me is art, so I will continue wearing things that I think are beautiful pieces and probably will get people talking.
One of Jessica's biggest fashion moments was wearing the yellow Zac Posen dress at Cannes in 2011. It was fabulous; people are still talking about it! Jessica said, 'I loved the dress that Zac Posen made for me for the Cannes red carpet. I said that I wanted a dress that looked like sunshine and it absolutely was like a ray of light.' Jessica later revealed, 'I cleaned it and stored it for a daughter someday.' Another fashion choice that had everyone talking was her appearance on the 2012 Academy Awards' red carpet in a stunning embroidered Alexander McQueen gown. Many considered her to be the best dressed of the evening.
I am far from being a fashionista, but here are my favorites (okay, so I like hats!):
In 2012, PETA named Jessica the sexiest female vegetarian celebrity out of fifty nominees.
One might say that Jessica is earth-friendly. In addition to being vegan in diet, she does not use leather, and she practices yoga. She told an interviewer, "The most important thing in my life, and the thing I try to focus on, is to try not to live a life of cruelty. That means trying to make sure I look people in the eye when I meet them. Sometimes you jump in a taxi, or maybe you only have two minutes with someone, and you never see them again. I try to always look them in the eye and have a real experience of what it is to communicate with someone...I guess it's about trying to live a life where I'm not contributing to the cruelty in the world....While I am on this planet, I want everyone I meet to know that I am grateful they are here."
Is Jessica a smoker? After seeing images from the sets of Lawless and Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, many of Jessica's fans were concerned that their healthy life-style heroine was a smoker. Jessica put that concern to rest on her facebook page, 'No I am not a smoker. I've never smoked a real cig in my life. I was shooting a scene for Rigby when that pic was taken. Anytime in a film that you see me smoke, it's usually the HoneyRose fake cigs.'
As of January 2013, Jessica still drove her 2006 (1997?) Prius.
Jessica enjoys playing the ukulele, in part because it is easy to pack, and she once performed with it at a Halloween party dressed as Spock. She sometimes dreams about being part of a ukulele group, perhaps with Eddie Vedder, Ryan Gosling, and banjo aficionado Steve Martin, to create an album of reworked indie hits. The director of Mama also plays ukulele, so they sometimes played together while shooting the movie.
Jess Weixler worked in several TV series beginning in 2003, such as Guiding Light, Law and Order-Criminal Intent, and Medium. She had a role in the 2005 film Little Manhattan and has done numerous films since.
Jess Weixler was cast in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby which stars Jessica Chastain as Eleanor. Weixler is Eleanor's sister Katy Rigby, so in addition to being best friends the two Jesses get to be sisters as well!
The photo at right shows Jessica and Jess at a motocross event they attended just before the U.S. premier of The Tree of Life. The friends now live about ten blocks from each other.
Throughout 2011, both were well represented in nominations and wins for their work for that year. It is reported that they squealed with delight when they saw each other at one event they attended. Both were nominated for Oscars, but they did not compete against each other. Jessica was in the running for Supporting Actress (The Help), while Michelle was up for Best Actress (My Week with Marilyn). Both were also selected as presenters for the 2012 SAG Awards.
What about her romantic life? Jessica says that with her career schedule she has little time for a personal life, but she hopes to make room for that at some point. However, she has a rule about dating: No Actors! She wants her acting, not her personal relationships, to be the focus of public interest.
We look forward to learning more about Jessica, the person, as she continues her successful career.
For details of Jessica's Stage Appearances see Jessica Chastain on Stage and TV on Chastain Central
At Juilliard, Jessica performed in a number of productions:
She also performed in four plays with the Chautauqua Theater Company, where internationally known actors, directors, designers, and writers work with emerging artists from the nation's top training programs to produce a vibrant summer of work in the historic Bratton Theater. Jessica's performances were:
For details of Jessica's Stage Appearances see Jessica Chastain on Stage and TV on Chastain Central
Since Juilliard, Jessica has performed in a number of plays professionally.
For details of Jessica's Television Appearances see Jessica Chastain on Stage and TV on Chastain Central
For details of Jessica's films see Jessica Chastain Movies on Chastain Central
According to Jessica, her first eleven big-screen films were made in this order: Wilde Salome, Stolen, Jolene, The Tree of Life, The Debt, Coriolanus, The Texas Killing Fields, Take Shelter, The Help, The Burial, and Lawless. However, due to various factors the movies released in a considerably different order.
Jessica Chastain Movies
Jessica Chastain on Stage and TV
Jessica Chastain in Magazines
Jessica Chastain Becomes a Star
Jessica Chastain Awards and Festivals
Jessica Chastain News
Jessica Chastain Reviews