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Jessica Chastain is an American actress who first gained widespread attention in 2011 for her work in Take Shelter, The Help and Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.
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Born Jessica Howard, Jessica Chastain attended Juilliard and then began landing roles on TV shows such as ER and Veronica Mars. Her acting career took off in 2011, when she appeared in the blockbuster The Help and the lauded Tree of Life.
At an early age, Jessica Chastain performed under her mother's maiden name in productions of Shakespeare's works, such as Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet, around the San Francisco Bay area. At the urging of another actor in Romeo and Juliet, Chastain applied to the Juilliard School in New York City and was accepted, assisted by the help of a scholarship founded by Juilliard alum Robin Williams.
During Chastain’s last year at Juilliard, John Wells—producer of The West Wing and ER, among many other TV shows—attended an acting showcase in which Chastain was performing. He liked what he saw and signed her to a 12-month holding contract, in the hopes of finding a place for her in his upcoming shows. She ended up getting roles on Wells's ER and on Dark Shadows, Law & Order: Trial by Jury and a host of other shows. While she worked in TV, Chastain also was active on the stage, landing parts in The Cherry Orchard (with Michelle Williams), Wilde Salome (with Al Pacino) and Othello (with Philip Seymour Hoffman). Beginning in 2008, Chastain would focus her efforts on big-screen roles.
Roles in small films—such as Jolene (her first starring film role) and Stolen—were followed by a supporting role in The Debt (starring Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson) in 2010. The year 2011 started well for the actress, with the cult hit Take Shelter (for which she was nominated and won several awards). While that film was quietly successful, Jessica Chastain didn’t stay under the radar for long, as 2011 turned out to be the year that she broke through into the mainstream.
After Chastain starred with Al Pacino in Wilde Salome, he recommended her to director Terrence Malick for a role in the upcoming Tree of Life. Chastain got the part, opposite Brad Pitt, and that same year (2011) she appeared in the smash hit The Help, as well as in Coriolanus and Texas Killing Fields. One testament to her success at this time, the actress received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress award for her work in The Help.
Chastain followed up 2011 with several new films, including Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012), a new Terrence Malick film, and Zero Dark Thirty (2012), a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. For her performance in Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain received the 2013 Golden Globe Award for best actress in a drama.
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