Who Is Jessica Chastain?
Born on March 24, 1977, in Sacramento, California, 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, earning a supporting actress Oscar nod for the role, and the lauded Tree of Life. She has since won a Golden Globe and earned another Academy Award nomination, specifically for lead actress in the Kathryn Bigelow film Zero Dark Thirty. Additional projects include Interstellar, A Most Violent Year and Crimson Peak.
Future actress Jessica Chastain was born Jessica Howard on March 24, 1977, in Sacramento, California, performing at an early age in productions of Shakespeare's works like 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 established by Juilliard alum Robin Williams. She eventually began to perform under her mother's maiden name, Chastain, in order to help avoid confusion with fellow redheaded actress Bryce Dallas Howard.
Starting in TV
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 she 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 programs. 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 started to focus her efforts on big-screen roles.
Oscar Nod for 'The Help'
Roles in small films—such as Jolene (her first starring film role) and Stolen—were followed by a supporting role in The Debt (with Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson) in 2010. The year 2011 started well for the actress with the cult hit Take Shelter (for which she received a variety of accolades). 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 Pacino in Wilde Salome, he recommended her to director Terrence Malick for a role in the upcoming Tree of Life. Chastain got the part, playing a grief-stricken wife 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. As a testament to her success, the actress received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her work in The Help as the loving Southerner Celia Foote.
Acclaimed Film Roles
Chastain followed up 2011 with several new films, including Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012), a film directed by Kathryn Bigelow about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. For her performance in Zero Dark Thirty as a real-life CIA operative, Chastain received the 2013 Golden Globe Award for best actress in a movie drama as well as an Academy Award nomination.
In 2014, Chastain starred in the relationship drama The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby with James McAvoy, and portrayed a scientist in the Christopher Nolan sci-fi epic Interstellar. Other film projects for the year included Miss Julie and A Most Violent Year, for which Chastain earned another Golden Globe nomination. Chastain was then seen in 2015 as an astronaut commander opposite Matt Damon in The Martian while also co-starring in the visually arresting horror flick Crimson Peak.
In 2016, Chastain appeared in the fantasy adventure film The Huntsman: Winter's War, a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), co-starring with Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron. She also starred in the 2016 political thriller Miss Sloane, portraying a conservative lobbyist who takes on the gun lobby in Washington D.C. Chastain earned a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of the title role.
In 2017, Chastain portrayed Antonina Zabinskini in The Zookeeper's Wife, a movie based on the true story of a husband-and-wife team that sheltered 300 Jews in the Warsaw Zoo during the Holocaust. That year, the actress earned a Golden Globe nomination for her part in another another unusual true story, Molly's Game, about an elite skier who began running the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game.
Advocacy and Personal Life
In 2003, Chastain's 24-year-old sister Juliet committed suicide, a personal tragedy that inspired the actress to devote herself to promoting awareness about depression and mental health. She supports various charitable causes including To Write Love on Her Arms, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people who are struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.
Chastain, who launched the female-led Freckle Films in 2016, is among the most outspoken advocates for equal rights in Hollywood. When news surfaced that Michelle Williams had made a fraction of the pay given to co-star Mark Wahlberg for the reshoot of All the Money in the World (2017), Chastain helped call attention to the disparity (Wahlberg later donated his salary to the Time's Up legal defense fund). Later, her former The Help co-star Octavia Spencer revealed that Chastain insisted they receive equal pay when pitching a project together, resulting in Spencer receiving five times her usual salary.
Chastain married Italian fashion executive Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo in June 2017. The couple lives in New York City.
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