Some women fantasize about their bridal gowns and having that fairy-tale princess moment, swathed in layers of tulle and lace. Jessica Chastain is not one of them.
Ask her about her most life-changing style statement, and she doesn’t hesitate. It’s the Alexander McQueen embroidered, strapless dress she wore to her first Academy Awards in 2012, which she worked on with the brand’s creative director.
“It was magical. It was very different from what other people were wearing,” Chastain tells Yahoo Style. “I told Sarah Burton at my first fitting that I never dreamed about a wedding dress, but I always dreamed about an Oscar dress. And we both got kind of emotional. That was a big, wonderful thing for me.”
The two-time Oscar nominee, who broke out as a misunderstood housewife in 2011’s The Help, owns her femininity. She specializes in playing powerful women, like her formidable lobbyist in last year’s Miss Sloane, and Antonina Zabinski in The Zookeeper’s Wife — the tale of an ordinary woman who saved hundreds of Jews during World War II by smuggling them out of Poland. It’s based on the bestselling book by Diane Ackerman.
“She’s an unlikely hero who risked her life to do what is right. I’m excited to explore women who have done great things and have forged paths for all of us today,” says Chastain, 40. “I choose roles with female characters that go against what society expects of them or tells them is possible.”
Where other celebrities parse words and try to play it safe, Chastain comes out and says it: She’s a feminist. Those who follow her on social media know she’s vocal about equal pay for equal work, and for broadening how society views women.
“In the past, we’ve defined power and strength as masculine traits. This is 2017. The idea of gender is being blurred. We need to stop saying that being powerful or ambitious or a leader is inherently a male quality. We need to look at gender stereotypes and blow the whole thing up,” says Chastain.
She’s doing it, one role at a time, pursuing parts that have depth and nuance. Yes, she hunted Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, and yes, she’s immersing herself in country music history to play Tammy Wynette, in the biopic George and Tammy (co-starring Josh Brolin as George Jones). But, says Chastain, “I wouldn’t have sex on camera. I wouldn’t take drugs on camera. I’m an actor, so I’m interested in acting and not being part of a documentary. Anything that blurs the line — there are a lot of things I wouldn’t do. My personal life is very valuable to me; so is my health, the people that I love. I would never do anything that sacrificed any of that for my profession.”
She sums it up: “I don’t want to sell my personal life for fame.”
She’ll share shots of her very cute dog and simultaneously praise women protesting in Russia. One thing you won’t find up for grabs: intimate moments from her personal life.
“I found success later, so I was able to look at the careers I really admired. Cate Blanchett is someone I adore. I didn’t know what her kids looked like. It’s important for me, with social media, to use it as a positive thing. What am I putting out into the world?” she says.
Money isn’t what drives Chastain. Never has, never will, she says.
“I grew up very poor. I grew up in a single-parent household. My mom was raising three kids by herself. I know that money is not what brings you happiness. I never went into my life thinking I had to make money. My life now is very different from what I imagined it to be. I was never like, ‘I have to be successful. I have to make money.’ I didn’t have those expectations,” she says.
She graduated from the Juilliard School, and remains close to classmate and sometime co-star Oscar Isaac, otherwise known as Poe Dameron from Star Wars. She’s been vegan for 11 years and swears by coconut ice cream. And if you’re in her inner circle, Chastain has your back.
“They can write whatever they want about my job. But I’m not there to let them criticize my life. So I’m not making that available for people to throw darts at,” she says.
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