Jessica Chastain is a chameleon who’s played everything between super-giggly (“The Help”) to cold and monstrous. The latter describes her turn in “Crimson Peak,” a Gothic ghost story in which Edith (Mia Wasikowska), a young, aspiring writer, runs afoul of twins (Tom Hiddleston and Chastain), who try to hide their evil ways. Chastain’s Lucille is the more bad of the two, and though Chastain — reuniting with director Guillermo del Toro after appearing in “Mama,” which he produced — wanted to dig deep into her backstory, she also found it surprisingly un-fun to play the villain. And it was painful too.
Guillermo del Toro is a very unusual big budget filmmaker. What is it for you, in your own words, that really draws you to him as a collaborator?
His imagination is really magnificent. I remember seeing an interview he did on “Charlie Rose” probably 10 years ago. He was on with [Alejandro Gonzalez] Inarritu and [Alfonso] Cuaron. He brought a journal with all these drawings of monsters and creatures he had created. I remember thinking, “Gosh, this guy’s imagination is really spectacular.” He loves his monsters. It’s really rare for someone to do a monster story or a ghost story and really have compassion for the monsters. What made them into the way they are? And so playing Lucille, I don’t think she could be in better hands. He’s someone who’s more interested in her as a multi-dimensional character — a fully realized human being and not this one-note villain.
What kinds of things did you do to explore her other sides?
Guillermo had written a biography, about 10 pages, from the moment she was born to where the film starts. So you know where she’s coming from. I also read things, looking for what made her do what she does. I read graveyard poetry, because Guillermo says she loves graveyard poetry.
Wait, what is “graveyard poetry”? I’ve never heard this term before.
It’s like Gothic poetry about the dead. It’s pretty intense. I guess it was titillating back in the day. When they didn’t have horror films they would read these poems to each other. [Laughs] I read a psychology book — I don’t want to say the title because the title is a spoiler for the movie. It was about women who were similar to Lucille and do the things she does. I wanted to read about it from a psychological point of view to understand how they got to that place. And then I’d seen these films before, but always when I’m playing a role I go back to my rolodex of inspirations. I watched “Misery,” “Rebecca,” What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” Those three wonderful performances helped me create Lucille.
It sounds like it was a very physical performance too. You had a very intense costume, for one.
Definitely. It even started with every morning. It was 2 ½ hours of hair and make-up. Guillermo said in the biography that she loves constrictive clothing. It was really painful to be her. She had a wig that went all the way down to her feet, so it took a long time to get that into a bun. We had to change my eye coloring, change my eyebrows to make sense with the black hair. I wrote seven-inch platforms to be more like a twin to Tom. I wore those throughout the movie, even in the running stuff. I did fall down once really bad. It physically hurt to be Lucille. Wearing all that can’t help but change how your body works.