Getting to know “Tree of Life” star Jessica Chastain

Actress Jessica Chastain attends "The Tree Of Life" premiere during the 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival.

Jessica Chastain, 30 years old and basically unknown, stars in Terrence
Malick’s “Tree of Life” with superstar Brad Pitt, playing his wife, alongside “their” children. We met in Cannes, a few hours after the screening of the film.

How did you get cast in “The Tree of Life”? By Terrence Malick in person?

The first audition I had, he wasn’t there. It was with the casting director and producer Nick Gonda. They didn’t necessarily want me to do a scene. It was more about behaviour, seeing someone acting, moving, talking. Just being like in a Terrence Malick movie. For instance, they asked me to put a baby sleep, sing him a lullaby. Look at someone with love and respect. And also a little bit of dialogue from a Eugene O’Neill play, just to hear my voice. A couple of days later, I was asked If I wanted to meet with Terry and I was “woah!!!”

How did it go, that first meeting?

We met for lunch. He asked me a lot questions about myself. Then we went to the production office and him and the producers gave me pages of the script. We did a lot of reading, an entire day. After that I remember saying to my friends, “Even if we don’t end up working together on this film, I will forever be grateful for the time we shared together”. Later I had a few others auditions, and it was tough because a lot of famous actresses were interested in the part.

How much did the experience of working with Malick affect your life ?

He will forever but one of the greatest teachers I’ll ever know. He took a big risk in casting me. He changed my life, as an actress, but also as a person. Terrence Malick is the kind of person who is constantly asking questions like “Why are we here? What kind of human being do we chose to be?”. I think about that everyday. In the movie I play a woman who is the embodiment of grace and unselfish love. She says “Unless you love, your life will flash by”. This movie really opened my heart.

What about working with Brad Pitt?

I’m very kind of shy, a little awkward, but when Terry called to tell me Brad was going to be in the film with me, I had a hard time staying calm. I was with my friends and I took a piece of paper to write “BRAD PITT !!!”. When he showed up for rehearsal, he arrived all by himself, on his motorcycle. Like a normal guy! All my anxiety went away in a minute because he made me feel so comfortable!

The movie was shot in a Texas suburb that the production rented. Did it feel like home in the end?

I was there for 3 months with the three boys. Brad was there half of the time, like in the film.  I spent so much time with the children. On the set, I was making sandwiches, talking to them when they were sad.  We hung out with each other all the time and when it ended, it was really devastating for me. Because I’m not a mother, I don’t have children. I spent every day all day with these children and all of a sudden they were gone!

This is your first time in Cannes. What’s your impression?

This is something I’ve always wanted to approach because I’m such a fan of films, especially French cinema. I love the movies that Cannes platforms like “The Piano Teacher.” I’m of fan of Michael Haneke and Isabelle Huppert, obviously. You know, I come from the stage. I didn’t think I would be a movie actress when I started in Julliard, but for many actresses there, she’s the ultimate reference.


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