Interview with Jessica Chastain from Movieline
...Tree of Life puts you in a very estimable — and rare — class of talent that’s worked with Terrence Malick. Considering you’re a researcher, how did you prepare for that experience?
When I heard I had the audition, I watched every single one of Terrence Malick’s films in chronological order the day before I went in. He definitely has a style that’s all his own, and it definitely put in me in that world. Then I went in to audition, and that was the beginning of this long journey to get the part. He wasn’t there, but then afterward — after he saw the tape — I went to Texas to meet him. It was a lot about watching his other films; he loves this very subtle kind of acting that doesn’t really feel like acting. It’s just being. And for my character… [Pauses] Oh, gosh. I’m trying to figure out how to answer this question without upsetting anyone. I play a very spiritual character, so I spent a lot of time trying to cultivate that aspect of myself. I went to a spiritual retreat and meditated every day for a week. I read a lot. I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and looked at a lot of paintings of the Madonna. I watched a lot of old Lauren Bacall films to find a slower way of speaking.Wow.
Yeah, there’s so much.Yet many actors who’ve worked with Malick have spoken about no matter how much they prepare, a lot of times it doesn’t matter — sometimes to his credit, sometimes not. They could be cut, their characters could be changed… they just don’t know what performance will actually make it to the screen. Did you sense a similar ambiguity, especially once shooting began?
I did not get that sense. I’d been auditioning so much, and when Terry called me and offered me the role, only then was I allowed to read the script. He never even gave me scenes before that. So when I read the script, I realized that the character was an important figure. In a way, as soon as I was cast, I began rehearsing with Terrence Malick, which is phenomenal. I’d have weekly phone calls with him; I went to Austin a couple times before we shot. He was the one who suggested looking at painting of the Madonna at the Metropolitan. I went to Kansas; I went to a farm and saw what that life was like. I worked a voice coach. He was involved every step of the way. Even when we were filming, I was there every day throughout the shoot. So I always felt the presence of who this woman is. It’s important in the film.
But the one thing that you really don’t know is what will make it in the film. You shoot all day when you work with Terry. The only time the camera is not shooting is when they are changing the film — when they’re loading the camera. You get two minutes. You shoot four minutes, and then you get two minutes off while they load. And you shoot again. And it just goes like that all day. It’s not like you do a scene and there’s a “Cut” and then you pick up again. You just go until the film runs out. So you never know what will be in the film. You just try to live your life while you make the film. That’s just the way he makes movies; he doesn’t stop is life while he makes the movie. He continues. And we all become a family on the set. But also, I think our film is different than films like The Thin Red Line because the cast is much smaller. So… I… [Pauses] Gosh, I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to be stuttering so much. I just get nervous when I talk about him! I’m not really supposed to.I totally understand — he’s Terrence Malick! That said, what would happen? Would he call you? Would he e-mail you? We all know him as this reclusive, private figure; is Malick someone who’d just call you up and say, “Jesus, Jessica…”
He’s not reclusive. He’s an incredibly warm person who’s only reclusive to the press. But every person he meets… I mean, when I met Terry, I felt like I met someone who was going to be my friend. And most people I talked to on the set seemed to feel that way.
What about when you met Brad Pitt?
You know, I was actually more intimidated before I met Brad, just because of what Brad Pitt… [Laughs] means. I mean, you think “Brad Pitt,” and you think, “He’s the biggest movie star alive.” So that was more intimidating. But the first day I met him, he showed up on a motorcycle. He didn’t have anyone around him. He was by himself. He’s incredibly funny and really intelligent. And of course he’s very good looking. But I wouldn’t have known he was a movie star if I lived in some faraway country and just met him. I would think, “Oh, he’s an attractive, funny, intelligent man.” He really presents himself like a regular guy. And he really is.Is that something you emulate as a young, developing actor yourself? That personality and that disposition on the set?
Yeah. For me, it’s so important when I’m working to have a real connection with people. I don’t understand how it is to be an actor and not have that. Maybe I’m just not good enough, but I can’t fake it that way. I can’t pretend we’re all down-to-earth if I’m working with someone who’s crazy. Thank God I’ve never worked with someone who’s crazy; I wouldn’t know how to do that. To me, it’s so important because this business is so generous with the attention it gives you and the opportunities you get. It’s really important for me to be around people who don’t take the attention seriously. For me it’s not about the attention; it’s about the work. Which is probably why, of those nine films I’ve done, most of them are very small movies with very small budgets but with actors or writers or directors that I really wanted to work with. For me, that’s what it’s about at the end of the day.