„I want to do things my way”

Jessica Chastain

Interview

  • INTERVIEW VANESSA OELKER

The wonderfully versatile actor Jessica Chastain talks about patriarchal power, avoiding clichés and her love of fashion.

Ms. Chastain, Is it true that you have rejected roles in major film productions because you would have been earning less than your male counterparts?

Yes, it’s true. But being paid less wasn’t always the reason. In The Martian, for instance, Matt Damon had much more to do than I did and lots more experience, too. So it was fair that he earned more. But for other roles, I was sometimes offered a fraction of what the male lead was earning, and that made no sense to me.

Now you’re a privileged Hollywood star earning millions …

Yes, top actors are paid disproportionately well. My stepfather is a fire fighter and my brother is in the army. They both literally risk their lives to keep other people safe. There’s a huge imbalance there. To me, it’s not about the money. It’s about the principle, whatever the industry. So it also applies to the waitress who earns three dollars an hour while her male colleague earns ten. That is not okay. Why should anyone support that? It’s about asking why women in our society are ­valued less than men.

 

Popular guest: with Karl Lagerfeld at the 2016 Paris Fashion Week

Popular guest: with Karl Lagerfeld at the 2016 Paris Fashion Week

© Pascal Le Segretain/gettyimages

In your new film, Molly’s Game, you play someone who organizes exclusive, secret poker games. Your film father accuses you of doing so in order to gain power over men. Does this make any sense to you?

The director and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin depicts patriarchal society very precisely. It begins in the family, then you see it in the business world and in government. The father in the movie changes his assessment later because it would cheapen everything that Molly has achieved. For her, it’s not about controlling men, but about controlling her own life. She starts out following the rules laid down by men, but at the end of the film, she makes her own rules.

In Hollywood and elsewhere, men are often the ones who make the rules. Do you want to turn these power relations on their head?

I’m not interested in gaining power over powerful men. I want to be seen as an independent person who determines the course of her own life. That’s also why I founded my own production company. I have made many decisions in life with the purpose of choosing my own path and doing things my own way.

Yours is one of the loudest voices in Hollywood demanding equal treatment. How did your mother raise you to become the person you are?

She didn’t raise me any particular way. I just observed the world around me very closely. My mother was a single mom and she had a hard time putting enough food on the table. I saw the problems she faced and the inequality and unfairness of the demands made on women as compared to men. So in this regard it was ­society that taught me what I know.

In the movie, Molly grows up in a traditional family. Her fa-ther is strict and has very high expectations. Do mothers and fathers play different roles in their children’s upbringing?

I really don’t know. I grew up without a father and I still developed ambition. I wouldn’t want to reduce the role of a parent to their gender. If we only view fathers in the stereotypical way, we allow society to do the same with mothers. Gender clichés are harmful and limit our thinking.

Can the film industry solve its own problems (eliminate clichés, inequality and power abuses) by itself or is public pressure required to bring about change?

I think it’s dangerous to believe that what’s happening in Hollywood is somehow disassociated from society. The current abuses of power in the industry are only attracting so much attention because they took place in Hollywood and actors and actresses are often in the media. But women and men suffer abuses in every business. We received a letter of solidarity from farm workers describing sexual abuse and harassment that was signed by more than 700 000 women! This is a problem that concerns society as a whole.

So when should we start looking for a solution? And where?

A great time would be now, since so many people are sharing their experiences. Social media is fantastic, it gives everyone a platform and unleashes the power of solidarity. But we still have a long way to go!

Is there something you actually like about Hollywood?

Sure, I love the film industry in spite of everything. It has always been my dream to work with so many incredibly talented men and women. My hope is that every art form, be it painting, music, fashion, theater, dance, or simply a movie, can help society to move forward.

Fashion is an art form that you are particularly interested in, and you are often seen at shows. Where’s the appeal for you?

When we choose what to wear each morning, we are actually trying to shape an identity using the colors, patterns, makeup and hair styles we pick. We think about how we want to present ourselves to the world. So it’s a very personal thing.

My hope is that every art form can help a society move forward

Jessica Chastain, actress

Clothing can create a sense of closeness or emphasize distance …

Everything we wear is determined by the intentions behind our choice. If we want to create distance between ourselves and others, we wear clothing like armor. Sometimes other people pick up on an aloofness that we never intended. Misunderstandings arise precisely because fashion is so personal.