Best Performances - 2018 - Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain in "Molly's Game"

To play Molly Bloom, I thought about what women have to become in order to find power in a society where men are making all of the rules. I was like, “Oh, my gosh—the Kardashians are an incredible example of women who have their own sense of entrepreneurial power.” And in real life, Molly looked a lot like them. For research, I actually watched Kim’s tutorial on face shading and contouring. As the movie goes on, Molly transforms into this idea of what a woman has to be in order to be heard: The heels get higher, the necklines are lower, the hair is longer. It was quite a departure for me, physically. And the strange thing is, I don’t look like myself at all in this film, and so many people have said to me that I’ve never looked better.

Oscar de la Renta dress; Sophie Buhai earrings.

Photographs by Juergen Teller; Styled by Edward Enninful

Over the course of her career, Jessica Chastain has played a Southern belle, a haunted punk-rocker, a C.I.A. analyst, and a United States Navy officer, among many other varied roles. So how did she prepare for her latest on-screen transformation as Molly Bloom, the woman behind one of the world's biggest and most star-studded underground poker games? She turned to Kim Kardashian, of course. "The Kardashians are such an incredible example of women who really have their own sense of power, you know, entrepreneurs," Chastain said. Here, the Molly's Game star expands upon just how the Kardashian clan influence her portrayal of Bloom, working with Aaron Sorkin, and how her first kiss went not exactly according to plan.

How did Molly’s Game come to you?

I heard about Molly’s Game from my agent Hilda, and she asked me if I’d be interested to work with Aaron Sorkin. He is a great film hero of mine because he’s a political filmmaker. And there’s so much idealism in his writing; justice prevails against the odds, I love those themes. So, yes, I wanted to be a part of it, and I had a meeting with Aaron. So it wasn’t necessarily an audition, but I guess it was an audition meeting. And I tried to come into that meeting with Molly Bloom’s energy.

Did you wear something particular?

Before I met Aaron, I watched a lot of videos and interviews of Molly Bloom, and I saw how she presented herself. There was a lot of effort that was put into her appearance, and she looked very good. So I put a lot of effort into my appearance for that meeting. And she also is very confident. I’ve never done this before, but we were in the meeting and about two minutes I just turned to him and I said, “Why are we having this meeting and why don’t I have this part yet? Why haven’t you cast me?" And he just kind of looked at me and he was like, "Uh..." And then he laughed and he said, “Molly Bloom told me to cast you.” And I thought, “Yes, okay good, she wants me to play her.”

She has much darker hair than you do.

Molly looks nothing like me in real life, but a lot of my characters look nothing like me in real life.I don't know why Molly wanted me to play her in the film, but it made me feel good, of course. I’m a pretty stanch feminist and she is as well, so perhaps my feminist activities benefited me in this casting process.

Did you know much about poker beforehand?

Before I approached this film, I didn’t know anything about poker except that my mom liked to play poker a lot. On Halloween we would play poker with our Halloween candy, which was basically a way for her to get all the Halloween candy away from us so we didn’t run around the house in sugar rushes. But other than that, I didn’t know anything. So I did what Molly Bloom did; I just started Googling all the terms that I didn’t understand. I read her book and some other books. And then I met with the players from Molly’s game. And I went to a game in New York.

They still exist?

Oh yeah, underground poker is still there. It was fascinating because actually you know all those people in that room knew Molly. So I got to talk to Molly about and see how she wanted me to play her. And then I did my research to see okay, well what else can I find out about Molly that maybe she’s not presenting me with. And reading the book was great. That’s actually what helped me with that confidence and her feeling of 'I’m just gonna make it happen.' I took that into my meeting with Aaron Sorkin and that’s how I got the part. She’d done a book tour, so she spent a lot of time being interviewed on TV, and I watched that a lot to try to find her mannerisms and how she presented herself, like what she looked like. I had pictures of the Kardashians also all over my trailer when I was playing the part. Not in a negative way, at all.

That's interesting.

So much about Molly Bloom and the physicality and people telling her that she’s not presenting herself in the way she should...her boss says, “Ugly shoes, ugly dress,” and she goes and buys something that she says makes her look completely like someone else and she becomes more sexually desirable. And then later on, the lawyer tells her she’s too sexually desirable and she needs to change her clothes. So I thought in terms of, "Well, what do women have to become in order to find power in society when men are making all the rules?" And it was pretty clear to me; I was like, "Oh my gosh, the Kardashians are such an incredible example of women who really have their own sense of power, you know, entrepreneurs." They looked a lot like Molly; Molly looked a lot like them. So I had those images. I actually watched Kim’s tutorial on like face shaving or whatever. As the movie goes on, Molly really starts to transform into this idea of what a woman has to be in order to be heard.

I noticed your heels got higher and higher.

Yeah, the heels got higher, the necklines got lower, the hair got longer, skirts shorter. It was quite a departure, physically. And the strange thing is I don’t look like myself at all in this film, and so many people have said to me after they’d seen the trailer of the film, they said that I’ve never looked better.

It's a very sexualized way of dressing.

It’s a very sexualized way of dressing, but it’s a funny thing when you feel like, "Wow, it’s such a transformation from where I am," and then people are like, "You look great, you look better than you normally look." And you kind of go, "Hmm, maybe I’m doing something wrong in my real life."

It's an interesting character in that she was playing in a man’s world, as well as the idea about how you have to position yourself in a man’s world.

Absolutely. One of a really strong theme that Aaron wrote and that’s present in the film is that the film deals with patriarchy, and you see it in all aspects of Molly’s life. You see it in her family, where her father is the moral authority of the household. You see it in industry, where the men in her poker industry make all the rules and the rules change depending on their whims. And you also see it in government, in terms of the men who are going after her and then changing their minds about whether or not she can get her money back. In each instance, Molly is trying to contend in an environment where men are the ones making the rules and the rules can change depending on their desires. And I find that a fascinating subject to tackle right now.

When you get beat up, it’s very brutal. I thought he did a great job directing those scenes because they’re actually brutal. You know as opposed to being kind of prettified, they’re really upsetting.

What I appreciated about the way that Aaron directed and filmed the scenes were when Molly gets attacked and knocked around is there isn’t a sense of her victimization making her stronger. I find sometimes in movie it’s a trope where a director or a writer will use rape or violence against a woman to make her stronger, to make her then it’s like the Phoenix from the ashes. She rises and then she’s really who she is, and that horrible thing that happened to her thank goodness that happened to her because now look at her. And this film doesn’t do that at all. It doesn’t use it to empower Molly. It’s actually so brutal. It’s so violent. It’s so real, and I mean it is real; it really happened to her.

Absolutely. Now some questions about you. Since you mentioned Halloween, what was your favorite costume you've ever worn?

One year I was Elvis and another year I was Spock. Spock might have been my favorite. I did the ears. I had the turtleneck. I had like the wig. I was super nerdy. I don’t think I’ve ever dressed in a sexy way for Halloween. I’m always at parties and I’m like, "Wow, we are somewhere where people are wearing lingerie."

How do you feel about New Year's Eve?

I love New Year’s. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, though. I used to when I was younger. Like one year I cut soda for a year and another year I cut sugar. And then I just realized I could do all that stuff normally instead of waiting for New Year’s to commit to make a change like that. I don’t have New Year’s parties. I like to have Christmas, you know, getting around the Christmas tree. Usually I’m not home for New Year’s and with my family. So New Year’s Eve has become less of a party and more of just I’m lucky if I stay awake until New Year’s.

What is the best advice you've ever received?

To smile more. That’s what my grandma used to say to me. She used to tell me I had a nice smile, but I never used to smile. I was very sullen as a child. I had crooked teeth and I was very freckly and my hair was bright, bright orange. When I look back at pictures of my childhood, the ones that I love the most are the ones where you see all my freckles. You see my orange hair, and you see my crooked teeth.

What was your first job?

My first job I worked for a muffin-selling breakfast company. I sold muffins. And I’d show up at 4:30 in the morning, and you get all your muffins and then you go into the businesses and you walk around at 7 a.m. and you go, "Muffins! I got muffins!" And then people would come over and buy them. Yeah, it was a terrible job; I hated it.

When was your first kiss?

I was at a slumber party in sixth grade, so I was pretty young. The girls that were having a slumber party invited boys and we all started playing truth or dare. And a guy dared me to French kiss him. I had never done that before. I had seen Top Gun and that scene where they’re kissing each other, so I was like, "Okay." I was too scared to kiss him in the room with everyone, so everyone had to leave the room. And then we’re in the room together and I started to kind of back up and he was like approaching me. And then her mom ran into the room and was like, "Gotcha!" She was laughing and she goes, "Never mind, go ahead," and walks out. So I’m freaked out now, because I don’t know what is going on. He’s approaching me, I’m backing up, backing up, backing up. And finally, I’m like against the wall and he’s right here, and I just closed my eyes and just stick out my tongue. And it grazed his nose. It like licked his face a little bit. And then he yelled, “Oh, she tried to French kiss my nose,” and ran out and told the entire slumber party group. I mean, I don't know if that counts as a kiss. It was fairly traumatic. And the good thing is I will say I have figured out how to French kiss.

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