In 2011, Jessica Chastain starred in seven films, including Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life. But it’s Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (ZDT; 2012) that has made her Hollywood’s latest actress-everyone-wants-to-know-more-about. With a Best Actress Oscar nomination under her belt, she talks about her role and working with Kathryn, ahead of the film’s India release on February 1.
Is this your biggest role till date?
I don’t know if it’s the biggest, but it’s definitely the greatest role as I’m playing the woman at the centre of the world’s greatest manhunt. What matters to me are the script and how intense the character is.
What was the most challenging part of playing Maya?
Portraying a woman I’m not in real life. The character is a woman who is emotionally controlled and analytically precise, whereas I am expressive and believe in living life freely. This was a challenge. But as I went on, I understood that she is a strong woman, but has emotions; it’s just that she’s learnt to control them very well.
What kind of research went into the role?
I derived a lot of information by reading books like The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright and Osama Bin Laden by Michael Scheuer. Also, following up on news and articles gave me insights. The rest was my imagination, to fill in the blanks of what I couldn’t find in my research about this woman.
Parts of ZDT were shot in India. What was your experience?
I didn’t get to see much as I was busy shooting. I got a chance to visit the Taj Mahal and some parts of Rajasthan and Chandigarh. I realised that the culture here is so very different. I also went on a horse-drawn carriage.
What was the experience of working with Kathryn Bigelow? Is it any different working with a woman director?
I desperately wanted to work with her. Direction is not gender-specific; a person who has talent will eventually shine. I’m proud of Kathryn and the way she has led the direction. Politicians have alleged that the film’s depiction of torture in the manhunt is unfair. Do you think Kathryn’s research is on solid grounds? A lot of research has gone into the making of the movie. As it is based on one of the greatest manhunts, it is naturally dramatic. People might feel that it’s dramatised, but Kathryn and all of us are ready for such comments.