After experiencing the kind of breakout year that few actors ever have, Jessica Chastain — who’s latest film, “Lawless” opens Wednesday — is facing a dilemma she never anticipated.
“I’ve had to learn how to say ‘no’ to offers,” Chastain says, giggling on the telephone. “That’s so unexpected. I’m used to working really hard to get a role. I was always auditioning and talking my way into roles.
“But this year — I mean, it’s not a problem. It’s a wonderful thing. But I find myself having to say, ’I don’t have time,’ or ’That doesn’t fit with my schedule.’ I want to do everything. But I find I have to say no to things.”
Not that she hasn’t kept busy. As she speaks, Chastain is in the midst of shooting a pair of overlapping films: “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers,” opposite James McAvoy. At the same time, she’s about to begin rehearsals for “The Heiress,” which will mark her Broadway debut when it opens in November.
The wildfire that seemed to characterize her career in 2011 — in which she appeared in no fewer than six films that were released, earning critics’ awards and an Oscar nomination for “The Help” — has subsided. But its effects are still being felt.
“The past year absolutely changed my life,” Chastain says. “What the year gave me was the chance to be introduced to people whose work I admired. In this film, for example, I don’t have any scenes with Gary Oldman, whose work has deeply inspired me. And then I met him on a red carpet and he was so positive about my work. The fact that he’d seen something I’d been in and was positive about it — it’s the most amazing thing.”
The film she’s referring to is “Lawless,” a Depression-era moonshiner action-drama. In the film, Chastain plays Maggie, a one-time exotic dancer in Chicago who takes a job as a waitress in a small cafe in the Tennessee mountains to escape her past — and winds up romantically involved with a taciturn moonshine kingpin (Tom Hardy).
While her character is never involved in the brutal bloodshed that marks the film’s action (at least onscreen), Chastain imagined that Maggie had a lot of violence in her past.
“I was really moved by the idea that every man she’d ever been involved with had seen her as prey,“ Chastain says. “So this is the first time she’s been around a man who just wants to take care of her and protect her, who doesn’t want anything in return. She can say, ‘This is what I want’ to him and she’s never had that in her life.