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The Untold Truth Of Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain may have gotten a somewhat late start in Hollywood –- bursting out in her mid-30s in an industry that praises youthfulness –- but she's more than made up for any lost time. Since 2010, the actress has racked up more than 30 credits, most of them feature-length films. These include her Oscar-nominated performances in "The Help" and "Zero Dark Thirty," her Oscar-winning role in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," and acclaimed headlining roles in films like "Miss Sloane" and "Molly's Game" — both of which earned her Golden Globe nominations.

In other words, whether she's battling evil clowns, trying to help Matthew McConaughey save humanity, or playing big-haired evangelists, Chastain is always bringing her A-game. Of course, with a star as talented and beloved as this red-headed actress, there's a whole lot you might not know about her rise to fame, movie-making decisions, and behind-the-scenes struggles. So if you want to learn more about this highly respected and prolific star, keep on reading for the untold truth of Jessica Chastain. 

Jessica Chastain's family struggled financially

We love a good rags-to-riches story, and Chastain's is especially inspiring, as she was able to break a generational cycle of early parenthood and poverty. According to an interview she did with The Hollywood Reporter, Chastain's mother got pregnant with her at 17, just as her grandmother had at 17. Her aunt was also a teenage mother, and Chastain attributes the early parentage as at least partially because the women in her family didn't have access to health care or birth control. 

Growing up in North Carolina with four siblings, Chastain's family struggled to make ends meet, and at one point, Chastain says they were evicted. "Because my mom had us very young, many times we were in situations where we didn't have stability," she explained to The Hollywood Reporter. "So, we moved around quite a bit when we were younger, and one time I came home from school, I was probably 13 years old, and there was people there locking the door." In the interview, she admits to still being prudent with her money –- despite having a reported $40 million net worth.

She realized she wanted to be an actor at a young age

When Chastain's grandmother took her, at the age of 7, to see "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," it sparked an interest in acting for which all her fans should be very thankful. It was seeing another little girl up on stage that pushed Chastain toward drama. "She was playing make-believe for a living. That was her job. It just seemed like the most wonderful thing," she told Town & Country. It's a story that Chastain has repeated in many interviews, so it seems to be embedded in her mind as the official start of her acting bug. "That's what helped me find my way of life," she told The Hollywood Reporter.

Once she realized she wanted to act, young Chastain formed her own little neighborhood theater company. She and her fellow budding thespians sold lemonade and cookies in order to buy props for the stage. "It was such an outlet for me," she told NPR.

She was the first in her family to go to college

Chastain says she never enjoyed school, and as she told The Hollywood Reporter, dropping out of high school was common in her family, much like teenage motherhood. "Because in my family so many people had dropped out of high school ... it just felt maybe expected thing to do," she said in the interview. "And so, when it happened, I mean, I was sitting in my car reading Shakespeare, and I wasn't doing drugs or anything like that. I always knew what I was interested in, and I wasn't interested in what the teachers were teaching me."

Despite dropping out of high school, Chastain later got her GED and attended community college. In 1999, she went to the San Francisco auditions for the famed Julliard School, where she was one of 20 students chosen from the 1,400 who auditioned nationwide (via Elle Canada). Interestingly, Chastain has Robin Williams to thank for easing the financial burden of college. She was a recipient of the Robin Williams Scholarship program, though she never got to meet the actor before his death. "It was after my second year I found I got that scholarship, and it paid for not only all my schoolwork, but it paid for my apartment, and my books, and my flight home to see my family for Christmas. It took care of all of that," Chastain told The Hollywood Reporter. "I wrote him a couple letters thanking him. Each year I wrote him a letter about how significant that gift was to myself and to my family."

She changed her character's voice in The Help

Chastain is deeply committed to ensuring the choices she makes for her characters are the best possible ones. For example, as Celia Foote in "The Help," the vegan actress had to carry a chicken upside down in a scene where the chicken is going to be killed –- something that she struggled with but ultimately chose to do because she felt Celia would carry her own chicken. But perhaps the biggest choice that Chastain made in relation to Celia was the voice she used, which was both distinctive and also rather different from Chastain's real-life voice.

When she auditioned for the part, Chastain told Variety that she used a deep voice similar to the one she used in the 2008 movie "Jolene." But after meeting a woman at a fundraiser –- who happened to be the mother of the woman who wrote the book "The Help" is based on – Chastain completely revamped the voice, which she felt went better with Celia's Marilyn Monroe-inspired vibe (Chastain also gained weight and dyed her hair blonde for the role). As she told The Hollywood Reporter, "We were at this party right before we started shooting, and I looked over, and I saw this amazing woman with ... bright, white blonde hair that was up on top of her head, very curvaceous in a very formfitting dress, and she was squeaking between the couch and the wall, and I turned to someone, I was like, 'That is how Celia Foote moves.'" 

So, she recorded the woman and convinced the director to let her pitch up Celia's voice –- clearly the right choice, given her Oscar nomination for the role.

Jessica Chastain is a fan of the horror genre

Chastain has starred in multiple horror movies over the years, including 2013's "Mama," 2015's "Crimson Peak," and 2019's "It: Chapter Two." Her appearance in these films makes sense, given that the actress is a huge fan of the genre. After fans rallied for her casting in "It: Chapter Two," Chastain herself publicly confessed she wanted the role. It turns out that Chastain is a huge fan of Stephen King –- both his books and their movie adaptations –- and was excited about the chance to work on one of his stories. "Oh, yeah. I remember reading 'Pet Sematary,'" Chastain told IndieWire. "Ohhh, I was so young when I read that book, and I got so scared. And I watched that movie so many times. I read 'The Shining.' I really like his writing."

Horror is also a logical genre for Chastain, given how the genre hinges on an actor's ability to authentically emote. And not only does Chastain excel at displaying real emotion, but she also seems to enjoy the physiological response to being scared. "I think that with any emotion -– fear, love, nervousness — if the actor's feeling it, then the audience feels it," she told fellow actor Michael Shannon (via Interview). "I'm gonna have to be in a place where my heart's beating fast and I have a physical reaction to what I'm feeling."

She almost didn't appear in Zero Dark Thirty

"The Help" may have put Jessica Chastain's career on the map, but it was "Zero Dark Thirty" that solidified the actor as one of the greats of her generation. For her performance in the film, Chastain earned a Golden Globe Award, Best Actress honors from the National Board of Review, and a slew of other critics awards. She also received an Academy Award nomination, a BAFTA nomination, and a Screen Actor's Guild nomination (all the biggies). Fascinatingly, Chastain almost did not take on the role of CIA intelligence analyst Maya Harris.

That isn't to say that Chastain wasn't interested in the part from the get-go –- director Kathryn Bigelow cold-called her about the role –- only that scheduling nearly made it impossible to film "Zero Dark Thirty." In fact, Chastain accepted the part before even reading the screenplay despite being contractually obligated to another movie. That movie was the 2013 thriller "Oblivion," starring Tom Cruise, and lucky for all, he was a good sport about it. "When ['Zero Dark Thirty'] came my way, I realized I had to do this. And the person who made it possible for me to do this movie is Tom Cruise," Chastain told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. "Someone contacted him from my agency and said, 'Listen, she wants to work with you. And she would love to, but there is this other film, and it's so important.' And he said, 'Okay, we're going to let you out of your contract.'"

She is consistently mistaken for Bryce Dallas Howard

Chastain knows that she looks like Bryce Dallas Howard, her one-time co-star in "The Help" and another famous redhead. In fact, she's so often mistaken for Howard that Chastain created a playful TikTok about being "f***ing sick" of the confusion (via Entertainment Weekly). "When you spend 20yrs building a career and they still think you work at Jurassic Park," she wrote in the video (Howard starred in "Jurassic World").

Chastain and Howard look so much alike that even Howard's father –- legendary director, producer, and actor Ron Howard –- has mixed them up. "I was at the Apple store, and Ron Howard was there," she told the Associated Press (via USA Today). "And I was walking by and I was like, 'That's Ron Howard,' and then my friend was with me, [and] he said [Ron Howard] turned to someone and said, 'I think I just saw Bryce.'" TikTok aside, neither actress seems to have a problem with having an equally gorgeous celebrity doppelgänger.

Jessica Chastain has a pretty cool production company

Nowadays, many big-name actors have their own production companies, from Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment to Leonardo di Caprio's Appian Way Productions. So, it really isn't a surprise that an actor with Chastain's credentials would also want to get into the production side of things. She founded Freckle Films back in 2016, and it's through Freckle Films that she's producing many of her newer movies, including "The Eyes of Tammy Faye."

Freckle Films is notable not just for Chastain but also because of its commitment to moving the needle of equality in Hollywood. "We're working to develop projects for women about women and hire more female writers and directors and also minorities who haven't had the opportunity to tell their stories," Chastain told W magazine. "That's very important to me." Impressively -– and uniquely –- the company boasts an all-female executive team.

She's taken on the pay inequalities in Hollywood

With Freckle Films, Chastain has committed to equal pay for equal work, but this isn't a new thing for the actress, who's been speaking up about pay inequities for years. While doing press for "Miss Sloane" in 2016, Chastain did an interview with Business Insider where she noted how she was unafraid to ask for what she was worth. "I started reading a lot about it, and you realize women don't ask for more, but they don't ask for promotions, and knowing that, I've completely changed. No matter what, I'm going to ask for more," she said. "I'm going to ask what is correct, what I deserve, especially in relation to male actors. And it's also making me ask why don't we ask for more?"

Chastain isn't just committed to equalizing her own pay, but she also wants those around her to get equal pay. Actress Octavia Spencer has spoken out about how Chastain helped her increase her own salary on one particular movie, reportedly by five times what she originally asked for (per CNBC). And for her film "355," a thriller produced through Freckle Films, Chastain ensured that everyone in the all-female ensemble was compensated fairly. As she said in an interview with The Independent. "I'm hopeful that other actors will understand that it isn't that difficult to put something together where the control can go to the creatives instead of to an executive who's deciding which women are valuable, and before which age."

She's been trying to make a movie about Tammy Faye Messner for a long time

Chastain has received rave reviews for "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," her movie about the life of Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Bakker). Many may be surprised to know that the film was a passion project for the actress and that she pushed for it's development for almost a decade. After watching the documentary "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" in 2012, Chastain became fascinated with Messner's story. "People were more interested in how much mascara Tammy Faye Bakker was wearing than what she was actually saying," she told The Hollywood Reporter.

After purchasing the film rights to the documentary, Chastain started pitching the film to executives at Searchlight Pictures. Her investment in the biopic added an extra layer of pressure, which resulted in increased nerves. "There were so many parts of making this movie that terrified me. On the first day of shooting, I started shaking before the first take. That's never happened to me on a movie, and it was so embarrassing," she confessed in an interview with DuJour magazine. "But I thought, If I'm going to throw myself off this cliff, I'm going to jump off the deep end. People might really make fun of me. But Tammy Faye probably thought that every day, and she did it anyway."

She used her time in the makeup trailer to get into character as Tammy Faye

Tammy Faye Messner was known for her intense, overwhelming makeup, and no film could've been made about her without liberal use of prosthetics and cosmetics. For Chastain, that meant spending hours upon hours in the makeup chair. "The longest was actually 7 1/2 hours. And I got to set, and I was so panicky. I started to have hot flashes because it's so heavy and hot," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I was afraid. It was like going on a long-distance flight every day. Because if it takes 7 1/2 hours to put on, it's going to take at least two hours to get off."

Being stuck in makeup might've been annoying, but Chastain seems to have made the most of her time there, using it as an opportunity to get into character. She told Parade that she listened to recordings and watched old interviews of Messner while getting done up with prosthetics. The whole process extended as the shoot went on, given that the film represented Messner at varying ages. "That's the most prosthetics I've worn. Even the bronzer and the foundation are so much darker, the lashes are thicker. The makeup gets heavier as she gets older," Chastain explained in that same Los Angeles Times interview.

When it comes to music, she's incredibly gifted

In addition to her acting in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," many have made note of Chastain's singing in the film. According to an article in Variety, Chastain does her own performing in the film, and pre-recorded seven gospel tracks with music producer David Cobb prior to shooting. Luckily, the actress is rather musical by nature –- she likes to sing, and she plays at least two instruments, the guitar and the ukulele.

Even though Chastain has natural musical abilities, she was nervous to show off her vocal chops on screen. "The day I went to do it, I tweeted something like, 'I am living off of bourbon and Throat Coat.' Because I was so scared. I actually drank Throat Coat tea with whiskey while I was doing the singing," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm not hardcore like that! But I was like, there's no way that I can be this nervous, and that was my get-ya-through-it recipe."

Jessica Chastain rarely discusses her personal life

Chastain is notoriously private about her personal life, particularly her family and relationships. And while we may never know her true age –- there has been debate about it, and the actress will not confirm it -– we do know a few things about her home life. Chastain is married to Gian Luca Passi de Prepoluso, an Italian who descends from nobility (he has the title of "count") and works in fashion as a public relations executive. "I actually love being married. I never thought I would, but this is a spectacular human being, and I am celebrating that I get to share my life with him," the formerly anti-marriage Chastain told The Wall Street Journal (via Parade).

Chastain and Passi de Prepoluso have been married for four years now, and Chastain acknowledged the nuptials on social media after word spread. Beyond those few tweets, Chastain's references to her marriage are rare. In March 2020, Chastain and her husband had a child –- their second –- which the media only found out about because of paparazzi photos. The lack of a formal media announcement was similar to what happened with Chastain's first child, which she had in 2018 via surrogate.

She's a vegan who loves to cook

While Jessica Chastain rarely discusses her family, she does occasionally mention her in-laws, who she says don't understand her veganism. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel. Chastain once joked that her in-laws hate her for not eating meat. "In the beginning, I would say I'm vegan. Which is like the worst thing," she told Kimmel. "I don't eat 10 meals, and I'm vegan. I would say, 'I'm sorry I can't eat that,' and [my mother-in-law] would say, 'No problem, we have fish'."

Despite family concerns about her diet, veganism is a key part of Chastain's life and has been for years. She's been vegan for over a decade despite having previously been a big fan of cheese and shellfish. Chastain told W magazine that she first cut out shellfish because of high cholesterol, and eventually, she experimented with vegan because a friend gifted her with a two-week delivery program. "Being vegan was not anything I ever wanted to be. I just really was listening to what my body was telling me," she said, noting that it's improved her energy, as well as her skin.

While she's extremely committed to her characters, Chastain won't even eat meat for a role -– she ate fake chicken for her famous scene in "The Help." But that doesn't mean that she has a boring diet, as the actress is a big fan of cooking her own vegan dishes. "I went to the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York in 2012 and took the intensive chef-training program," she told Shape magazine. "In the winter, I like to make soups and stews and anything roasted."