On The Set Of Mama, Witnessing Jessica Chastain's Transformation And Getting Scared Right Along With Her
Jessica, what’s it been like working with Andy, a new director, and of course Guillermo? Did Guillermo’s name help convince you to sign on for this project?
Chastain: Well of course. I’ve been such a huge fan of Guillermo’s and he’s one of the first people I met actually when I came onto this project. I was surprised, because I had knee problems. I came on to the meeting in crutches and was like “They won’t want me after he sees me in crutches…”
Del Toro: A broken leg. I said, “I will break the other one if you don’t do it.”
Chastain: And then I met with Andy and Barbara and I was really impressed with his ideas and how creative he was and how emotional he wanted the story to be and how important relationships in this story were to him. I always get a feeling about something, and I had a feeling about Jeff Nichols with Take Shelter. I really just go on instinct and I loved the story.
Can you tell us a little bit about Annabel? I was not expecting this…
Chastain: You weren’t expecting me like this? (Laughs) Did you know it was me when I walked in?
[A chorus of "no"s]
Chastain: Yeah, it’s really cool, right? Andy said I should get this [arm tattoo of an octopus] in real life, just have it stenciled in and put his face right here. Yeah, it’s a fun look. Annabel is a woman who, you know, when the film starts she is someone who never ever imagined she would ever, ever be around children. It’s not something she wants in her life at all and she becomes, I guess, the unwilling protector of these girls and by the end she kind of grows up. It’s like Andy said to me in our first meeting, he said “She becomes a hero of people.”
Who is she? This is a character who isn’t in the short, so what does she do? When we meet her, who is she?
Chastain: Well she plays bass guitar in a punk band and she lives with her boyfriend who is an illustrator and she’s like… The way I’m approaching her, she’s this woman who doesn’t really ever want to grow up. She never really has any responsibilities. I mean with the octopus [tattoo] she probably sees herself like an octopus, when the tentacles get caught then they detach and then they grow back. She’s very anti-responsibility. I don’t know what to say without giving away much of the story, she is just stuck. She ends up stuck with these children that she doesn’t want in her life and it’s a complicated relationship, because the children are stuck with something else.
You are wearing a Purple Misfits shirt, which is like a milestone of punk rock, is there any kind of music that you are kind of listening to to get in the headspace of the character?
Chastain: Yes, you know I’m listening a lot to the Ramones and… God, I’ve got my trailer decorated with lots of posters. I can take you guys if you guys want to come see my trailer in a bit… [Note: She eventually did follow through with the offer, which is pretty amazing] What I found and it’s an experiment and we will see if it works, someone told me that Johnny Depp listens… I wouldn’t do this in other movies, but he listens to music when he’s acting like an iPod, because I did a movie with him and he was doing that and I thought “That’s so interesting” and then I thought, “If I’m doing this film…” I asked Andy if on some of the tests that they had put together that there was music, if they could feed it into my ear when we are doing some of those scenes and that has been so helpful, because I’m such a scaredy cat and even listening to like… They have this lullaby that they’ve worked on that is so terrifying and it just plays on repeat. No one knows that I have it.
Del Toro: Now they do.
What’s your background, if any at all, as a scary movie fan? I know that this has been described as a supernatural thriller as opposed to a horror film. What’s your background as a fan of supernatural thrillers or ghost stories or horror films?
Chastain: I’m the biggest scaredy cat ever. You know this is going to sound silly, because you’re [gesturing to del Toro] right here, but I love The Orphanage so much and I love the elements of fantasy that are sometimes in those stories. I love Pan’s Labyrinth with the eyes… and The Ring I really, really like The Ring. As an audience member, I never thought like “I’m going to grow up and be a horror film actress." I just wanted to be an actress that had the opportunity to try everything and learn as much as I could.
But man, I remember when I was really, really young watching The Exorcistwith my mom and my sister downstairs and it was so intense for me watching that film and I remember like halfway through I was like “Okay, can I turn it off?” My mom was like “No, you could just go upstairs.” Then the feeling of walking up the stairs… So I try to pull that feeling… Every time we did a scene yesterday where I’m opening the closet door and it’s like me ten years old walking up the stairs. I really love it.
Del Toro: And there’s a great tradition of actresses… I mean let’s say it’s not the norm. You can have just a scream queen or you can have a sexy actress in a horror movie, but there is also a very beautiful rarified layer of great actresses that find their best part in the genre like Mia Farrow, Ellen Burstyn… Belen [Rueda, star of The Orphanage] for me is a fantastic actress for the genre and everything else. Naomi Watts… Nicole Kidman in The Others. It’s seldom thought about like that and I think when it’s done right and for the right reasons, on MAMA there’s a good chance it may come that way.
Chastain: I was really surprised when it was first introduced to me, the script, because I thought “I am so not the expected choice” and even that gave me more faith in like “Well that’s really interesting. If you think I might bring something to this part…” Because you know like I’m also used to watching a lot of horror films like where you say when there’s the girl in the tank top in the rain and crying… So I thought this would be really interesting.
Do you want a script or a film to scare you when you take it on?
Chastain: Oh absolutely. It has to be something where I think like “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to pull this off.” When I have that feeling in me, then it puts the element of horror in me already and I have to try to rise to the occasion. I find with anything in my life when you are rising to the occasion, even if you don’t quite get there, you are going beyond yourself somewhat.
This is a very vulnerable time for me to be talking to you guys right now, because this is just the third week we’ve been doing it. Now I feel like I’m starting to find my feet and get into the groove of it, but it’s a completely different way of working. The scenes are so short that I think like “Am I…” I’ve never worked like that before, but when I have great teachers and people watching my back like I have on this team then it gives me more confidence that it’s going okay.
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