Jessica Michelle Chastain (born March 24, 1977) is an American actress and film producer.
She is known for her portrayals of strong-willed women in films with feminist themes. Chastain’s accolades include a Golden Globe Award and two Academy Award nominations. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2012.
Born and raised in Sacramento, California, Chastain developed an interest in acting from a young age. In 1998, she made her professional stage debut as Shakespeare’s Juliet. After studying acting at the Juilliard School, she was signed to a talent holding deal with the television producer John Wells. She was a recurring guest star in several television shows, including Law & Order: Trial by Jury. She also took on roles in the stage productions of Anton Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard in 2004 and Oscar Wilde’s tragedy Salome in 2006.
Chastain made her film debut in the drama Jolene (2008), and gained wide recognition in 2011 for starring roles in half a dozen films, including the dramas Take Shelter and The Tree of Life. Her performance as an aspiring socialite in The Help earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In 2012, she won a Golden Globe Award and received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress for playing a CIA agent in the thriller Zero Dark Thirty. Chastain made her Broadway debut in a revival of The Heiress in the same year. Her highest-grossing releases came with the science fiction films Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015), and she continued to draw praise for her performances in the dramas A Most Violent Year (2014), Miss Sloane (2016), and Molly’s Game (2017).
Also in 2016, Chastain launched a production company named Freckle Films, headed by a team of female executives. She began 2017 by serving as the executive producer and providing the narration for I Am Jane Doe, a documentary on sex trafficking. In an effort to work with more female filmmakers, Chastain starred in two projects directed by women—Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife and Susanna White’s Woman Walks Ahead. In the former, an adaptation of Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book of the same name, she co-starred with Johan Heldenbergh as the real-life Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Żabiński who saved many human and animal lives during World War II. The film received mixed reviews, although Stephen Holden took note of how Chastain’s “watchful, layered performance” empowered the film. Woman Walks Ahead tells the story of the 19th-century activist Catherine Weldon, who served as an adviser to the Sioux chieftain Sitting Bull prior to the Wounded Knee Massacre. She was interested in portraying a role that young girls could look up to for inspiration, and provided off-screen inputs to avoid a white savior narrative. Chastain portrayed Molly Bloom, a former professional skier who ran a high-profile gambling operation that led to her arrest by the FBI, in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game (2017). She accepted the part due to her desire to work with Sorkin, whose writing she deeply admired. Instead of relying on Bloom’s public persona, Chastain met Bloom to explore her character’s flaws and vulnerabilities. She also researched the world of underground poker and interviewed some of Bloom’s customers. Peter Debruge hailed her role as “one of the screen’s great female parts” and credited its success to both Chastain’s “stratospheric talent” and Sorkin’s script. Chastain received her fifth Golden Globe nomination for the film. In 2018, Chastain hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live and provided her voice to the virtual reality production Spheres: Songs of Spacetime. She had filmed a villainous part in Xavier Dolan’s ensemble drama The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, but her role was cut during post-production as Dolan found her character to be incompatible to the story.