In the new political thriller, Jessica Chastain takes the reins as the ferociously intelligent (fictional) Republican lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane, who ditches a high-profile job to push a bill restricting firearm sales through Congress.
“It’s not interested in lecturing anyone,” says the actress, curling up on a couch at the Four Seasons. She says Miss Sloane, which reveals the sausage-making on (and off) Capitol Hill, could just as easily have used an issue such as climate change or immigration to make its point.
“It just uses that to show an inner world of the American political system and the fundraising — what it takes to get a bill passed and how corrupt the system can be when it’s led by money,” she says.
Chastain, 39, spent pre-production Googling top female lobbyists, and walked away from a trip to Washington with a decidedly different take on Sloane, a character she presumed would wear little makeup and rotate the same wardrobe day in and out.
“It was almost naïve of me to think that, because there’s something about the way Elizabeth Sloane dresses and about some of the women that I met in D.C. where they intimidate before they even enter the room,” says the actress, whose character’s war paint is dark nail polish and crimson lipstick.
Critics are praising her performance in the movie, which has a 72% positive rating on aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes. “Equally icy and savvy, Sloane has no patience for hippies, naïve Millennials or the old boys’ club, whose glass ceiling she’s pretty much pulverizing with a jackhammer any chance she gets,” wrote USA TODAY critic Brian Truitt.
Director John Madden says he initially met Chastain while directing her in 2011’s The Debt, when the actress was virtually unknown. Today, “she’s become a spokesperson for women in the industry — roles that are serious and not defined by the clichés of mother, lover or girlfriend,” he says.
The misogyny lobbed at Hillary Clinton in the presidential election is top of mind for the actress, particularly when discussing words used to describe women like Elizabeth Sloane and the Democratic nominee.
During the debates, “the criticism against Hillary was that she was overprepared. I never heard in my entire life that a man was overprepared for anything. I am overprepared in my life,” she says. “What’s wrong with being ambitious, being overprepared, being one step ahead?”
Offscreen, Chastain seems ready to recalibrate her fame. The private star has even started sharing a small slice of her personal life via Instagram, selectively posting occasional shots with her longtime boyfriend, fashion executive Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo. “Gian Luca and I have been together for such a long time, we’re in it for the long haul,” she says.
She’s also switching gears after working relentlessly, having just wrapped the Sitting Bull drama Woman Walks Ahead before beginning the Aaron Sorkin-directed Molly’s Game in Toronto.
“I’m at an interesting point in my life and in my career. A few years ago, I started to examine where I was in the world and what I was contributing to society,” says Chastain, adding that she’s ready to direct and share the spotlight.
“It becomes like you’re eating cake every day. You just want to share the cake!”
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