Jessica Chastain on Bigelow, Boal and the ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ ending – OSCARS

By Sean O’Connell You could say that Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” has encountered choppy waters since experimenting with a limited release at the tail end of last year (so as to be eligible for Oscar consideration).

Not from critics, mind you. Bigelow’s taut, tense depiction of the CIA and U.A. military’s hunt for Osama Bin Laden has been recognized and lauded by virtually every major guild. Just this morning, Bigelow’s name was one of five nominated for the Directors Guild of America’s top prize … a well-deserved nod, in my humble opinion.

But Bigelow has been knocked in the court of public opinion for the film’s depiction of waterboarding, and was even marginally criticized by the government agencies she tried to credit in press releases that aren’t worth the time spent to assemble them. Note to the CIA: Intelligent moviegoers understand “Zero Dark Thirty” isn’t a documentary. Your confirmation is unnecessary.

Jessica Chastain understands why the film’s realism might confuse, though. The actress who plays Maya, the lead investigator on Bin Laden’s trail, spoke with me about the devil in the details of “Zero Dark Thirty” when we sat down for an intimate interview in New York City. We very well may hear Chastain’s name called on Thursday when the Academy announces its Oscar nominations. Here’s my conversation with Chastain, which might help to explain why I think she’s worthy of a Best Actress nomination:

HollywoodNews: When you have a character like Maya, where there’s a lot of information that you can go back and research on your own and dig into to try and better formulate the character, is that something you’re interested in, or do you prefer to keep it to what’s on the page?

I love to do it. You know, if I wasn’t an actor, I would love to be an investigative journalist. Or a spy! I wouldn’t want to kill anyone, but the research and all the details …I find that with a role like this, or any part, doing the research to find out who the character is and what their motivations are – for me, that’s the most fun.

And with this, I’m playing a woman who is trained to be unemotional, and analytically precise. When playing that, I’ve still got to find the humanity inside of her, inside of that arc of where she begins the movie and where she ends. And at that end, I’m finally allowed to let that vulnerability come through.

HollywoodNews: Because of that interest, then, I’m assuming that your sensibilities plugged right in with Kathryn Bigelow. Her films have documentary-worthy style of realism.

Oh, it was – and it is – a great honor to work with Kathryn Bigelow. She’s one of the bets there is. And this was an absolute collaboration with her. What I respect so much is that when you are doing a story about an historical event, she doesn’t lie and make it a melodrama. We don’t create a love interest for Maya, you know? Which is very strange. Usually, we see that women are defined by men in films – whether they are the victim of a man, or they are the love interest. Maya represents this new generation of women at the movies. She stands on her own, and she’s capable and strong. And Kathryn Bigelow is, I think, a great filmmaker to tell that story.

HollywoodNews: Mark Boal, also, I would assume was a stellar collaborator, and someone who helped you pull out those qualities in the character.

Yes, absolutely. Mark and Kathryn’s collaboration … he wrote this screenplay in three months. They obviously had this different screenplay they were going to make, and when Osama Bin Laden was killed, they had to rework everything else. But I did, I nicknamed Mark “The Professor” because he was my teacher on this rewarding journey.

HollywoodNews: You mention the end of Maya’s arc. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say that the most effective scene in the movie is the final shot, when the mission is over and Maya’s overwhelmed at not knowing what comes next. As an actor, do you feel similar pangs at the end of a project, where you’ve given your heart and soul, and the movie’s over and you might not know what’s coming next?

That’s a really good question. You know, I bet there is. The past few years, I’ve been very lucky because I’ve always known what my next project is going to be. But I know with Maya, she had worked so hard for almost a decade where she became a servant to her work. In a way, she erased herself and that was her main focus … her calling. So at the end of the movie, when they say, “You did it! Where do you want to go?” There’s a sensation of, “Where does one go after this? Where does Maya go? Where do we go as a country?”

That’s where I think this becomes a bigger story than just one woman’s journey. And I’m so glad that you picked up on that, because that’s absolutely what I was thinking at the end of the movie.

“Zero Dark Thirty” has opened in limited markets. It expands everywhere on Jan. 11.

Read more of our exclusive Awards coverage:
Robert Zemeckis to be honored at Palm Springs.
Our “Silver Linings Playbook” review
Ben Affleck tells us about “Argo” and the possibility of more Dennis Lehane stories
Bryan Cranston calls “Argo” his “proudest moment in motion pictures.”
Helen Hunt opens up about on-screen nudity for “The Sessions”
Amy Adams lends strength to “The Master”
“Arbitrage” director Nicholas Jarecki on Richard Gere and the Oscar race.
Producer Harvey Weinstein

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