Anyone who’s seen the film A Most Violent Year can attest to how strong of a pair Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac make. During the Press Day for J.C. Chandor‘s film, I was a part of a roundtable interview with Chastain and Isaac. They touched on their time in school together, working on the movie, and a few other things, including Chastain talking about the dearth of roles for women in comparison to men, as well as Isaac sidestepping a question about Star Wars. The highlights can be found below, and be sure to check out A Most Violent Year, in theaters now!
Here’s the best of Chastain and Isaac…
On working with J.C. Chandor:
Oscar Isaac – You know, it’s pretty intense, because the script itself is quite dense and filled with so many details, but also very mysterious, because there’s not a lot of description of his past, or even their past, and how they got to where they are. I think, in a very great way, you learn by the action, and little hints that get thrown out. By the cumulative effect of the whole film, you get to find out who he is and who they are together. But it’s definitely challenging, and he’s not the most forthcoming, and purposefully so, I found out, with details. It was challenging, but he’s got such an incredible mind, but he’s very quick, and it’s so filled with information, and details, and he ping-pongs back and forth between all these things, and he’s a little bit all over the place, and when it comes time for actually shooting, all of that goes away.
Jessica Chastain – I really wanted to work with him because I found him so versatile. I’d seen Margin Call, which is all about relationships and dialog, and, of course All Is Lost, which is the opposite. He sent me the script, and it was great. As Oscar said, he really left it free for us to explore.
What the experience of acting together was like for them:
OI – We got together and we went through every scene and every line, and started talking about it. We talked about where this relationship started, when it started, how we met, what year we decided to get married, when did we start the business, how did we buy the business from her father? All these different possibilities, just to create the context, so that, when we were doing those scenes, we had that bedrock. It was great. Often, you don’t get a chance to do that. And even if you had the time to do that, that’s not necessarily another actor’s process. And everybody has their own way of coming at things, and some people don’t want to talk about anything, and that’s fine. The fact that we have the same training, we went to the same school, we’ve been friends for such a long time, we talked about everything. We had no fear that we were going to offend one another, we could ask one another anything, and it just saved so much time. And it made it way more fun when we got on the set.
JC – Even though, when going through a scene, when we’d rehearse, it’s not like you say the lines of the scene, and act it out, over and over again. Like, for example, the scene we had in the kitchen. He and I talked, and we go, “Has that ever happened before? Has she hit him before?” Because if we make this decision together, then when it does happen, we can respond, “Is this a normal thing? Or is this the first time she’s ever laid hands on him?” And all of those choices, when you make with a partner, it’s very clear Anna and Abel are one the same team. It’s them against the world. And working with an actor, who we have the same vocabulary, we have the same theater training, we’ve known each other forever, we’re cheerleaders of each other’s works.
Their response to Chandor’s comment at an earlier roundtable that day that because they both have the Julliard training there’s a little bit of one-upmanship on set:
JC – That’s actually not true at all. I’ve said this a couple times, I have no competition with Oscar. In fact, if I’m acting in a scene with someone who’s soaring, it’s going to make me even better. I don’t want to do a scene and have someone fail, because I’ll be terrible in it. When J. C. says something like, “We’re going to one-up each other,” I have been so supportive of Oscar. I’ve always been such a cheerleader of who he is, and his work, and on-set, I was so happy to just be in his scene, and watch him soar in this character. I think, in his mind, he thinks it’s more fun, if there is something like that, but I didn’t feel it.
OI – And what he might be referring to is, for instance, we would push each other, within the scene…
JC – As the characters.
OI – So he becomes a viewer.
JC – Oh, Anna and Abel are fighting again!
OI – Oscar and Jessica are fighting. It’s like, no, that’s acting.
Chastain on the lack of opportunities for females to have strong parts in the industry:
JC – When I speak about that, I don’t speak from a selfish point of view, because I know that I’m in a very lucky position. I get sent scripts that are really incredible, and I can work with directors who make the characters even more interesting and rich. Usually, there’s a collaboration happening. Speaking as an audience member who’s going to the movies, and I’m not seeing movies about women, I don’t seen Asian American actors on screen, I don’t see women in their 60s on the screen. I think it’s a huge problem. I find it absolutely disgusting, to be honest. It’s really upsetting to me. I love cinema. I love European films, because I love diversity, and there’s more diversity, for some reason, in other countries. French cinema, for instance, celebrates women of all ages. So I’m speaking for other actresses I want to see in films. I think we just need to get more characters going. They’re just as interesting as male characters. In Interstellar, my part was originally written for a man, and Chris changed it for a woman. I don’t think he had to do anything different to change the part to a female character. It actually made me realize that men and women aren’t that different, at the end of the day. I’m going to start going through scripts, and picking out male characters I can change!
On what Isaac can say about Star Wars:
OI – Nothing!
JC – Coming out Christmas.
OI – Coming out Christmas, yeah. I can’t say anything. I’ve signed away my organs.
What seeing himself in the Trailer was like and working with J.J. Abrams
OI – I am in the trailer. That was pretty cool to see. That was very fun to see. J.J. Abrams is an amazing man and he’s got an amazing vision. I think people will be surprised with what he does.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!