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Jessica Chastain on Hollywood’s Gender Pay Gap: ‘It’s Not Right’

Hollywood’s compensation gap is being hotly discussed this week thanks to Jennifer Lawrence’s viral essay detailing her anger over being paid less than her male co-stars.

The conversation seeped over to the red carpet at Wednesday’s premiere of “Crimson Peak,” where stars Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska praised the Oscar winner for highlighting the issue and bringing attention to sexism in the film industry.

“I’m proud of her,” said Chastain. “Sometimes when you’re doing well, you’re afraid to say something’s wrong because then there’s going to be a bunch of people out there going ‘OK, well, you’re a big old movie star.’ But it doesn’t matter.”

“There’s no excuse,” she added. “There’s no reason why she should be doing a film with other actors and get paid less than her male co-stars. It’s completely unfair. It’s not right. It’s been happening for years and years and years. I think it’s brave to talk about it. I think everyone should talk about it.”

Lawrence’s piece was featured in Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter newsletter. In it, she said she was going to be more assertive when it came to demanding equal pay, writing  “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable! F— that.”

Wasikowska said she agreed with Lawrence and hoped her essay would lead to change.

“It’s about time that gap was closed and it’s still quite surprising that it’s still an issue,” she said.

Fear kept women silent, Chastain argued. Fear that they would be branded “difficult” and might never find work again. But she said that reserve is crumbling, and she’s noticing that people aren’t afraid to raise the issue publicly. Not only has Lawrence discussed her frustration at finding out that “American Hustle” actors like Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper made millions of dollars more for their work, but Patricia Arquette made the pay gap the focus of her speech when she won an Oscar for “Boyhood” earlier this year. Others, such as  Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow, have recounted instances of harassment from studio executives and have hit back at the double standard they faced as women trying to navigate a business largely controlled by men.

“What I really appreciate is that it’s not just women,” said Chastain. “It’s men and women and all groups talking about how we need more diversity and more equality in American cinema. I don’t know what’s happening. We’re supposed to be a mirror that’s held up to society and tells the story of what’s happening around us. And sometimes the American film industry only tells the stories of a few and I don’t want my story to be erased. I want to see women out there and I want them to be equally compensated for the work that they do.”

Studies show that male actors have far more opportunities than females. A recent report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that females comprised a mere 12% of protagonists in last year’s top-grossing films. “Crimson Peak” is a rare project that features meaty roles for women. Wasikowska plays an aspiring novelist who unwisely marries a baronet with secrets and a menacing sister in Chastain — a forbidding figure that makes “Rebecca’s” Mrs. Danvers seem warm and fuzzy.

Just don’t call it a horror film. Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro stressed to his cast that “Crimson Peak” has its antecedents in books like “Wuthering Heights” and “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” that mixed the macabre with matters of the heart.

“For him it’s a romance along the lines of Bronte or Shelley and he really is an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to Gothic romance and women’s roles in those stories,” said Chastain.

The actress drew on films such as “Misery” and “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” which feature actresses Kathy Bates and Bette Davis both wielding instruments of physical and psychological torture, when it came to shaping her character.

“These actresses give the most incredible performances and they really throw themselves into it,” said Chastain.

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