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Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

On today’s episode Jenelle Riley and I discuss a few films on the horizon, from “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which misses the mark in trying to push technology, to “Trolls,” a psychedelic entry from DreamWorks Animation that is actually a good time at the movies. And there was quite a bit of drama on the awards circuit this week, so we discuss that as well.

Later on (21:18) I’m talking to “Miss Sloane” star Jessica Chastain. She stars as a strong-willed lobbyist in the film, which premieres at AFI Fest next week ahead of a Dec. 2 opening. It’s an incredible character, a shark of sorts in the infested waters of Washington D.C., but Chastain’s vision of the eponymous Sloane evolved rather quickly once her research began.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

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“I always thought Elizabeth Sloane would wear no makeup and she would be wearing like the same clothes for three days,” Chastain says. “I just assumed it would be this messy version of this lobbyist. And then I went to D.C. and I talked to 11 women. I noticed things about how they dressed. There was a lot of black. I could feel there was strength in how they presented themselves to the world. There was a little bit of masculinity, almost, like black nail polish — seven out of the 11 women I met were wearing black nail polish and there was something aggressive about that. I looked at women working in a field where it’s mostly men and how they present themselves. It’s like, they want their energy to be in the room before they arrive. They want you to hear the high heels and see their strength as they come in the door.”

It’s a strong female lead at a time when actresses seem to consistently struggle with finding such interesting, dynamic characters (that aren’t defined in some way by the men in their lives). Is that unfortunate standard increasingly so, or does Chastain sense that things are changing for the better?

“I think it’s getting better,” she says. “Something I realized is this is the first time I’ve played a lead character in like three years. I did ‘The Martian’ and ‘Interstellar’ and ‘A Most Violent Year,’ but I haven’t had the film be my character’s story in a long time, and I don’t know if that’s because there wasn’t a character that I felt was right for me to play and that would pass the Bechdel test or be someone who would pass the status quo, but I’m just now realizing it. And now I’m like — ‘Woman Walks Ahead,’ ‘Molly’s Game,’ it’s different.”

And with “Miss Sloane” being a film about politics, plus a big election right around the corner, dare I ask her for thoughts on this particular cycle in American history?

“Isn’t it depressing,” she asks with a sigh. “I’m so depressed, to be honest. Every day I just don’t even want to look at the news. I think whatever happens in a week, nothing’s good. The one good thing is all the hate speech and everything that’s going on has shown how important feminism is and that we’re a very, very young country, and we have a lot of growing to do and a lot of healing to do. I think a few years ago most people were complacent and they didn’t really talk about racism so much or sexism, and now we’re talking about it every day.”

Hear more about that, as well as a little breaking news about Chastain’s upcoming projects, via the streaming link above.

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Jessica Chastain photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback podcast.
Michael Buckner for Variety
Jessica Chastain photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback podcast.
Michael Buckner for Variety

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