Playback: Jessica Chastain on ‘Miss Sloane’ and a ‘Depressing’ Presidential Election

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.

Popular on Variety

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

“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.

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

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

Subscribe to “Playback”:


More Film

  • Australia' s Oscar contender BuoyancyC

    Rod Rathjen on Why Human Trafficking Tale 'Buoyancy' Had to be Made as Fiction

    Australian Rod Rathjen’s first film as director, “Buoyancy” is a powerful dramatization of human trafficking within Thailand’s offshore fishing fleet. Shot largely in Khmer and Thai, and selected as Australia’s foreign-language Oscar contender, it may also be a role model for cultural sensitivity and activism. The film plays this week in competition at the International [...]

  • Bong Joon Ho Talks 'Parasite' on

    'Parasite' Director Bong Joon Ho Makes Late Night Debut Following Three Globe Nominations

    “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho sat down for his first U.S. late-night appearance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” Monday night. The director, who received best director and best original screenplay Globen Globe nominations with co-writer Han Jin Won, plus a best foreign language nod Monday morning, did not give much away about the film’s [...]

  • The Cold Blue

    Erik Nelson Wants to Preserve the Past With 'The Cold Blue' World War II Documentary

    Erik Nelson describes his documentary “The Cold Blue” as “the garage band of movies” — he didn’t have the large team or crew other documentary contenders have. “The Cold Blue” is a World War II documentary that looks at raids and B-17 bombing missions that took place during the war. Nelson’s team looked at 34 [...]

  • Ray Manzarek

    Film News Roundup: Concert-Documentary 'The Doors: Break on Thru' Set for February

    In today’s film news roundup, one-night showings of a Ray Manzarek tribute and the season premiere of “Doctor Who” have been set for 2020, and the MPAA hires a copyright expert. ONE-NIGHT SHOWINGS The Doors and Trafalgar Releasing are teaming on the worldwide Feb. 12 release of “The Doors: Break on Thru – A Celebration [...]

  • Richard Jewell

    Warner Bros. Hits Back at Atlanta Paper Over 'Richard Jewell' Legal Threat

    Warner Bros. is standing behind “Richard Jewell,” the Clint Eastwood drama that is the source of controversy over its portrayal of a female journalist trading sex for scoops. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent a legal threat to the filmmakers on Monday asking them to include a disclaimer noting that the film took dramatic license. In a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content