Perhaps that’s why when we asked Chastain if she would allow herself to be reimagined by the visual artists George Condo, Rineke Dijkstra, Chantal Joffe, and Mickalene Thomas, she jumped at the opportunity. We already knew she could hold her own under such scrutiny: Last May, W featured Chastain, who is now the face of Manifesto, Yves Saint Laurent’s new perfume, in a couture portfolio. In record time, she invented a different character for each look and made the clothes come alive, as if they were inhabited by elaborate personalities.
Chastain said she wanted to “become the canvas” for the artists—but that doesn’t mean she was a passive participant. When Thomas asked the actress to channel Michelle Pfeiffer from Scarface for one tableau, Chastain was already imagining herself in the next scenario—as Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. “As a little girl, I wanted to be Diana Ross in that movie. And when I put on the red Afro wig, I finally felt like her.” With Condo, Chastain was excited about the prospect of having her face painted. “I love the feeling of giving myself over to another strong point of view. It’s the best kind of trust—the belief that an artist will take care of me while creating something unique.” Joffe interacted with Chastain remotely—afraid of flying, the artist Skyped from her studio in London while Chastain simultaneously posed in a hotel room in New York. “I never saw Chantal in person, but her softness and phobic nature affected me,” Chastain says. “I could hear the mix of shyness and strength in her voice, and I tried to channel that feeling. I found Chantal very feminine, so I moved that way. I fixed my hair by the window, I slouched while seeming intent.” In front of Dijkstra’s camera, Chastain attempted to remain as serene and open as possible. “That is Dijkstra’s mood on set. That photo was probably closest to just being me,” Chastain said, laughing. “And so, of course, I felt the most naked.”