On Wednesday morning, Jessica Chastain had a bright and early call time for her appearance on the Today show. By mid-afternoon she was still feeling energized. "There’s something so New York about going on the Today show," she explained. It also helped that Chastain was on to announce a new project—her latest campaign for Ralph Lauren Fragrances for its new scent Woman Intense, and the premiere of "Leading With Intensity," a short film challenging the traditionally negative stereotypes around women and the word “intense.” In the video, Chastain stars alongside fellow female creatives including Jen Meyer, Kelly Sawyer, Rachael Taylor, and Zoe Lister-Jones, as they embrace what they are intense about. For Chastain, that's gender parity in the workplace, making the project a perfect fit. "I’ve been such an outspoken actor when it comes to talking about parity and women’s equity in the workplace and women in leadership positions," she said. "What’s incredible about this is its more than a perfume campaign or a fragrance. They are really taking a stance for advocating women in leadership and for women empowerment."
Here, Chastain talks about her position as a woman in the film industry, what we can all do to move the needle forward, and her upcoming projects (plus some Game of Thrones talk, of course).
What does it mean to you to be partnering with Ralph Lauren on such an issue?
It’s really meaningful. In the past, whenever you thought about images of cosmetics or fragrances, in some sense it was purely just a physical thing. It was part of an impossible vision of beauty. Fragrance is such a personal thing, and the wonderful thing about it is, it doesn’t matter what you look like. You know what I mean? There is something about the way that you feel when you have a fragrance, and the way that you feel is the most beautiful thing of all. For years, women have been buying cosmetics and buying fragrances, and to be a responsible party to say “What can we give back to this community that has supported us for years?” I think is really special.
How did the idea for this short film first come about?
They first brought it up to me that they wanted to make this short film, and I thought that was a great idea. We actually shot it quite awhile ago. It was amazing to be on set with all women, which is not a normal thing in my industry. In one aspect, I was really pleased, because all of these professionals were given opportunities that perhaps they hadn’t in the past, and that made me happy. It just felt great to be there and be talking about things that I love and really believe in. It was very special.
How different is the feeling on set when it is all women?
The one thing is it is so surprising, because it never happens. I’ve walked onto sets with all men, but I’ve never been on a set like this with all women. For the longest time there has been a stereotype on women in filmmaking, and I thought, Okay, let’s see—and I knew it wasn’t—if that stereotype comes to fruition. And of course not. It was the most joyous, calm, professional, amazing day. It just proved my point that I’ve been saying for years that filmmaking is not gender-specific.
What does the word “intense” mean to you personally?
To me, it’s a positive word. When I first started talking to Ralph Lauren about it, and they were talking about the negative connotations of women being labeled as “intense” when they were passionate or ambitious or quote-unquote a lot. For me, it’s the most incredible thing. To be intense is to be fully in your life: intensely ambitious, intensely passionate, intensely empathetic. It’s an adjective. It just means a lot. It really means that you are in your life and you are living it to your fullest. For me, it’s an incredibly positive thing and I welcome anyone calling me intense.
Has it been used negatively toward you?
I mean, listen, if it had been, it probably wouldn’t be said in front of me because I think they know then they’re going to get into a conversation. But perhaps it has been said around me behind my back.
Have you seen an improvement in gender equality on set since you first started acting?
Absolutely. I’m in a situation now where because I have a production company, I can make more calls and decisions. But this idea of, “What can you do to make a difference?” All of us can make a difference. You don’t have to be in the industry. What do you support? What films do you watch? Are they directed by females? Do they feature a female protagonist? Where does your dollar go? Everything we do is making a difference. I think it is important for us to realize that. What do you want to be amplified?
But I will say that I have seen a difference now. I can be in a situation and I will literally call it out, like, “Why am I the only woman in this room for this meeting?” Or I’ve gone to a company and met with the creative team and I’ve full-on asked them, “Do you guys work with women?” And when I do, it’s not the first time they’ve heard it. It’s something we need to be reminded of.
Do they have answers when you ask those questions?
Recently, when I said, “Do you work with women?” a company said, “Yes, we work with a ton of women, they’re just not here today.” That kind of answer. But I’m sure in the next meeting that they have, they are going to make sure it’s a diverse group representing the company.
What female-driven projects have you been enjoying lately?
I love Killing Eve. I think it’s incredible. I have a love-hate relationship with Game of Thrones, but I love it more than I hate it. When it first started out, I really didn’t like the way that women were portrayed. But now I really love seeing all these women come into their own and the power that they own. I love the character of Sansa Stark. I think Sophie [Turner] does such a great job playing her. I won’t say much for people who aren’t watching, but so many characters in the premiere said how she was the smartest person they know and how powerful she is. I so enjoy that.
What was it like working with Sophie on Dark Phoenix?
She’s amazing. That girl, I just can’t believe everything she is accomplishing at such a young age. She really is such a great role model for young girls coming up in this world, and discovering who they want to be. I’m so proud of her.
Did you grill her for any Game of Thrones spoilers on set?
No, because I don’t want to know! I worked with Kit Harington after his character [Jon Snow] died and I was just like, “You’re coming back, I know you are, but don’t tell me. But I know you’re coming back.”
Is it hard to keep spoilers now that you are in your own big superhero movie?
Not really. I’m still a little bit in the dark. I haven’t seen the film yet. I know what I filmed and what I play, but I do feel like it is shrouded in mystery.
Were you surprised by anything in the final trailer that just dropped?
I mean, it just looks great. I love when [Sophie] becomes the Dark Phoenix. I can’t wait to see everything with the special effects.
How was being a blonde for the film?
Love it. I felt very other-worldly, very Tilda Swinton. Very ethereal. Love.
There’s still a lot of mystery around It: Chapter 2, as well.
I’m excited. It’s very scary. Andy Muschietti is such an incredible filmmaker, and his sister Barbara Muschietti is an amazing producer. I worked with them on Mama, which was Andy’s directorial debut, so it was great to be back with them. I’m just so excited for the audience to see what they created.
How was it to be the one woman in the pack of guys?
It was really, really fun. I know we were supposed to be scared the whole time, but we were laughing most of it. Not from Pennywise, because he is terrifying. But then Bill Hader and everyone would be making jokes.
Did you get to work with the younger cast, as well?
Not when we were filming, but at the read through. I got to meet Soph[ia Lillis], and I was so excited to meet her. I think she did such a beautiful job with Beverly.
How is being on the production side of movies now, as well?
I love it. Anything I can do to move a story forward that I am interested in or support artists that I love is a great, great joy for me.
Do you ever think about directing?
Possibly, in the future. It would have to be a script that really moved me to do that—but yeah.