Road to the Oscar: how Jessica Chastain became the favorite to win the award for best actress

Jessica Chastain She has chosen a peculiar path in the search for her recognition as an actress. Although her decisions as a performer first, and today as a producer, privilege characters with strength and leadership, atypical in their appearance, critical of stereotypes and bold in their deeds, somehow they do not respond to the traditional empathy that the Academy demands. The best example of her is her recent portrayal of Tammy Faye Bakker, the televangelist leader turned musical celebrity in the 1980s and later condemned by the media for the scams and deceptions spearheaded by her husband, Pastor James Bakker. Tammy Faye was not only an extravagant and ridiculous version of the televised religion that swarmed in that decade on local networks in the United States, but an essentially disruptive voice in defense of minority rights, in Madonna-style musical performances in full religious celebration, and above all in the search for autonomy in an environment in which power was held solely by men.

That seems to be the key to Chastain’s interest. A woman who breaks the rules, even with the public punishment that this entails. “I see the cinema as a political act,” she declared a few months ago to Vanity Fair magazine when she learned of her Oscar nomination for Tammy Faye’s eyes, premiere this week in Argentine cinemas. “From a film, the place of women in the media can be brought into public conversation, how they are seen and judged in the eyes of the audience.” The choice of a controversial character like Tammy Faye, and the facial transformation that she meant for Chastain to recreate her, prosthetics and bulky makeup included, may seem like a perfect platform for the award ceremony. We already know how Hollywood likes the metamorphosis epic. However, the character is uncomfortable from many angles, both in the instrumentation of his faithful for his media popularity and in the display of a kitsch and glamorous life built on the accumulation of wealth born from scams blessed by religion.

Despite these warnings, Chastain is not afraid of contradictions. The interest in the figure of the televangelist leader arose after seeing the documentary about the Bakkers a decade ago, when her own career was beginning to take off with prestige and autonomy. In that 2011 in which she received her first Oscar nomination for the interpretation of a somewhat frivolous southerner in the ecumenical portrait of racism that she offered Crossing stories (available on Star+), the actress took over the rights to the documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000) and began to imagine himself embodying that character. “I grew up thinking Tammy Faye was a clown because that’s what the media sold. Everyone seemed so concerned with her mask than with what she had achieved: being a disruptive figure, a kind of punk star in a conservative, male-dominated environment like evangelist religion.”, he pointed.

Jessica Chastain had to spend hours in the makeup room and wear a prosthetic face to play Tammy Faye Bakker, the leading televangelist.
Jessica Chastain had to spend hours in the makeup room and wear a prosthetic face to play Tammy Faye Bakker, the leading televangelist.

He is not the first uncomfortable character that Chastain faces from the end of the cartoon to progressively reveal his humanity. In fact, her Celia Foote in Crossing stories it revealed the flip side of the well thought-out discourse of the film, and exposed the gaze of a white woman encapsulated in that position of privilege who gradually recognized her fears and insecurities as the most unexpected encounters took place. And the following year Chastain took a decisive step in his career: the interpretation of Maya, the CIA agent in charge of the persecution of Osama Bin Laden through the Middle East in the years after the attack on the Twin Towers.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow The darkest night (available on Netflix and Star+) became his most serious Oscar bid ever – in fact, it earned him his second nomination which he lost to Jennifer Lawrence, nominated for The bright side of life- and paradoxically the most ambiguous character in her career, a woman whose bond with her prey was defined both by duty and by the thick spice of obsession. Time and time again, in each of her promotional interviews conducted in those years, the press questioned her about how she felt about portraying such a “masculine” character. “Does masculine mean that he is a character interested in his career and not in a love life?” The actress asks with some sarcasm. Today Chastain picks up those questions to affirm her intention of expelling her characters from that typecasting, circumventing the easy definitions by virtue of richer and more disturbing paths..

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac play a marriage in crisis in the miniseries Marriage Secrets (HBO Max).
Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac play a marriage in crisis in the miniseries Marriage Secrets (HBO Max).

Along these lines is also his recent appearance in the miniseries Secrets of a marriage (available on HBO Max), created by the Israeli Hagai Levi and inspired by the famous work of Ingmar Bergman, Scenes of conjugal life (1973). As in the hit ’70s miniseries, a couple’s married life is dissected on-camera and off-camera, an element that Levi cleverly takes from the legacy of his predecessor—something Bergman had exposed in an earlier film as was Anna’s Passion (1969) –, and that allows him to offer the most uncomfortable edges of his characters. Although the decision to put infidelity and leaving the shared home in the female character, reversing the narrative of the Swedish director, seems to be a clear nod to contemporary narratives, the truth is that Chastain assumes -as an actress and again as a producer- the Mira’s figure without softening her most arbitrary decisions, opening her desire beyond judgments, exposing her contradictions with humanity and emotion. “In general, when a woman does something like that, she is severely punished. In the series we try to do something different: see Mira go through a difficult time, go through that darkness and then allow her to assume that she made the right decision.”, he reflected.

Isaac and Chastain, former Juilliard Academy classmates, had already formed an explosive couple in The Most Violent Year (2014), directed by JC Chandor.
Isaac and Chastain, former Juilliard Academy classmates, had already formed an explosive couple in The Most Violent Year (2014), directed by JC Chandor.

Former classmates at the prestigious Juilliard Academy, Chastain and Oscar Isaac brought deep intimacy to the couple formed by Mira and Jonathan, during a deep crisis that includes their professional ambitions, the reconciliation between passion and the demands of family life, at the same time than an identity of their own for each one, which exposes the limits of the couple to give answers to individual questions. The collaboration between the actors had had as a platform the excellent The most violent year (2014), then directed by JC Chandor. In the New York of the early 1980s, business takes root with the rise of violence and the dynamics of the Morales marriage escape convention, revealing the limits of that regional belonging, the demands of a cruel arena stained with blood and prejudice. . Once again, Chastain moves away from comfort, providing Anna Morales with an opaque and contradictory texture, avoiding the contours of the traditional housewife, of safe motherhood, of homely harmony.

Jessica Chastain gets one of her best performances as a fierce lobbyist in John Madden's The Sloane Affair (2016).
Jessica Chastain gets one of her best performances as a fierce lobbyist in John Madden’s The Sloane Affair (2016).Kerry Hayes

In recent years, the actress born in Sacramento has also opted to give body and action to heroines of arms, claiming leadership in entertainment narratives previously reserved for men.. The results of this gender reversal were not always good, as demonstrated by the recent X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019, available on Disney+) or agent 355 (2022, available on Google Play and Apple TV+). However, he did manage to give presence to characters who disputed his power in a more complex and elusive scenario than that of physical deployment and spatial effects. in the amazing the sloan case (2016, available on Star+), she played a fierce lobbyist who puts in check the entire scaffolding of a firm dedicated to sponsoring the sale of weapons against new legislation. The impetus of Elizabeth Sloane played by Chastain puts John Madden’s film in a race of increasing tension, which beyond the results of agreements and negotiations, shows the complexity of their motivations, the atypical pulse of their searches and relationships.

Chastain played poker queen Molly Bloom in Aaron Sorkin's Big Bet (2017).
Chastain played poker queen Molly Bloom in Aaron Sorkin’s Big Bet (2017).

The same goes for the main character. master bet (2017, available on Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Movistar Play and Appe TV+), by Aaron Sorkin, an Olympic skier turned underground poker queen who navigates dangerous territory without Chastain ever losing track. These characters that embrace strangeness, that contradict all predictions, that forge her leadership always at a disadvantage, perfectly match that always alert gaze of the actress, focused on the next move.

Over the years, Jessica Chastain turned those emotional performances that seemed her early distinction, like the one she embodied almost wordlessly into The Tree of Life (2011, available on Amazon Prime Video, Movistar Play and Mubi), by Terrence Malick, or the diptych The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2013, available on Star+, Movistar Play and Paramount Plus), in a much more mature introspection, avoids that first naivete, on fire in his vocation to establish a position through the voice of his women.

With The Darkest Night (2012) by Kathryn Bigelow, Chastain caressed the Oscar that he finally lost to Jennifer Lawrence. Will this be his year for revenge?
With The Darkest Night (2012) by Kathryn Bigelow, Chastain cherished the Oscar that he finally lost to Jennifer Lawrence. Will this be his year for revenge?

Perhaps the figure of Tammy Faye, under the kilos of makeup and the media props that drowned out the truth of the original, will now finally lead Jessica Chastain to her award ceremony. The harmony of her baroque interpretation with the magnetism that the camera imposed on Tammy Faye herself is key: the dissolution of the limit between the stage and the life that she ran behind her. A transformation that works on the borders of the grotesque, that imbues the make-up with a possessed fervor, with an unconscious parody, with the embrace of everything that no one seems to take seriously. In that release from all ties when it comes to presenting herself to the world, Chastain reinvents Tammy Faye before our eyes. Her body projects the conviction of her destiny, the building of her character, even in the moments of greatest pain and vulnerability, those who allow themselves that breath of air as the perfect food for a war cry.

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Road to the Oscar: how Jessica Chastain became the favorite to win the award for best actress