Jessica Chastain at the Regency Hotel in New York City

*Jessica Chastain has the best of both worlds, being famous and enjoying your anonymity. Talking to Jessica last week about her new found success still hasn’t set in.

 Can you believe that ‘The Help’ has been #1 at the box office?

JESSICA CHASTAIN: I know, and ‘The Debt’ is number two. This only from a girl who none of her movies come out and now my movies are out and I’ve got number one and number two and a Palme d’Or for ‘Tree of Life.’

Do you go and see after they are released?

JC: Yeah. I got to the movie theater and no one recognizes that it’s me.

How about now?

JC: No, never. I went to ‘The Help’ the second week that it was in the movie theater. I went with two of my friends because they wanted to see it, and I was like, ‘Oh, sure, we’ll go together.’ They were like, ‘Really? Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Yeah. No one will know it’s me.’ I sat there the whole time and no one knew.

Who would’ve thought at that first meeting with you that you would have this level of success right now?

JC: Not me for sure. I like to joke with people that you have to go out of your way to not see a film that I’m not in this year. You have to really try hard. I’m that girl, Jessica Chastain, and you have to make an effort.

Why do you think that is?

JC: Well, in ‘The Help,’ lets just be honest, I’m the eye candy and in real life I was in jeans and a sweater and no makeup and people would be like, ‘There’s no way that’s the same girl.’

How do you interpret all these different characters you play?

JC: One thing that I definitely see is that each character teaches me something about myself that I didn’t know. I don’t like to play the same kind of character over and over again because if I do it makes me wonder if I’m just playing myself, just like who I am over and over again. Each character is a part of me, but they’re a part of me in a way that I didn’t know was there. Like, Celia from ‘The Help’ could absolutely be so different from me, but when playing her I got to find this, like, just this intense desire to love, but then also kind of this isolation at the same time that I felt. So, every part kind of makes me—this is going to sound like I’m crazy now—feel like I’m going to have all these personalities. I’m one of those people that has a hundred different personalities and I just get to bring them forward when I act like Sally Field in ‘Sybil,’ right? I’m Sybil.

I’m still fascinated at how you suddenly just burst on the scene and in such great movies. Can you plan this type of success or is it all just a surprise to you?

JC: A surprise. I always knew that I was going to be an actor, but I didn’t go the route of like, ‘I’m going to be famous.’ I didn’t move to Los Angeles. I went to Julliard [in New York City]. I was doing theater. I really love acting. I’m a huge fan of actors. I was a huge fan of Michael Shannon. I’m a huge fan of most of the people that I work with. I always try to work with actors that are better than me, that will teach me something. I love filmmakers. I geek out whenever I meet someone. Who did I meet recently and I just absolutely geeked out? I’ve geeked out for Meryl Streep and made a complete ass of myself. I will always do that. And so I’ve never felt like, ‘Oh, this was my path,’ but I have a feeling because I would be happy doing Off Broadway for the rest of my life, of course if I could eat, as long as I was acting I would be happy. I’m an actor. That’s my job in life. I have a feeling that when you approach something with that mentality that’s when success comes. I didn’t have a game plan. I wasn’t like, ‘Okay, if I do this then this will lead to this and this.’ It was just like, ‘I’m going to do this film,’ my first film ‘Salome’, ‘I get to act with Al Pacino. We’re going to work on it for a long time. There’s no money in this film and I’m going to be eating Top Ramen for a long, long time, but I will have Al Pacino as my acting teacher.’ Then that kind of thing, one thing goes to another thing goes to another thing. It’s just about trying to be a better actor, trying to learn more from everyone that I can.

Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected].