What Jessica Chastain Wants In Friends And Acting Roles: Women Who Refuse To Behave

Michael Greyeyes as Sitting Bull and Jessica Chastain as Catherine Weldon in Woman Walks Ahead. (Photo by Richard Foreman, courtesy A24)

In Woman Walks Ahead, Jessica Chastain plays Catherine Weldon, a Swiss-born painter and activist for Native American rights. In the 1880s, Weldon went from Brooklyn to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to paint the first portrait of Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota leader.

The real-life Catherine Weldon was already a supporter of protections for tribal lands when she traveled to Standing Rock, but in Woman Walks Ahead, creative liberties are taken as she becomes an activist after meeting Sitting Bull.

Director Susanna White said she wanted Chastain to play Weldon partly because of Chastain's own activism. She's been an outspoken supporter of Time's Up and an advocate for women directors, strong female roles, and equal pay for women in Hollywood.

Chastain told KPCC's The Frame why she feels it's so important to speak out about these issues.

"I'm part of an industry that has actively discriminated against women, people of color, and I strongly believe that if you're part of an industry that does that, you're part of the problem," Chastain said. "By being quiet about inequalities that are happening around you, you are being actively discriminatory."

Chastain's put those words into action. In 2016, she and former Miramax and Weinstein Company production exec Kelly Carmichael founded their own production company: Freckle Films. At this year's Cannes Film Festival, their female-fronted international spy thriller, 355 (which Chastain also stars in), scored the biggest distribution deal of the festival.

Actresses Fan Bingbing, Marion Cotillard, Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, and Lupita Nyong'o attend the photocall for 355 during the 71st annual Cannes on May 10, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Antony Jones/Getty Images)

All the actresses starring in the film — Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong'o, Fan Bingbing and Marion Cotillard — have equity in the film and are being paid equally.

"We went together [to Cannes] owning this film and have raised the money to make it on our own," Chastain said. "I think the greatest con is some people in my industry — executives or studios or whatever — making artists feel like they needed them. When in reality, being there with all these powerful, incredible women, I realized that we've kind of moved away from that myth."

When she's deciding the acting roles that she wants to take on, Chastain says, "I'm really inspired by women that step outside the box, that refuse to be defined by what society says that they have to be, refuse to behave the way society expects them to behave. I like women who go against the grain — in my personal life, in the people that I'm inspired by, and in the stories that I'm inspired by."

Woman Walks Ahead is in theaters and is also available now on demand.


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