Jessica Michelle Chastain
March 24, 1977
Sacramento, California, U.S.
|Education||Juilliard School (BFA)|
Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo
Jessica Michelle Chastain (born March 24, 1977) is an American actress and film producer. Known for primarily starring in films with feminist themes, she has received various accolades, including an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2012.
Chastain developed an interest in acting from an early age and made her professional stage debut in 1998 as Shakespeare's Juliet. After studying acting at the Juilliard School, she was signed to a talent holding deal with the television producer John Wells. She was a recurring guest star in several television series, including Law & Order: Trial by Jury. She also took on roles in the stage productions of Anton Chekhov's play The Cherry Orchard in 2004 and Oscar Wilde's tragedy Salome in 2006.
After making her film debut in the drama Jolene (2008), Chastain had her breakthrough in 2011 with six film releases, including the dramas Take Shelter (2011) and The Tree of Life (2011). She received Academy Award nominations for playing an aspiring socialite in the period drama The Help (2011) and a CIA analyst in the thriller Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Her biggest commercial successes came with the science fiction films Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015), and the horror film It Chapter Two (2019). She continued to receive critical acclaim for her roles in the dramas A Most Violent Year (2014), Miss Sloane (2016), and Molly's Game (2017), and the television miniseries Scenes from a Marriage (2021). For her portrayal of Tammy Faye in the biopic The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021), which she also produced, Chastain won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Chastain is the founder of the production company Freckle Films, which was created to promote diversity in film, and is an investor in the soccer club Angel City FC. She is vocal about mental health issues, as well as gender and racial equality. She is married to fashion executive Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, with whom she has two children.
Jessica Michelle Chastain was born on March 24, 1977, in Sacramento, California, to Jerri Renee Hastey (née Chastain) and rock musician Michael Monasterio. Her parents were both teenagers when she was born. Chastain is reluctant to publicly discuss her family background; she was estranged from Monasterio, who died in 2013, and has stated that no father is listed on her birth certificate. She has two sisters and two brothers. Her younger sister, Juliet, died by suicide in 2003 following years of drug addiction. Chastain was raised in Sacramento by her mother and stepfather, Michael Hastey, a firefighter. She says her stepfather was the first person to make her feel secure. She shares a close bond with her maternal grandmother, Marilyn, whom she credits as someone who "always believed in me".
Chastain developed an interest in acting at age seven, after her grandmother took her to a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She would regularly put on amateur shows with other children, and considered herself to be their artistic director. As a student at the El Camino Fundamental High School in Sacramento, Chastain struggled academically. She was a loner and considered herself a misfit in school, eventually finding an outlet in the performing arts. She has described how she used to miss school to read Shakespeare, whose plays she became enamored with after attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with her classmates. With too many absences during her senior year in school, Chastain did not qualify for graduation, but later obtained an adult diploma. She later attended Sacramento City College from 1996 to 1997, during which she was a member of the institution's debate team. Describing her early childhood, she recalled:
I [grew up] with a single mother who worked very hard to put food on our table. We did not have money. There were many nights when we had to go to sleep without eating. It was a very difficult upbringing. Things weren't easy for me growing up.
In 1998, Chastain finished her education at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and made her professional stage debut as Juliet in a production of Romeo and Juliet staged by TheatreWorks, a company in the San Francisco Bay Area. The production led her to audition for the Juilliard School in New York City, where she was soon accepted and granted a scholarship funded by actor Robin Williams. In her first year at the school, Chastain suffered from anxiety and was worried about being dropped from the program, spending most of her time reading and watching films. She later remarked that her participation in a successful production of The Seagull during her second year helped build her confidence. She graduated from the school with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2003.
Shortly before graduating from Juilliard, Chastain attended an event for final-year students in Los Angeles, where she was signed to a talent holding deal by the television producer John Wells. She relocated to Los Angeles and started auditioning for jobs. She initially found the process difficult, which she believed was due to other people finding her difficult to categorize as a redhead with an unconventional look. In her television debut, The WB network's 2004 pilot remake of the 1960s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, she was cast as Carolyn Stoddard. The pilot was directed by P. J. Hogan, but the series was never picked up for broadcast. Later that year, she appeared as a guest performer on the medical drama series ER playing a woman she described as "psychotic", which led to her getting more unusual parts such as accident victims or characters with mental illness. She went on to appear in such roles in a few other television series from 2004 to 2007, including Veronica Mars (2004), Close to Home (2006), Blackbeard (2006), and Law & Order: Trial by Jury (2005–06).
In 2004, Chastain took on the role of Anya, a virtuous young woman, in a Williamstown Theatre Festival production of Anton Chekhov's play The Cherry Orchard in Massachusetts, starring with Michelle Williams. Also that year, she worked with Playwrights Horizons on a production of Richard Nelson's Rodney's Wife as the daughter of a troubled middle-aged film actor. Her performance was not well received by the critic Ben Brantley of The New York Times, who thought that she "somehow seems to keep losing color as the evening progresses". While working on the play, she was recommended by Nelson to Al Pacino, who was looking for an actress to star in his production of Oscar Wilde's tragedy Salome. The play tells the tragic story of its titular character's sexual exploration. In the play, Salome is a 16-year-old, but Chastain, aged 29 then, was cast for the part. The play was staged in 2006 at the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles, and Chastain later remarked that it helped bring her to the attention of several casting directors. Writing for Variety, the critic Steven Oxman criticized her portrayal in the play: "Chastain is so ill-at-ease with Salome, not quite certain whether she's a capable seductress or a whiny, wealthy brat; she doesn't flesh out either choice".
Chastain made her film debut in 2008 as the titular character in Dan Ireland's drama Jolene, based on a short story by E. L. Doctorow inspired by Dolly Parton's song "Jolene". It follows the life of a sexually abused teenager over the course of a decade. Chastain's performance was praised by a reviewer for the New York Observer, who considered her as the only notable aspect of the production. She won a Best Actress award at the Seattle International Film Festival. In 2009, she had a minor role in Stolen (2009), a mystery-thriller film with a limited theatrical release. Also in 2009, she played the part of Desdemona in The Public Theatre production of Shakespeare's tragedy Othello, co-starring John Ortiz as the title character and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Iago. Writing for The New Yorker, Hilton Als commended Chastain for finding "a beautiful maternal depth" in her role.
In 2010, Chastain starred in John Madden's dramatic thriller The Debt, portraying a young Mossad agent sent to East Berlin in the 1960s to capture a former Nazi doctor who carried out medical experiments in concentration camps. She shared her role with Helen Mirren, with the two actresses portraying the character at different phases of her life. They worked together before filming to perfect the voice and mannerisms of the character and make them consistent. Chastain took classes in German and Krav Maga, and studied books about the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and Mossad history. William Thomas of Empire termed the film a "smart, tense, well-acted thriller", and noted that Chastain "pulses with strength and vulnerability" in her part. She also appeared as Mary Debenham in an episode of the British television series Agatha Christie's Poirot, based on Agatha Christie's 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express.
After struggling for a breakthrough in film, Chastain had six releases in 2011 and garnered wide recognition for several of them. The first of the roles was as the wife of Michael Shannon's character in Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter, a drama about a troubled father who tries to protect his family from what he believes is an impending storm. The film was screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and critic Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph noted how much Chastain's supporting part aided the narrative. In Coriolanus, an adaptation of the Shakespearian tragedy from actor-director Ralph Fiennes, she played Virgilia. Her next role was opposite Brad Pitt, as the loving mother of three children in Terrence Malick's experimental drama The Tree of Life, which she had filmed in 2008. Chastain signed on to the film without receiving a traditional screenplay from Malick, and she improvised several scenes and dialogues with Pitt. She considered her part to be "the embodiment of grace and the spirit world"; in preparation, she practiced meditation, studied paintings of the Madonna, and read poems by Thomas Aquinas. The film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival to a polarized reception from the audience, though it was praised by critics and won the Palme d'Or. The critic Justin Chang termed the film a "hymn to the glory of creation, an exploratory, often mystifying [...] poem" and credited Chastain for playing her part with "heartrending vulnerability".
Chastain's biggest success of the year came with the drama The Help, co-starring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Emma Stone, which was based on Kathryn Stockett's novel of the same name. She played Celia Foote, an aspiring socialite in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, who develops a friendship with her Black maid (played by Spencer). Chastain was drawn to Foote's antiracist stand, and connected with her energy and enthusiasm; in preparation, she watched the films of Marilyn Monroe and researched the history of Tunica, Mississippi, where her character was raised. The Help grossed $216 million at the box office to become her most widely seen film to that point. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times praised the chemistry between Chastain and Spencer, and Roger Ebert credited her for being "unaffected and infectious". The ensemble of The Help won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Cast, and Chastain received Academy, BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress, all of which she lost to Spencer.
Chastain's final two roles of the year were in Wilde Salomé, a documentary based on her 2006 production of Salome, and the critically panned crime-thriller Texas Killing Fields. Her film roles in 2011, particularly in The Help, Take Shelter and The Tree of Life, won her awards from several critics' organizations. Two of Chastain's films in 2012 premiered at the 65th Cannes Film Festival — the animated comedy Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted and the crime drama Lawless. In the former, which marked the third installment in the Madagascar series, she voiced Gia the Jaguar with an Italian accent. With global revenues of $747 million, the film ranks as her highest-grossing release. In Lawless, based on Matt Bondurant's Prohibition-era novel The Wettest County in the World, she played a dancer who becomes embroiled in a conflict between three bootlegging brothers (played by Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke). The film received generally positive reviews, with Richard Corliss finding Chastain to be filled with "poised, seductive gravity". In an experimental biopic of the author C. K. Williams, entitled The Color of Time (2012), directed by the New York University students of actor James Franco, she played the mother of the young Williams.
A short part Chastain had filmed for Terrence Malick's To the Wonder (2012) was edited out of the final film, and due to scheduling conflicts, she dropped out of the action films Oblivion and Iron Man 3 (both 2013). She instead made her Broadway debut in a revival of the 1947 play The Heiress, playing the role of Catherine Sloper, a naïve young girl who transforms into a powerful woman. Chastain was reluctant to take the role, fearing the anxiety she had faced during her early stage performances. She ultimately agreed after finding a connection to Sloper, explaining: "she's painfully uncomfortable and I used to be that". The production was staged at the Walter Kerr Theatre from November 2012 to February 2013. Ben Brantley of The New York Times was disappointed in Chastain's performance, writing that she was "oversignaling the thoughts within" and that her delivery of dialogue was sometimes flat. The Heiress emerged as a sleeper hit at the box office.
Kathryn Bigelow's thriller Zero Dark Thirty was Chastain's final film release of 2012. It is a partly fictionalized account of the nearly decade-long manhunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks in 2001. She played Maya Harris, a CIA intelligence analyst who helps kill bin Laden. Chastain was unable to meet the undercover agent on whom her character was based, so she relied on the research done by the film's screenwriter Mark Boal. The difficult subject matter made it unpleasant for her to film; she suffered from depression during production, and once walked off the set in tears because she was unable to continue. Zero Dark Thirty was critically acclaimed, albeit controversial for its scenes of torture that were shown providing useful intelligence in the search for bin Laden. Roger Ebert took note of Chastain's versatility, and likened her ability and range to that of Meryl Streep. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, "Chastain is a marvel. She plays Maya like a gathering storm in an indelible, implosive performance that cuts so deep we can feel her nerve endings." She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Drama and received Academy, BAFTA and SAG nominations for Best Actress.
Chastain took on the lead role of a musician who is forced to care for her boyfriend's troubled nieces in the horror film Mama (2013), directed by Andy Muschietti. She was drawn to the idea of playing a woman drastically different from the "perfect mother" roles she had previously played, and she based her character's look on the singer Alice Glass. The critic Richard Roeper considered her performance to be proof of her being one of the finest actors of her generation. During the film's opening weekend in North America, Chastain became the first performer in fifteen years to have leading roles in the top two films (Mama and Zero Dark Thirty) at the box office. She then starred as the titular character of a depressed woman who separates from her husband (played by James McAvoy) following a tragic incident in the drama The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2013), which she also produced. The writer-director Ned Benson initially wrote the story from the perspective of Rigby's husband, then wrote a separate version from Rigby's perspective at the insistence of Chastain. Three versions of the film — Him, Her, and Them — were released. It did not find a wide audience, but the critic A. O. Scott praised Chastain for "short-circuit[ing] conventional distinctions between tough and vulnerable, showing exquisite control even when her character is losing it, and keeping her balance even when the movie pitches and rolls toward melodrama".
Chastain appeared in three films in 2014. She played the titular character in Miss Julie, a film adaptation of August Strindberg's 1888 play of the same name, from director Liv Ullmann. It tells the tragic tale of a sexually repressed Anglo-Irish aristocrat who wishes to sleep with her father's valet (Colin Farrell). She was drawn to Ullmann's feminist take on the subject. The film only received a limited theatrical release. While filming Miss Julie in Ireland, she received the script for Christopher Nolan's science fiction film Interstellar (2014). With a budget of $165 million, the high-profile production, co-starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, was filmed mostly using IMAX cameras. Chastain played the adult daughter of McConaughey's character; she was drawn to the project for the emotional heft she found in the father-daughter pair. Drew McWeeny of HitFix took note of how much Chastain had stood out in her supporting role. Interstellar grossed over $701 million worldwide to rank as her highest-grossing live-action film to date.
In her final release of 2014, Chastain starred in the J. C. Chandor-directed crime drama A Most Violent Year. Set in New York City in 1981, the year in which the city had the highest crime rate, the film tells the story of a heating-oil company owner (Oscar Isaac) and his ruthless wife (Chastain). In preparation, she researched the period and worked with a dialect coach to speak in a Brooklyn accent. She collaborated with the film's costume designer to work on her character's wardrobe, and contacted Armani which provided her with clothing of the period. Mark Kermode of The Observer found Chastain to be "terrific" in a part inspired by Lady Macbeth's character, and Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle described her portrayal as "the embodiment of a nouveau riche New York woman of the era". She received a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress nomination for it. For her work in 2014, the Broadcast Film Critics Association honored Chastain with a special achievement award.
In 2015, Chastain took on the part of a commander in Ridley Scott's science fiction film The Martian. Starring Matt Damon as a botanist who is stranded on Mars by a team of astronauts commanded by Chastain's character, the film is based on Andy Weir's novel of the same name. Chastain met with astronauts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Johnson Space Center, and modeled her role on Tracy Caldwell Dyson, with whom she spent time in Houston. The Martian became her second film to gross over $600 million in two consecutive years. Chastain next starred as a woman who plots with her brother (Tom Hiddleston) to terrorize his new bride (Mia Wasikowska) in Guillermo del Toro's gothic romance Crimson Peak. She approached the villainous part with empathy, and in preparation read graveyard poetry and watched the films Rebecca (1940) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Del Toro cast Chastain to lend accessibility to a part he considered "psychopathic", but Peter Debruge of Variety found her "alarmingly miscast" and criticized her for failing to effectively convey her character's insecurity and ruthlessness. Conversely, David Sims of Slate praised her for portraying her character's "jealous intensity to the hilt".
After playing a series of intense roles, Chastain actively looked for a light-hearted part. She found it in the ensemble fantasy film The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016), which served as both a sequel and a prequel to the 2012 film Snow White and the Huntsman. She was drawn to the idea of playing a warrior whose abilities were on par with those of the male lead, but the film flopped both critically and commercially. Chastain next starred as the titular character, a lobbyist, in the political thriller Miss Sloane, which reunited her with John Madden. She read the novel Capitol Punishment by disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff to research the practice of lobbying in America, and met with female lobbyists to study their mannerisms and sense of style. Hailing her as "one of the best actresses on the planet", Peter Travers commended Chastain for successfully drawing the audience into Sloane's life, and Justin Chang termed her performance "a tour de force of rhetorical precision and tightly coiled emotional intensity". She received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama. Also in 2016, Chastain launched the production company Freckle Films, headed by a team of female executives.
Chastain began 2017 by serving as the executive producer and providing the narration for I Am Jane Doe, a documentary on sex trafficking. In an effort to work with more female filmmakers, Chastain starred in two projects directed by women — Niki Caro's The Zookeeper's Wife and Susanna White's Woman Walks Ahead. In the former, an adaptation of Diane Ackerman's non-fiction book of the same name, she co-starred with Johan Heldenbergh as the real-life Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Żabiński who saved many human and animal lives during World War II. The film received mixed reviews, but Stephen Holden took note of how Chastain's "watchful, layered performance" empowered the film. Woman Walks Ahead tells the story of the 19th-century activist Catherine Weldon, who served as an adviser to the Sioux chieftain Sitting Bull prior to the Wounded Knee Massacre. She was interested in portraying a role that young girls could look up to for inspiration, and provided off-screen inputs to avoid a white savior narrative.
Chastain portrayed Molly Bloom, a former skier who ran a high-profile gambling operation that led to her arrest by the FBI, in Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut, Molly's Game (2017). She took the part due to her desire to work with Sorkin, whose writing she admired. Instead of relying on Bloom's public persona, she met Bloom personally to explore her character's flaws and vulnerabilities. She also researched the world of underground poker and interviewed some of Bloom's customers. Peter Debruge hailed her role as "one of the screen's great female parts", and credited its success to both Sorkin's script and Chastain's "stratospheric talent." She received her fifth Golden Globe nomination for it. In 2018, she hosted an episode of the television sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live and voiced the virtual reality production Spheres: Songs of Spacetime. She had filmed a part in Xavier Dolan's ensemble drama The Death & Life of John F. Donovan, but her scenes were deleted from the final cut as Dolan found her role incompatible to the story.
In the superhero film Dark Phoenix (2019), which marked the twelfth installment in the X-Men series, Chastain took on the role of an evil alien due to its focus on female characters. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian considered it to be "a waste of her talents", and the film registered poor box office returns. She reteamed with Andy Muschietti in It Chapter Two, the sequel to his 2017 horror film It, based on Stephen King's novel. She played the adult Beverly Marsh (a woman in an abusive marriage), sharing the role with Sophia Lillis. Filming proved challenging for Chastain, as Muschietti preferred the usage of practical effects to computer-generated imagery; one particular scene required her to be covered in 4,500 U.S. gallons (17,000 liters) of fake blood. The film received favorable reviews, with Charlotte O'Sullivan of the Evening Standard finding Chastain to be "suitably sad and sepulchral" in her role. It grossed over $470 million worldwide.
Under Freckle Films, Chastain produced and starred in the action film Ava (2020), written and initially set to be directed by Matthew Newton, who has been accused of domestic violence. Following backlash against her for agreeing to work with him, Newton was replaced with Tate Taylor. Boyd van Hoeij of The Hollywood Reporter bemoaned that Chastain's talents as an action star had been wasted in an underwhelming film. Released theatrically during the COVID-19 pandemic, it performed poorly at the box office but gained success on video on demand.
Chastain and Andrew Garfield starred as the televangelists Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker in the biopic The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021). She acquired the rights to Faye's life in 2012, and produced the film under her company Freckle Films. To look like Faye, Chastain wore prosthetic makeup which took 4–7 hours to apply. The role also required her to sing, which she has said made her nervous. She worked with the music producer Dave Cobb to record seven songs for the film's soundtrack. David Fear of Rolling Stone found Chastain to be the "only reason to see this curiously tepid biopic" and praised her for rising above the script to humanize Faye. Kevin Maher of The Times considered it to be a "riveting, unleashed and award-worthy performance" and compared it to Joaquin Phoenix's performance in Joker (2019). She won the Academy Award for Best Actress, Critics Choice Award and SAG Award, in addition to a Golden Globe nomination.
Also in 2021, Chastain agreed to Scenes from a Marriage, a gender-switched remake of Ingmar Bergman's 1973 Swedish miniseries of the same name for HBO, for its subversion of stereotypical portrayal of women. Lucy Mangan of The Guardian took note of the chemistry between Chastain and her co-star Oscar Isaac, as did Carol Midgley of The Times who praised them for "delivering crackling, wounding dialogue faultlessly". She received another Golden Globe nomination in the same year for it. She also reteamed with Ralph Fiennes in The Forgiven, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Lawrence Osborne. Steve Pond of TheWrap commended Chastain and Fiennes for finding "rich nuance" in their characters' misdeeds. For The 355 (2022), a female-led spy film, Chastain and her team of female co-stars pitched the idea to prospective buyers at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it was picked up by Universal Pictures. The film received negative reviews, who criticized it as generic and unremarkable, and it failed commercially. Chastain then took on a brief role as Maryanne Trump in James Gray's period film Armageddon Time.
Chastain will next star alongside Eddie Redmayne in The Good Nurse, a thriller about the pursuit of serial killer Charles Cullen, and portray the country singer Tammy Wynette in the biographical miniseries George & Tammy. She will feature in Michel Franco's film Memory alongside Peter Sarsgaard. She has also committed to star opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in a film adaptation of the video game Tom Clancy's The Division and produce and star alongside Anne Hathaway in Mothers’ Instinct, a remake of the Belgian psychological thriller of the same name.
Chastain identifies as a feminist, and has often spoken out against the discrimination faced by women and minorities in Hollywood. She penned an essay on gender imbalance in the industry for a December 2015 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. At the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where she served as a jury member, Chastain bemoaned the passive portrayal of women in most films. She has complained about a lack of female film critics, which she believes hinders a gender-neutral perspective on film. She advocates for greater gender balance on sets, including more representation of women on film crews and in positions of power. On social media, Chastain aims to "amplify the voices" of victims of sexual harassment in the industry. In 2018, she collaborated with 300 women in Hollywood to set up the Time's Up initiative to protect women from harassment and discrimination. In the same year, she appeared alongside several actresses in This Changes Everything, a documentary about the poor representation of women in Hollywood films.
Chastain is a vocal advocate for equal pay in the workplace, and turns down offers of work whose salaries she finds unfair. She spoke out in support of actress Michelle Williams, who was paid less than her co-star Mark Wahlberg for the 2017 film All the Money in the World; a gesture which Williams said led to greater awareness of the issue and a donation worth $2 million to the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund. In 2013, Chastain lent her support to the Got Your 6 campaign, to help empower veterans of the United States Army, and in 2016, she became an advisory-board member to the organization We Do It Together, which produces films and television shows to promote women empowerment. In 2017, she featured alongside several Hollywood celebrities in a theatrical production of The Children's Monologues, in which she performed a monologue as a thirteen-year-old girl who is raped by her uncle. The event raised funds for Dramatic Need, a charity that helps African children pursue a career in the arts. In 2020, Chastain became an investor in a Los Angeles-based franchise for the National Women's Soccer League. The new team has since been named Angel City FC.
Chastain supports charitable organizations that promote mental health, and is involved with the nonprofit organization To Write Love on Her Arms to help high-school students of alternate sexual and gender identities overcome insecurities. Teased as a child for having red hair and freckles, she takes a stand against body-shaming and bullying. Chastain has campaigned for access to affordable reproductive health care for women, and in 2017, Variety honored her for her work with Planned Parenthood. In response to abortion bans in certain American states, she joined several actors in refusing to work in those regions.
Describing Chastain's off-screen persona, Roy Porter of InStyle magazine wrote in 2015 that "she's an adult, which isn't always a given in Hollywood. Unconsciously candid with her answers, she retains a sense of perspective uncommon among her peers, and has real opinions"; Porter also credited her for being the rare actress who is "all about the craft". Evgenia Peretz, an editor at Vanity Fair, finds Chastain "the most sensitive and empathetic actor" she has interviewed.
Chastain specializes in portraying emotionally grueling roles and is drawn to parts of strong but flawed women. The journalist Sanjiv Bhattacharya has identified a theme of characters who "subvert gender expectations in some way". David Ehrlich of IndieWire credits her for being the sole American actress to consistently play roles that "champion feminist ideals". She believes in extensive preparations for a role: "[I] fill myself up with as much history of the character as I can." The film critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper have praised Chastain's versatility, and W magazine credits her for avoiding typecasting.
Guillermo del Toro, who directed Chastain in Crimson Peak, believes that she is "interested in being chameleonic", and that she brings authenticity even to bizarre situations. Sophie Heawood of The Guardian believes that Chastain's ability to bring very little ego to her roles renders her unrecognisable to the audience. Sarah Karmali of Harper's Bazaar opines that "she goes for total immersion, sinking so deep into character that her face seems to change shape with each one". Lea Goldman of Marie Claire has compared her craft to that of Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett, and writes that she values her craft over her looks. Describing her film career in 2017, Ben Dickinson of Elle wrote:
With her often haunted-looking eyes, pale complexion, and gorgeous red mane [...] she can project everything from icy hauteur (The Martian, Miss Sloane) to loving warmth (The Tree of Life, The Zookeeper's Wife) or an unstable equilibrium and high intelligence in between (Zero Dark Thirty and A Most Violent Year).
The journalist Tom Shone describes Chastain as being "excessively luscious [with] pale Botticelli features wrapped around a bone structure that has a touch of the masculine, right down to the cleft in her chin." She was named the sexiest vegetarian actress in a poll conducted by PETA in 2012. From 2012 to 2014, she was featured in AskMen's listing of the most desirable women, and in 2015, Glamour magazine ranked her as one of the best-dressed women.
Time magazine named Chastain one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2012. That same year, she was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and she endorsed an Yves Saint Laurent fragrance called Manifesto. In 2015, she became the global ambassador for the Swiss jewelry and watchmaking company Piaget, and in 2017, she was made the face of Ralph Lauren's fragrance campaign, named Woman. For the latter, she led an initiative called Lead Like A Woman, and featured in a short film named Leading with Intensity (2019) made by an all-female cast and crew.
Despite significant media attention, Chastain remains guarded about her personal life, and chooses not to attend red carpet events with a partner. She considers herself to be a "shy" person, and in 2011 said that she enjoys domestic routines like dog-walking and playing ukulele, rather than partying. She has cited the actress Isabelle Huppert as an influence, for managing a family, while also playing "out-there roles" on screen.
Chastain is an animal lover, and has adopted a rescue dog. She was a pescatarian for much of her life; following health troubles she began practicing veganism. She is an investor for Beyond Meat, a meat substitutes company.
In the 2000s, Chastain was in a long-term relationship with writer-director Ned Benson that ended in 2010. In 2012, she began dating Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, an Italian count of the Passi de Preposulo noble family, who is an executive for the fashion brand Moncler. On June 10, 2017, she married Preposulo at his family's estate in Carbonera, Italy. In 2018, the couple had a daughter through surrogacy. They later had a second daughter. They reside in New York City.
According to the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes and the box-office site Box Office Mojo, Chastain's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films are Take Shelter (2011), Coriolanus (2011), The Tree of Life (2011), The Help (2011), Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Mama (2013), Interstellar (2014), A Most Violent Year (2014), The Martian (2015), Miss Sloane (2016), Molly's Game (2017), and It Chapter Two (2019). Among her stage roles, she has appeared in a Broadway revival of The Heiress in 2012.
Chastain won an Academy Award in the Best Actress category for The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021), and has been nominated two more times: Best Supporting Actress for The Help and Best Actress for Zero Dark Thirty. She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama for Zero Dark Thirty, and has been nominated six more times: Best Actress in a Drama for Miss Sloane, Molly's Game, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye; Best Supporting Actress for The Help and A Most Violent Year; and Best Actress for a Miniseries or Television Film for Scenes from a Marriage.
She is deeply private about her own family life — her husband, Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, an Italian count who works as a fashion executive, and their two young daughters.