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When Jessica Chastain received the MVP Award at the 2015 Critics Choice Awards for her performance in “Interstellar,” she spoke up about the lack of roles and stories for women across the industry. During a press conference following her speech, the actor-producer was asked, “What are your plans now on creating inclusivity?” That sparked the idea of founding her production company, Freckle Films.
“I went ‘well, okay, here I go. I need to put my money where my mouth is, and I need to start creating a company that will offer some opportunities for women and also highlight the stories that perhaps have been unheard and invisible,’” she said during a Variety Power of Women: Conversations event, presented by Lifetime and moderated by Kate Aurthur.
Last year, her company produced its first feature film, “The 355,” (now slated to debut in January 2021) that boasts actors including Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Chastain.
The project was first introduced to buyers at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, when Chastain found herself surrounded by action film posters featuring all-male ensembles. She looked around and said to her manager, “I have longed to work with other actresses. There’s so many people that I admire, but it feels like the industry doesn’t want us in a room together. Why do they never make stories with a group of women?”
So when casting “The 355,” Chastain put together a wish list of women actors she had hoped to collaborate with. “Everyone that I had asked to be a part of it were excited to be a part of it,” she said. “I said ‘the only thing is if you say yes, you’re the owner of the film which means you have to come to Cannes to sell the film’ — and they did.”
Kelly Carmichael, president of production at Freckle Films, explained that the creative process focused on providing opportunities for women actors to build characters they were interested in portraying in a spy film.
“Penélope Cruz, for example, had mentioned to us that she often had gotten stereotyped as this feisty Latina woman, and she wanted to play something else that showed another side of her personality that we haven’t seen her explore on screen,” added Chastain, pointing out that it was important for them to push against such typecasting practices.
Looking to the future, Chastain and Carmichael believe there are many more stories to tell with women actors and creatives. Reflecting on her initiative to produce movies, Chastain encouraged others to act toward the changes they hope to see: “You need to empower yourself, and you need to ask yourself what you can do in any industry. If you feel like there are injustice or there are flaws in a system you’re working in, change it; do what you can. Start making changes and people will follow.”
Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway will star in the psychological thriller Mothers’ Instinct, which Anton will introduce to worldwide buyers at AFM next month.
Belgian writer-director Olivier Masset-Depasse (Illegal) is set to direct the English language remake from his 2018 film Duelles, which won nine Magritte Awards from the Belgian Academy including best film and best director.
Sarah Conradt (50 States Of Fright) is adapting the screenplay based on the novel Derrière La Haine by Barbara Abel.
Mothers’ Instinct takes place in the early 1960s as the seemingly idyllic life of two best friends, mothers, and neighbours is shattered after a tragic accident.
Chastain and Kelly Carmichael are producing through Chastain’s Freckle Films, with Paul Nelson of Mosaic, and Jacques-Henri Bronckart.
Anton will fully finance and serves as executive producer, with company founder and CEO Sébastien Raybaud overseeing the project with John Zois, Anton’s EVP of acquisitions and co-productions, who negotiated the deal with CAA.
CAA Media Finance arranged the film’s financing and represents US rights alongside Anton. President of international production and distribution, Cecile Gaget will oversee sales.
Jessica Chastain will reunite with Oscar Isaac to star in Scenes From A Marriage, the HBO limited series adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s miniseries. Deal came together after Michelle Williams exited the lead female role over scheduling issues. Limited series comes from Our Boys and The Affair co-creator Hagai Levi, Michael Ellenberg’s Media Res and Endeavor Content.
Levi is writing and directing a series adaptation that re-examines the show’s iconic depiction of love, hatred, desire, monogamy, marriage and divorce through the lens of a contemporary American couple, played by Isaac and Williams. Ingmar Bergman wrote and directed the original 1973 Swedish miniseries, which starred Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson. Bergman’s teleplay, the story of a disintegration of a marriage, drew on his own experiences, including his relationship with Ullmann.
Levi executive produces with Ellenberg via Media Res, Lars Blomgren (The Bridge), Williams, Isaac, Daniel Bergman, Blair Breard and Amy Herzog. The series is a co-production with Media Res and Endeavor Content, and Isaac and Chastain are also exec producers.
The deal reunites Chastain with Isaac. Classmates at Julliard and longtime friends, they starred together in 2014’s A Most Violent Year. Shooting will begin soon. Chastain most recently completed the international spy thriller The 355, and plays Tammy Faye Bakker in the Michael Showalter-directed The Eyes Of Tammy Faye and the John Michael McDonagh-directed The Forgiven.
Jessica Chastain revealed that The 355 came out of seeing little to no action films featuring women ensembles. After learning about the women involved in international espionage while working on Zero Dark Thirty, the producer and star said she knew a story about women spies was worth telling.
During the New York Comic Con Saturday panel, Chastain joined The 355 co-stars Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing to talk the impact they hope The 355 will have on audiences and the movie industry.
“My goals and dreams for The 355 is that we just accept the fact that women are awesome and tough and bada**,” Chastain said. “I’m excited for society to start acknowledging what’s happening in our world.”
The 355, directed by Simon Kinberg, kicks off when a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands. Wild card CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown (Chastain) will need to join forces with rival badass German agent Marie (Kruger), former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah (Nyong’o) and skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela (Cruz) on a lethal, breakneck mission to retrieve it, while also staying one-step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Fan) who is tracking their every move.
While the ideation of The 355 stemmed from her time working on Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain said the actual inspiration for the film’s title itself goes back to the 1860’s. She explained that the series of numbers was actually code for the first woman spy in the American Civil War, a woman who has since gone unnamed and under-appreciated. Given the significance of the numbers, Chastain said she and her co-stars think of the film’s title like a “badge of honor.”
The film, which sees the women face off against each other and eventually their common foes, required amounts of rehearsals and hours of combat training, Kruger said. While training for fight scenes is nothing uncommon for action films, especially those heavily featuring male ensembles, the stars also shared that they had to train to fight in heels and more feminine clothing than men.
Kruger said that working with a cast and crew on a film that centers women made she and her cast mates feel valued. She added that the women were even allowed to bring their children on set, which made production feel like a family. Fan, who said Chastain asked her to join the project shortly after serving on the Cannes jury, said that The 355 was an opportunity to learn from her fellow actresses.
When making a film, Chastain said she often thinks about how 13 year-old girls will feel. Citing The Martian and Interstellar, she said she’s proud to know that young girls can see women represented in impressive career paths and thrive in extraordinary circumstances.
“We all know that when you see examples of it that it’s possible, I wanted to show how important women are in society, especially in the international espionage field,” she said.
Theresa Rebeck and Kinberg wrote the script. The film is produced by Chastain and Kelly Carmichael for Chastain’s Freckle Films and by Kinberg for his Genre Films. Richard Hewitt exec produces. Huayi Brothers has Chinese distribution rights.
The Universal spy film is set to release domestically on Jan. 15.
Jean Grey begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt and turn her into a Dark Phoenix. Now the X-Men will have to decide if the life of a team member is worth more than all the people living in the world.
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