While I’ve done a lot of on-set interviews over the past decade, the group interview with Jessica Chastain on the set of Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak was extremely unique. Not only did we speak with her in her trailer, we got to watch her play her character’s lullaby on a small piano and met her extremely cute dog. Let’s just say, this is not the norm for on-set interviews.
As most of you know, del Toro co-wrote the film with Matthew Robbins, and the film also stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnam. The synopsis reads, “In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes and remembers.”
During the interview Chastain talked about being able to pick her role, why her trailer was covered with disturbing images, her character’s backstory, her character’s hair and the wigs she had to wear, collaborating with del Toro, and so much more. Crimson Peak opens October 16th.
Finally, before getting to the interview, I suggest you watch the new trailer first.
Question: So we heard that Guillermo approached you and said, ‘Here’s the script, take a look, whatever you want’ and then you decided that you wanted to be the antagonist.
JESSICA CHASTAIN: Yeah.
His quote was that you’re a smart girl.
What was it about the role that got you?
CHASTAIN: Well, first of all, I just wanted to do anything with Guillermo [Del Toro]. He was the first person I met with on Mama, that was the first meeting I had on the movie, and I remember I’d just got into a motocross accident, it was right when Tree of Life and everything had just come out; I was in crutches going into this breakfast meeting with Guillermo and he’s like, ‘I want you to do this movie’ and it just made me laugh so much that I was getting all these offers for these really sweet wives and he wanted me to play this punk rock girl wannabe in a horror film and I thought, ‘Well that’s a guy who thinks outside the box’ so I really liked that. I loved collaborating with him on Mama, he was the producer, and just wanted to do anything with him so when he sent me the script it was kind of just like, ‘Ok, what’s your next project?’ and then when he sent me this I think I gravitated towards Lucille [Sharpe] because as an actress I always want to play the roles that I haven’t played before and I always try to go for as different from me as possible, and Lucille is out of anything I’ve ever played the most different. It’s really far out there and it took a lot, the first three weeks were really difficult for me because I was shooting this and A Most Violent Year –J.C. Chandor’s film– at the same time flying back and forth, and I was very afraid. We’ll see, who knows, when you guys see the movie you can decide. I was very afraid that I wasn’t gonna quite get there on this.
Guillermo called her ‘the antagonist’, can you elaborate on that?
CHASTAIN: Umm…I don’t see her that way [Laughs], as any person who plays the baddy in a film wouldn’t see it. I see her as someone who actually has suffered a lot, as you guys actually can probably see by my character’s scars, and they didn’t put them all on today because the hair is down but she has a lot of scars on her face and her back; she had a very difficult life that she’s come from and so all she’s trying to do is preserve her happiness because she’s a woman who’s had little happiness in her life. So I don’t see her as the antagonist, I mean, yes of course in the grand scheme of things she is, but I’m still playing her so I can’t see her that way.
Can you talk about the pictures around the walls everywhere?
CHASTAIN: Yeah, there’s really a lot of disturbing images. Really disturbing, some of them you guys might not like.
Did you choose any?
CHASTAIN: Yeah, I actually asked, I wanted them all in my trailer. I’m very involved with costumes and the look of the characters, so I always ask to see mood boards and inspiration, so whenever –Especially Kate [Hawley], Kate from costumes, she was amazing. When I first met with her she had this image board for Lucille that was so dark, I said, ‘Oh, I love it all’ so I just try to get copies of anything that I can. And what’s really creepy, and I have never asked Guillermo because it seems too weird like he wouldn’t have done this on purpose, it feels like Polanski-esque. The house that I’m staying in, it’s a beautiful townhouse and I didn’t realize it until I was there for like a week and a half, there’s a piece of artwork in the master bedroom where I’m in, it’s like a modern piece of art of a woman with black hair looking –It’s a house, it’s a really freaky looking house, she’s sticking her head out the top window and the long hair is going out and through the windows down like five stories, black hair. And I looked at the image and I thought, ‘It’s Lucille in the bedroom I’m staying in. Did someone secretly plant that there?’ But yeah, I find that whenever I’m working on a project you always see little things like that which remind you of what you’re doing.
Unless you’re watching What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
CHASTAIN: [Laughs]. I actually have a lot of stuff I’ve been watching, I watched What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? –I shouldn’t say everything, because I don’t want you guys to think that I’ve stolen from that. But one I definitely took from, and maybe when the movie comes out I’ll tell you guys what part it was, Misery –which I love– it was a very different character but I love the idea of someone being helpless, and also Kathy Bates in Misery, I actually feel for that woman when I watch that movie because you think like, ‘God, she’s so pathetic’ and there’s something about her, she actually just wants love. So I tried to surround myself with films like that.
How scary, what kind of scary, do you think this production is?
CHASTAIN: It’s weird because I’m sure it’s really, really scary…
That’s why I was curious about your perspective.
CHASTAIN: Yeah, I’m sure if you talk to Mia [Wasikowska] it’s different than when you talk to me because for me I’m like, ‘That’s fine’ [Laughs]. But Mia’s really getting a rough time on this film, and I absolutely love her, I worked with her on Lawless, we’ve been friends for a long time; she’s such a brilliant actress and such a ray of sunshine that it’s really difficult to actually then come to set and [Laughs] to torture her, in a way. It’s scary, it’s really scary.
Was there a particular one that stood out to you?
CHASTAIN: Yes! There’s a Hungarian countess, Elizabeth, who’s killed over 600 women and she’s incredible. She bathed in their blood, and sometimes she would bite them to death, she would throw them out in the snow, pour water on them and keep throwing until they froze to death, she would stick pins up their nails. She had a contraption made that was like a barrel that she’d put these young girls in, and then they’d crank it closed, it had spikes on it, and she’d bathe in their blood that would drip down. I mean, she was so disturbing. She was found guilty but all they did was basically wall her up in her house, they didn’t put her to death.
Guillermo said that he came up with these ten-page backstories for everybody. Talk a little bit about, did you know that was coming? And could you sort of talk about what your reaction was when you first read it?
CHASTAIN: Yeah, let me show it to you. Where’s my purse? Can someone hand me my bag right there? Yeah, I was shocked, because I know Guillermo pretty well because we’ve worked together before, but I’ve worked on a lot of dramas and stuff and you never get stuff like this from a director. I’m used to doing all this work on my own and when he sent me this, I’ll show you how elaborate it is, it’s such a dream come true for actors to get this.
By the way, as you’re going through that, he mentioned that there’s certain things in there that are secret that you can’t share.
No, no, just the other actors.
CHASTAIN: Oh, yeah, yeah [Laughs].
Show us everything.
CHASTAIN: Yeah, like, look at this. [Shows backstory].
And those are your note stickers.
CHASTAIN: Yeah it’s about my thing. But here’s just an example of it, [Reads] ‘Positives: Loyal, determined, intelligent, meticulous, decisive, observant, eloquent, artistic, passionate, sensitive, delicate, protective, unwavering. Negatives: Insular, narcissistic, violent, domineering, possessive, agoraphobic, germaphobe, vengeful, jealous, manipulative, depressive, demanding, suffocating. Secret dreams: To never leave Allerdale Hall’. He goes into descriptions like, ‘Likes: The smell of good tobacco, the taste of very bitter chocolate’ For me it’s a dream come true because then I look at this and then I go, ‘Oh my God, okay Chopin, graveyard poetry, I have a book of graveyard poetry now in my trailer. It’s a great starting out point. This is something I always do as a character, but the problem is when the director’s not involved then there’s a secret, when I’m playing something sometimes the director’s like, ‘Why is she doing that?’ they don’t understand the world that I’m coming from, but to have this and have a starting out point and have the secrets that have happened to Lucille; basically he’s written up her whole life up to the beginning of the movie. When he sees me play a scene, now he understands, ‘Oh, that is because of this. That’s where she’s coming from.’ Or, ‘It’s because she doesn’t want to leave the house’ or ‘She doesn’t like germs’ We now have our own language. But we had a rehearsal with Tom [Hiddleston] in London when he was doing Coriolianus because we wanted to create the bond ‘brother and sister’ and I was reading mine and then at some point when Tom started to read his I said, ‘Don’t read me anything that you wouldn’t tell Lucille. I don’t want to know what’s in your bio that Lucille wouldn’t know’.
Can you talk about what kind of siblings they are, with their relationship?
CHASTAIN: I think they’ve suffered a lot and the only happiness they’ve ever had in their lives was each other. They’ve only had –It’s the safety for her, for her home is her safety and her brother is her safety. I’m sure it can be very suffocating, it’s very co-dependent.
Two of the keywords I picked up, apart from suffocating, were loyal and possessive. So she’s loyal to his brother but also possessive of him which triggers jealousy?
CHASTAIN: Absolutely, but also if someone is your ‘everything’ in your life and the only reason for happiness, you’re going to be possessive of it because to lose that is to die. So I don’t see that as, I know, I don’t see that as a negative thing in her because any negative quality she has, everything comes from love.
Real love, is it real love or twisted love?
CHASTAIN: I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘twisted love’. Everything she does is to give love and to receive love. She might be going about it the wrong way [Laughs].
How much does she know or is familiar with about the supernatural things that are happening in this house and to these people?
CHASTAIN: She doesn’t believe in ghosts.
Talk about the hair and sort of getting used to it.
CHASTAIN: Yeah, look how long this is, it’s so heavy you guys. There’s a chiropractor who comes to set and I try to put it on my shoulder, because what it does is it makes my head go like this and then I go like that. But it’s worth it, because it’s so cool-looking!
Do you find yourself slipping slopes when you look up?
CHASTAIN: Yeah. It just gives you like that no-neck thing that’s not so good. Yeah it’s one of the very first things Guillermo told me when we would have the look for the character. I love it. Basically, Edith [Cushing]–Mia’s Character– is the sun and Lucille is the moon.
I’m curious if you’ve been able to take it out on a test spin in real life.
CHASTAIN: No [Laughs]. Can you imagine?
Well, that’s the thing.
CHASTAIN: I wonder how people would look at me. I mean, it’s impossible to take care of. Poor Stephanie [Ingram], who deals with the hair, is always coming up to me brushing it because it turns into a dreadlock like [Snaps].
So getting the convertible top down would go.
CHASTAIN: No, it’s gone. It’s a buzz cut after that.
How many are there of them, the wigs?
CHASTAIN: Most of the film I hear it’s not down, but still because it’s so long I have a bun that’s this big in the back of my head and, I don’t know if you guys have seen anything yet, even that’s heavy. But I think I might have four, and then we have some stunt work today so they have doubles so she’d have to have another wig like this.
What were the differences between working with Guillermo as a producer and as a director?
CHASTAIN: It’s better working with him as a director because you get to see him every day. He gives such great notes and he’s very sensitive, he’s someone that just makes you better as an actor. Sometimes you work with a director who wants every idea to be theirs, and with Guillermo you’re able to build things because he has an idea and then I go, ‘Oh, yeah what if we do that and then I do this’ and then he builds on that and so it becomes my performance is not just me it’s with Guillermo. He’s great because it’s like Guillermo Del Toro and Terrence Malick, you know, I mean they’re just good people.
Does your character play the piano?
CHASTAIN: Yes. Have you guys heard the lullaby?
CHASTAIN: Do you guys wanna hear it?
CHASTAIN: [Plays the lullaby on the piano]
[Cheers and Applause].
CHASTAIN: See? So I love her, even though she’s misguided.
Did you get to play it on screen?
CHASTAIN: Yes. I play that, I play Chopin, and I play a waltz. I’ve never played piano before, and Guillermo in November was like, ‘I want you to play the piano! And you have to start taking lessons’ so it’s been a deal.
Between that and that and Mama you’ll be able to start your own band soon.
CHASTAIN: I know! The thing is in Mama it’s like two seconds of me playing the bass after I’d taken moths of it.
I love the jewelry.
CHASTAIN: Oh, isn’t it gorgeous?
CHASTAIN: One of my favorite images is this, because they would always have those mirrors. And then, one more thing, I see that as Lucille and Thomas. The little kids.
For more on Crimson Peak:
- CRIMSON PEAK: Tom Hiddleston Talks Progressing from Romance to Kink, Guillermo del Toro, and More
- Guillermo del Toro Talks CRIMSON PEAK, Building a Massive 3-Story House, Crafting a “Kinky and Violent” Gothic Romance, Creating Ghosts, and More on Set
- Over 35 Things to Know About CRIMSON PEAK
- New CRIMSON PEAK Pictures Show off the Stunning Allerdale Hall