Jessica Chastain (‘Molly’s Game’): ‘It felt like I was in a Katharine Hepburn movie’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Jessica Chastain is once again on the awards circuit, this time with “Molly’s Game” which is the directorial debut for Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network,” 2010). She has recently received nominations at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards for her leading role, a category she has already won before with both groups for “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012). The new film marks her fifth career nomination with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

The movie is based on the true life memoir of Molly Bloom, who started out on her own with virtually nothing and built an incredibly lucrative underground poker business catering to Hollywood stars, business executives, and even Russian mobsters. The FBI targeted her for an investigation but she refused to give up names not already uncovered through other sources. The film has a special screening at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles on November 12 and has a limited release on Christmas Day. It also stars Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Bill Camp, Jeremy Strong, and Chris O’Dowd.

We recently chatted with Chastain about this character and her career. Watch the exclusive video above or read the complete interview transcript below.

Gold Derby: Yet another fierce, independent woman is now on your résumé with “Molly’s Game.” What is it about that type of role that attracts you?

Jessica Chastain: The first no. 1 thing that attracted me to this script was Aaron Sorkin. I’m an actor who, I love working to move the needle in some way, with my film choices, with looking at society and Aaron Sorkin, he’s a political filmmaker. You look from the beginning of his writing, he’s someone who writes about social justice prevailing against the odds and I have always… it’s been like no. 1 on my bucket list to work with him, and so for me, no. 1, that’s what drew me to this project.

GD: It was about a year ago we were talking about “Miss Sloane” and in that interview I said “Miss Sloane” felt like sort of an Aaron Sorkin-type script so it’s so fun for me now to see you in an Aaron Sorkin movie.

JC: Right?! That’s what I’ve always kind of aspired to. Aaron Sorkin, the way he writes, there’s so much musicality, pacing, rhythm, the way he’s able to set things up, it’s so thoughtful and that’s what good writing does. It’s not cheap and disposable, there’s so many layers and levels to it. And I’ve learned more now about what he wrote in this script than six months ago. I’ve learned more now than I did yesterday by talking to Idris [Elba] and the dynamics of the gender power struggle and I think we’ll know more … it’ll show us another way into society even six months from now. I think it’s the kind of script that will continue to evolve, continue to enlighten us, and that’s what truly is a great writer and now filmmaker, director.

GD: I was gonna ask you about that. When you get an Aaron Sorkin script and he’s also gonna make his directorial debut, what concern level was there for you with him being his directing debut?

JC: None. I had absolutely zero concern. I’ve worked a lot of my career with first-time filmmakers and I love writer-directors. Aaron Sorkin has always been a filmmaker. He’s been on sets with such incredible directors, the idea that he wouldn’t have picked it up, for me there was no risk. And in fact when I saw the film the first time, I saw it and I called him up and I said, “I’m kind of mad at you.” And of course he was really nervous because he was showing it to me for the first time and he was nervous about my reaction and he goes, “Well why?” And I said, “You could have been making movies this whole time. Think about all these movies that we didn’t get because you didn’t feel you were ready.” But he absolutely is a filmmaker. He has a singular style. When you look at an Aaron Sorkin script, he has a style. It’s really intelligent, there’s a pace, there’s a movement to it. And when you see this film you’ll see that his directing style actually matches his storytelling style. The way he edits, how he cuts back and forth, he really is a storyteller and I’m excited to see what he directs next, because I know he’s just going up on this film.

GD: Beyond the obvious of the plot of Molly Bloom being in charge of this poker game and working her way through the system and becoming very wealthy and prominent on her own, what kind of message do you hope someone like me or an audience member gets out of the movie?

JC: Well I think there’s many, many layers to this story. First, Aaron Sorkin, one of the most successful men in our industry. He could have told any story he wanted to tell. I am an actor who, for years, there are filmmakers that I wanted to work with and then I look at their IMDb and I realize they don’t tell films with female protagonists. Aaron Sorkin, with everything he could have done, people would’ve payed attention and he chose to tell this story about a woman in an industry that was ruled by rich, powerful men and how she had to navigate their rules to try to find success, when it would change based on their whims. He decided right now to tell that story for his directorial debut so that I think is an important thing to look at, and hopefully it’ll inspire our industry to reach out from just the small world of what they are and what they know and kind of look at other stories out there. Second, I think it’s important to look at this film with its themes of what patriarchy is, from the family, you look at Molly, in her family situation, in her industry and in the government. The family, her father is the moral authority and she has to follow his rules. We come to learn later on that he was hypocritical. In her industry, her trying to navigate those waters and the players make the rules and they would change. And in the government, excluding her lawyer but the people who are trying to prosecute her, how those rules kept changing and finally it’s at the end where Molly says, “I’m done playing by these rules and I’m just gonna be who I am and if I go to jail, I go to jail, but I’m done navigating this.” And I find that very exciting as a woman to see that onscreen.

GD: I could ask about a dozen scenes but I wanna ask particularly about the one, I thought was maybe one of the standouts, you Idris Elba in the courtroom, the switch seats scene.

JC: (Laughs.)

GD: It’s just masterful not only in the dialogue but the way it plays out, like you said, the editing, everything about that scene is fun.

JC: It was so fun to play that scene. It felt like I was in a Katharine Hepburn movie. I loved working with Idris, I loved, of course, Aaron’s dialogue but I love a lot of these scenes, they’re funny and they’re charming but you think about also the other stuff that’s going on in there. In our film it deals a lot with how a woman presents herself, so Molly changes everything about herself to try to gain the respect and the success in the poker world and then also in that scene, she has Idris’ character telling her, “You gotta change the way you look.” So two times in our film, men are telling Molly that she’s not dressed appropriately. I find that really interesting and I love that in Aaron’s script that you’ll see a scene and you’ll think, “This is really fun and the dialogue back and forth, and there’s a lot of comedy,” and yet he’s always got his layers of social commentary, which is really, for me, it’s the most wonderful work I could be working on.

GD: Let me ask you about Idris Elba. We’ve been admiring him for years, and he always does diverse projects like you do. What about him now that you’ve worked with him could you share with us about him?

JC: He’s fun. He works really hard. I know everyone’s gonna know it when they see the movie, there is a speech he gives in this film that is so incredible. And Aaron Sorkin dialogue is tough because it’s like Shakespeare, it’s so layered, there’s so much going on, there’s a rhythm. Shakespeare has iambic pentameter and you’ve gotta keep the rhythm ‘cause there’s a payoff and Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is like that. You keep this rhythm ‘cause it sets up what happens here. It’s already difficult to do but Idris did it with an accent (laughs). And he’s funny and he’s serious and he’s such this incredible presence in this film and he’s really thoughtful in terms of our industry and where we’re heading and where we’re going and what we need and I hope this is the first of many projects to work on with Idris. He just finished directing a film and I’m excited to see that because I truly believe he’s gonna make a great director as well.

GD: And Kevin Costner, we see glimpses of him through the movie and then without spoiling it for anybody, towards the end, you and he have a really nice scene together. I’m sure you grew up watching him. I’m sure he wouldn’t like to hear that in terms of ages, but tell us about working with Kevin Costner.

JC: Oh it was wonderful to work with… I was shocked when Aaron told me that Kevin Costner was gonna play Molly’s father in the film. I admire him so much. ”Dances with Wolves” is such a beautiful film and I remember seeing it when I was starting to develop my passion for filmmaking and cinema. He was so generous on set. Aaron would secretly tell me that Kevin would say, “You know you can put the camera here,” and Aaron said, “That’s a good idea,” and then he would do it, but then Aaron would let everyone know that was Kevin’s idea (laughs). And then Kevin would go over to him and say, “You don’t need to give me credit. It’s yours.” He’s a team player. He was beautiful. That scene in the park, he breaks my heart at the end of the scene, and a lot of people I think see the film and they think that Molly has an epiphany, it’s like her change in that scene, but actually it’s a come-to-Jesus moment for Kevin’s character, because you start out, he thinks he’s so slick, he knows everything and at the end of the scene, without giving away any spoilers, he’s the one that needs to be comforted, and he’s the one apologizing. And I think it’s an incredible arc for Kevin to play and I think he hits it out of the park.

GD: As we wrap up I always have to ask an awards question since we’re an awards website. Your cast, “The Help,” Octavia [Spencer] won back then, this past February, Emma Stone and Viola Davis win. What’s going through your mind when you see co-stars from one of your most iconic movies all getting that kind of recognition?

JC: Well I’m really proud of those girls. I love them. they’re my family. I agree with them winning awards (laughs). But also, too, what it makes me do is that I want to acknowledge our director, Tate Taylor, because I auditioned for that movie over and over and over again. Octavia, we had to work super hard. I don’t think any of us were the first choices for those parts and Tate Taylor, our director, fought for us. I saw firsthand how he fought for me. I knew the stories of how much he fought for Octavia and I don’t think he gets enough credit because he put together a cast of actors that I hope, because I believe they deserve it, will have very long careers. But being on that set I was so inspired by them, I continue to be. They fill my heart, I love those girls and that’s Tate Taylor 100%. You cannot take away from what he did because there were many times I said “Okay, that’s it. I can’t audition for this part anymore. It’s clear the studio doesn’t want me,” and Tate was the one that was really, really in my corner pushing me forward.

GD: Well you’ve gotta be next, we want you with an Oscar.

JC: I don’t know. My favorite actress is Isabelle Huppert. My favorite actor is Gary Oldman, and they’ve had very long careers and I believe they have been underrated in their careers, so for me I can’t look at it in that way because like I said, my favorite actors have not been recognized for their work.

GD: We met Isabelle last year after the Globes, you were in that same category with her and she was just over the moon winning the Globe that night, and Gary Oldman I just saw in “Darkest Hour” this week. I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet but just wait, it’s like Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln” amazing. It’s one of his best ever.

JC: But he’s always been like that, from the very beginning. The wonderful thing about Gary, he’s been a great inspiration for me as an actor is his ability to play characters different from himself. He changes his voice, he changes his body, his physicality. He’s not a personality actor, he’s someone who’s really interested in the stranger and I started my career looking at him as someone like, “That’s how I want to mold or try to shape my career,” because it’s such a great inspiration to me, so I hope he is recognized, because I think it’s about time.

GD: Well you too, we feel the same way.

JC: Well thanks (laughs).

GD: Thank you for doing this again. Hope everybody goes out and sees “Molly’s Game” because it’s exactly what you would hope it’d be from your performance, Idris, Kevin and then Aaron is just at the top of his game right now.

JC: Absolutely. I’m so impressed with what Aaron did.

Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives and top name stars can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

More News from GoldDerby