Jessica Chastain: People ‘expect a different background than I have’

Jessica Chastain grew up in a poor, working class family in Sacramento, California. Her parents were teenagers when they had Jessica, and she barely knew her biological father. She and her siblings were raised by her mother, stepfather and grandmother. She ended up going to Julliard and having a great career as an actress and producer, and she’s now married into a wealthy and aristocratic Italian family. She welcomed her first child when she was 41 years old (in 2018) and her second child at 43. Jessica is (understandably) squirrelly about her background and you can tell that she knows that her poor, working class roots are not how most people got into Hollywood. She spoke about all of this and more in a recent interview with the Times of London:

Growing up poor: Chastain admits she “grew up with a lot of resentment” due to her childhood in poverty. “I don’t talk about it much, but it was really, um, it was not what you would expect. When people see me, I think they expect a different background than I have. So because I come from that place, I know what it’s like. And it makes me angry. And I don’t [want] anyone else to be denied anything. In terms of a voice, being seen, being acknowledged and valued.”

She worked all the way through Julliard: “There were people that saw I was struggling as a kid and they helped me. And that’s why I ended up where I am now.”

She got help from Planned Parenthood in her youth. ‘I’m the first person in my family to not be pregnant when I was 17. It had a great impact on my life because it gave me choice,’ she said of the organisation, which was her source for birth control.

On the importance of fathers: “Right now, as a society, I don’t believe we value fathers as much as we should. I think we have to understand that — and this is tough as a woman to say this — the father relationship is just as important as the mother relationship. And men need to acknowledge that women are just as important in the workforce.’

On seeing Chris Hemsworth feel ‘devastated’ when he was unable to make it home for his children’s bedtimes. ‘And this was way before I got married and all of that. I remember seeing that and thinking, “When we’re on set for 16 hours a day, why isn’t there a set-up so people can be with their children?” We should get to the place where men are able to admit that and society sees it as a strength.’

[From ET Canada & Elle]

It’s amazing that Jessica was able to escape all of the poverty traps set to keep her marginalized: restricted access to health care, restricted access to quality education, no generational wealth. I would be resentful too – hell, I grew up solidly middle class and I’m resentful of how wasteful the “elites” are. Jessica was probably around all of those rich kids and she wanted to scream in their faces the whole time. As for the importance of fathers… I agree that good fatherhood, hands-on fatherhood, is not seen as desirable or expected for most men. And that should change.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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65 Responses to “Jessica Chastain: People ‘expect a different background than I have’”

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  1. PhD+gossip says:

    Too much facial work.

    • Hannah says:

      Ah, no 😔 so sad this is the first comment — about her looks. We are never going to stop pitting women against each other if this is our 1st reaction. Men will continue treating as us 2nd rate because we have not learned to support and uplift our fellow women. I don’t know if my response will make it past the mods, but I had to say it anyway. So so much pressure is put on women to look young, I try not to judge. I’m just too darn poor to afford it. Women have it tough enough already. Peace out ☮️

      • North of Boston says:

        Totally agree Hannah. It was sad to see that was the first (and only, for a bit) comment.

      • Oh_Hey says:

        Hard agree and YIKES to the op
        I don’t even see the issue here. 1) she looks great and 2) leave her alone if she doesn’t

      • MissMarirose says:

        Thank you for saying that. It’s so destructive, especially on an article that is focused on the intelligent comments she said in the interview.
        It really brings down the level of commentary, which I had hoped would be better than this.

      • Tiffany:) says:

        I agree, Hannah. Especially because in this piece, she is talking about economic struggles and bigger life issues.

      • Mary E Freeland says:

        Jessica is a lovely woman and very good actress. If she had work done on her face, it was tasteful.

    • Tanguerita says:

      that’s your only takeaway from this article? How very sad and pathetic.

      • Wiglet Watcher says:

        Good lord this pile on… women attacking women for commenting on another woman. Where does it end?

        She does over exaggerate her face. It’s deliberate for the cameras so yes. The facial expressions are a bit much in a freeze frame. Probably better in a video with a flow.

    • Jezz says:

      OMG! I’m sorry for the mean replies you are getting from the comment police. I mean, for heaven’s sake, it’s a celebrity gossip blog, not Mother Jones!
      That said, it must have been so hard to work through high school, esp at Juilliard where a LOT of the students would have been wealthy Manhattanites. Wonder if she lived alone or if her mother went with her.

      • Tanguerita says:

        tell me you grew up privileged without telling me you grew up privileged.

      • Jaded says:

        @PhD+gossip and @Jezz: CB may be a celebrity gossip blog but it’s not a forum for making fallacious accusations. Furthermore, this article is about how she survived a truly horrible upbringing to become a success story. Why don’t you comment about her strength and determination to rise above the unfortunate cards she was dealt early on instead of her *so-called* cosmetic work and accusing us of being the comment police.

      • Wiglet Watcher says:

        Ok… everyone pluck out their eyes or censor yourself on that superficial comment that comes to mind.

        It’s always a bit much when women will tear another woman down as a way of complimenting or highlighting the strengths of another woman.

        JC has had work done. She does over exaggerate her expressions. It is noticeable as a part of evolution and how we judge others for survival.

    • Lady Keller says:

      I understand this is a gossip site, but I have always prided myself on the empathy and quality of conversation to be found here. I come more for the comments than I do the stories. It was disappointing to see this as the first comment, and someone’s take away from this story.

      Maybe it’s easy to brush it off if you didn’t grow up in poverty. People who haven’t experienced it don’t understand how all encompassing the hopelessness can be. Good for Jessica for getting out and for speaking up and I hope there are people out there that hear her words and are motivated to offer support to those who are less fortunate.

    • BecauseOfCourse says:

      Sorry, but she’s one of the few actresses out there who hasn’t had much done. She looks the same as she always has.

      • Justjj says:

        I agree. I think mid-40s is a very normal and reasonable time for some tweaks, if you’re into those. She looks like herself and she is and has always been stunning. I have just assumed many actors are successful because they have pushy, well connected or often wealthy stage parents, or parents who are established artists themselves in some way… that she found this path completely on her own and went for it, is inspiring.

      • Mary E Freeland says:

        I agree.

      • Wiglet Watcher says:

        She has had work and it’s good work.

    • Mary Tosti says:

      Work or no work I think she looks beautiful. And it’s really no ones business if she has had work done.

    • Grant says:

      She looks stunning. Check your misogyny at the door.

    • Jaded says:

      She’s looked the same since she came on the acting scene. That was a completely unnecessary comment when we’re here to talk about how she managed to surmount her background of poverty, her father’s abandonment of his family, and ridicule for being poor to become a successful actor and parent.

  2. tw says:

    Nothing but respect for her. She lets her work speak for itself and has a relatively private life.

  3. Seraphina says:

    Her comment on not getting pregnant at 17 was just wow: It had a great impact on my life because it gave me choice. She broke free of the cycle of teenage pregnancy and poverty – which is HUGE. And Planned Parent is also to be thanked.

    • Jezz says:

      Powerful for sure.

    • Cee says:

      That was such a powerful statement.

    • lucy2 says:

      That stuck out to me too, she could have so easily continued the cycle her family was in, but she broke it, and in a big way.

      • classicmoviecat says:

        I understand her a lot. I’m 27 and that’s the oldest anyone in my family ever got without having children. I feel uncomfortable taking about my background and guilty for being uncomfortable about it.

      • ohrhilly says:

        I love Jessica. She campaigned for Octavia Spencer to get equal pay for a film. Jessica is all about pay equity for actresses and for that I respect her.

    • Bettyrose says:

      Planned Parenthood FTW!

      • Seraphina says:

        Planned Parent is just so great. I grew up with immigrant parents and you just didn’t see a GYNO unless you were married (AKA sexually active). Well, I was 20 and I was active and in college. Thankfully I had the sense to know I should start yearly visits and be on the pill. And I was able to do it on my own w/o my parents knowing or their insurance being billed. Which was HUGE. I felt so responsible and it was very empowering. It also has made me a huge advocate for Planned Parenthood. They do a lot of good.
        Imagine if she did not have PP and ended up pregnant at 17. PP for the win indeed.

    • Anna says:

      And nothing more needs to be told about politics trying to limit abortion/birth control rights. They want women to NOT have a choice. The more kids she has, the earlier she has them the more dependend she is on her family or a guy.

      From time to time I think how would my life look like if I my marriage wasn’t as good as it is – if I had married and asshole who doesn’t support me – my career would essentially be over, and I would be even more dependent on him and thi would be very difficult to break from.

      I hope all young girls have someone in their life who tells them things like Jessica said – be smart, think about your future, how your early decisions may or may not limit your choices fou your future.

      • Seraphina says:

        Keeping women in a cycle of poverty and raising kids is why they take away our choices. To have a choice is power. And make no mistake, they do not discriminate they want to keep all women – regardless of race or ethnicity – under their thumb. And when no avenues of aid are given – it solidifies her never being able to get out.
        And they know, statistically, that teenage pregnancy is a cycle.
        And I tell all my “religious” friends – let her answer for her “sin” – it’s not yours to answer for. And It is ALWAYS a white male who I say it to.

      • Anna says:

        Seraphina, so true. The amount of unpaid and hard, mundane work women do for society is almost a pillar of those societies – when we say enough men will have to pay for it, participate in it, governments will have to acknowledge it and also participate – obviously they do not want that.

        I am from Poland, where the no abortion law was introduced last year and already three women died carrying dying foetuses becuse nobody in a hospital wanted to risk jail for inducing labor before the baby died. Poland is in central Europe, yet it feels like deep middle of nowhere and Middle ages now. This issue raises my blood pressure like nothing else, I am young, I want to have another baby and thank God I live in another, civiled country because in Poland I wouldn’t risk it now – I already have a child to raise.

        And it terrifies me to hear that other countries are even talking about it and trying to implement it. In this age discussions around reproductive right should be already over, because this is basic human right and there is nothing more to discuss.

    • L4Frimaire says:

      That was a powerful statement. When people say they’re the first in their family to not have a teenage pregnancy, or finish high school, or go to college, it has such a profound effect.

    • Christine says:

      I love her so much for bringing up Planned Parenthood, and how it literally changed the fabric of her family experience. The first in her family not to be pregnant by 17! That is POWERFUL.

    • Otaku fairy says:

      Yeah, that was perfect. It’s not the answer everyone wants to hear, but it’s reality.

    • JanetDR says:

      Planned Parenthood was my birth control source in my late teens, and I am forever grateful!

  4. Gil says:

    I recently watched “Scenes from a marriage” and I was really impressed by her. I knew she was a good actress but that series drama is to the next level. That last scene in the last episode left me scared. I would not recommend this tv series to single people

    • Southern Fried says:

      I was scrolling and saw Scenes on, stopped, mesmerized by her acting. I had to go back later and watch the beginning, I ended up rewatching the last half again. She’s gifted alright. It initially wasn’t something I intended to see.

  5. BothSidesNow says:

    I think that Chastain is one of the most talented actors of our generation. I am glad that she was able to pull herself out of the poverty that she grew up in. It’s extremely hard for children that live in poverty to make it out. There are so many obstacles in their way due to many factors outside of their control. And she is right about the importance of fathers in their children’s lives, they are just as important.

    • LJ says:

      Kudos to her for getting out and breaking the cycle. I can imagine it was hard for her going to Julliard and having to hang with all the richies. I went to a normal university and remember all my friends getting so much support from their families so they could just slide through going classes and partying …. all while I was working 2-3 jobs just to be broke and barely have time to study. Life is hard for all us poors.

  6. Scorpion says:

    I’m not fond of many Hwood actresses but Chastain is one of my faves….

    I didnt know anything about her childhood. I’m happy that she is following her dreams.

  7. Embee says:

    Chastain is an excellent actor and I like what she has to say. Now. That I know what cycles she broke to get where she is…amazing. I find her absolutely lovely as well.

  8. TIFFANY says:

    Jessica ain’t perfect, but I will always like her for trying for people in a occupation where tearing them apart is sport.

    She went to bat to cast Oscar Isaac in A Violent Man, she went with Octavia Spenser to the studio to get more money and getting The 355 completed.

    She talks the talk and for that I like her and am okay with supporting her projects.

  9. detritus says:

    I’ve always liked her and her comments on EDI topics are always great. It sadly makes sense that she had to deal with poverty, compassion doesn’t often come without lived experience.

  10. Case says:

    It’s interesting to learn this about her because something about her always felt put-on to me — like the way she speaks and carries herself didn’t seem entirely natural, especially when she was younger. I feel like I have a better understanding of why that might be so; I’m sure for a long time she felt a bit out of place in Hollywood among people who have been privileged their entire lives. She seems like a nice person and always does really solid work.

    • Ari says:

      I think you nailed it. I grew up poor, and I know how to dress and carry myself because in my teens and early twenties I carefully studied the habits of people who grew up with more than I did. I’m sure it didn’t always look natural on me either.

  11. Bettyrose says:

    She really does give off posh vibes. I have a friend with a similar story. Raised in trailer park, went Ivy League, and you’d never guess she wasn’t thoroughly posh. Some people just exude poise and elegance. (And plenty of silver spoon babies do not.)

  12. Skyblue says:

    I grew up very poor, free and reduced hot lunch poor and I have a huge chip on my shoulder regarding the wealthy and even middle class. I hate the bitterness that sometimes wells up in me. I totally understand Jessica’s anger. The only consolation to growing up poor is that we have the best stories. I’m truly happy for her!

  13. Trish says:

    This makes me like her even more. Never knew this about her. She looks like she might be a snob, but she’s not. I like her a lot. Very beautiful like old Hollywood movie stars and was excellent in A Most Violent Year.

  14. tealily says:

    I had no idea about her background. That makes me like her even more. I haven’t really watched much of her stuff, I’ll make a point to now.

  15. Gubbinal says:

    I grew up in a poor home. At least there was a home. But I had learned to conceal my poverty. When I never had lunch, I simply explained that “I don’t like lunch” when I was starving. When I wore my mother’s shoes to school I had to tell the people who laughed at me that “I like wearing big shoes”.

    One knows the shame of having no money. And I, for one, have never been able to forget that virtually every human transaction comes down to money and who has the most in the room. I may not have had extreme poverty, but I was always grateful that I was not a Dickensian orphan.

    My way out was the library–getting books for free was great. Also we could not afford a TV so when my peers were immersed in the Mickey Mouse Club or The Lone Ranger I was reading. I remember how every penny was spent. I write this not to complain but to assert that poverty sticks in the memory and makes one feel the importance of a more just world and income equity.

    +1 for Planned Parenthood
    +1 for Public Libraries

  16. Grant says:

    She is so stunning and just elevates the F out of everything she’s in. I even enjoyed her in Dark Phoenix (I SAID WHAT I SAID). We watched The Eyes of Tammy Faye the other night and her performance was just fabulous, as was Andrew Garfield’s.

  17. Leigh says:

    How poor could she be if her mom was a vegan chef, and her step dad was a firefighter.
    She really wants that Oscar nom doesn’t she.

    • I HeatherC says:

      I doubt her mother was a successful vegan chef in Jessica’s younger years. Her mother was a teenager when she was born. Jessica has said in interviews that she introduced her mother to veganism and gave her mother a food truck. So when she was growing up, her mother was not a vegan chef. She was a single mother.

  18. Yep says:

    Love her. So genuine and talented (and an exquisite beauty).

  19. MissKitten(is my cats name) says:

    I grew up with a selfish, narcissistic, negligent, abusive, pathological liar of a mother (when I developed anorexia at age 11, and she knew I was anorexic because she’s the one who told me what I had, she decided that was the perfect time to get that liposuction she’d been wanting. That is one of the mildest examples I could give of my mother’s constant, casual cruelty) and an AMAZING father. My father was a devoted parent in so many ways and I regularly say that if it weren’t for him, I’d probably be a serial killer. His only blind spot was my mother, who he finally divorced when I was 12. Fathers are crucially, crucially important, and in my case, almost completely made up for my train wreck of a mother. Conversely, one of my oldest friends, whose father abandoned her and her mother at age 6 to marry another woman and start another family, one he stayed devoted to, went from one awful relationship to another in which she would frantically try to ensure each man did not abandon her, only to have them do just that. Freudian theories come to life. The importance of knowing our parents (or parental figures) love and value us is REAL and the effects of it on children cannot be underestimated.

  20. Jes says:

    She’s absolutely stunning imo and omg the way Oscar Isaac looks at her and their chemistry?! Wowza!

  21. Bellah says:

    She does look like she’s had some facial enhancements beyond good makeup. So what? Also, I love her hair color. It suits her.
    Regarding the interview, I can relate. I came from very modest means. During my early childhood we were very poor but my family worked very hard to provide everything I needed and showered me with love, support and meaningful experiences. There were moments where I envied the other kids’ TV, toys, name brands and things we couldn’t afford…but I had a happy childhood. As an adult, I have so many special memories that were all “affordable” moments spent with my family and friends. Looking back I realize how fortunate I was to be surrounded by a generously loving network…that no amount of money could buy.

    That’s likely why I assign very little value to material possessions. I like and have nice things but I live within my means. I ogle and admire all of the swag other’s around me have—and that I see on here and elsewhere on the web😀. But I don’t feel inadequate, guilty or resentful for not being able to afford those things. I attribute that to the way I was raised to value people, affection and bonding experiences…rather disposable things.

    To this day I would rather read an engrossing novel over watching TV…because my grandfather read to me as a young child and when I was old enough to read, we created our own bedtime stories. The hubby thinks I should publish some of those stories.

    Guys, I’m crying happy tears at the moment thinking about the times I retold some of the bedtime stories we invented to him when he was in hospice that would make us laugh together. He’s long gone from this world…but I will never forget him. He wasn’t my biological father but he was a wonderful dad.

  22. Brita says:

    She’s starting to get that frozen, robotic Kidman look to her. Sad.

    • Jaded says:

      Is that all you can say…what about her strength and determination to attain a successful career despite all the drawbacks she faced? She’s neither frozen nor robotic and I admire her for her talent, focus and ability to rise above a life that many of us wouldn’t have been able to achieve.

  23. S says:

    Even if not religious, if you don’t want to become pregnant at a young age or before the time is right, you don’t need PP – abstinence!

    And yes, bravo to school and public libraries, helped me greatly (lifelong poor girl here).

    • Otaku fairy says:

      We do need Planned Parenthood. It’s not all about the few people on this planet who have managed to only have sex when they actively wanted a baby. The whole world has never done that, and will never do that. Schools and libraries probably showed you that too. Now we have safer, healthier ways of managing that reality, and Planned Parenthood is one of them. Besides the fact that people have the right to not want kids, there are other reasons besides consensual sex that a person may be in need of their services.