Jessica Chastain on the SAG-AFTRA strike: ‘I don’t think the contracts are fair’

I respect Jessica Chastain so much. She’s not a nepo baby in any sense – her background is as hard-scrabble as can be, and she spent years in New York and LA as a broke student and broke actor. She worked hard to get where she is now but she doesn’t forget what it’s like to be broke, to be unemployed, to be treated unfairly. Before the strike, Chastain spoke to Vanity Fair about her Emmy nomination for George & Tammy, but she also talked about the issues facing actors and writers, the issues which would lead to the strike. Some highlights, including Jessica admitting that filming Scenes From a Marriage with Oscar Isaac changed their friendship.

What has changed in the industry: “I watched the industry for a long time before I had the opportunity of working in it, and I gathered a lot of information. It has changed quite a bit, the whole #MeToo culture, which I am appreciative of, the idea that there’s now more resources for people who feel like they’re in an unhealthy, abusive situation. There are abuses that were really out in the open; now they’re just gone. I don’t see anything anywhere near to what I used to see in the past with just how people were treated and the sexist jokes and all of that. That really has dissipated a lot. So those have changed in our industry.

Her broke-ass early days: “I remember living in Los Angeles, and thank goodness I was very lucky when I graduated—I got a holding deal from John Wells. It was only an eight-month deal, but it sustained me for years. I knew how to stretch a dollar because I didn’t work for a long time. I was living in Los Angeles, going from audition to audition in pilot season. I’d get sent 20 pages to audition for a show and then go in, and they’d be like, “We just need the first scene.”

Auditioning, living on very little money: “I had my Honda Civic and I had my trunk full of costumes for each of the auditions, and I would change at the gas station and go into the next one. If I got a guest spot on a show, that meant I made, I think at that time, $5,000 minus taxes. That’s what, $3,000? And I would stretch that money for a few months, and then I would get the checks of residuals every time it played or where it played. And that actually sustained me and helped me work because it’s very rare that an actor is given the opportunities to work in a steady way. We’ve had much advancements and innovations in our technology and in streaming and in content creation. The contracts never kept in line with the innovations that were happening in technology. And because of that, the people that are in their Honda Civic going from audition to audition, hoping to get a guest spot on something for $3,000, and then not getting residuals if it’s going to streamers, that is not enough money to live for months and take care of yourself and support a family. There are a lot of downloads and streams, and someone’s making a lot of money, and it’s not the everyday actors out there working hard, or the writers who make a show happen.

She loves Michael Shannon: When I did Tree of Life, I loved those boys. I would get Mother’s Day cards after we wrapped from them. We really had such a strong bond, and we created something real and we lived it. We lived the story we were telling. And I think that is true to my work. The reason why George & Tammy works so well is there’s love there. I really care for Mike. I’ve known him for a long time. I was very protective of him during the shoot. It’s a very vulnerable thing for him to do a romance and to showcase his vulnerability in an industry that has typecast him against it. They’ve really looked at him another way. And I think that’s the beautiful thing about any kind of art form—that you really get to experience circumstances that are different than your own, but you walk away with a greater understanding of humanity because you’ve learned more about life.

On Oscar Isaac: “I mean, Scenes From a Marriage was very tough. And I love Oscar [Isaac], but the reality is, our friendship has never quite been the same. We’re going to be okay, but after that, I was like, I need a little bit of a breather. There was so much I love you, I hate you in that series. But there’s so much joy in what I get to do. There’s a lot of catharsis. I feel like I have the best job in the world because I get to have these experiences. They’re so out of this world and feel like they’re mine. But then I live a very quiet life. I don’t have to have these tortured things in my life. I play them and I experience them, and then I come home and I live quietly and peacefully.

Why SAG-AFTRA is striking: “I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think the contracts are fair, and I’m not speaking for me. I’m at a place right now where I can support my family. But there are a lot of people who can’t, and the industry, it’s not right, it’s not fair. We need to stand together and fight for a fair wage until we get it, and we can do that. I mean, we closed down during COVID for a long time. Here’s the difference, though: During that time, we still in some sense did press, whether it be social media; we were constantly going on Zooms, and there was still some sense of entertainment. A lot of people who are making the decisions are saying, like, “Okay, well, at a certain point, artists and writers will get tired of not working.” The reality is, at least what I’ve heard from my union, what I’ve heard from writers that I’ve spoken to, this is a fight that will go on for a long time until people are paid fairly. And I’m willing to not work to make sure that everyone is paid fairly. But it makes me really sad, though, too, because, again, we just talked about George & Tammy. I’ve been working on it for 12 years, and starting tomorrow, I can’t even post about it. It’s a shocking thing, but, again, worth it for my union and for the writers union.

[From VF]

I actually wondered if Jessica and Oscar Isaac’s relationship changed, so here’s my answer. I suspect that her relationship with Michael Shannon also changed, although they’re such amazing on-screen partners, you’d never know it. As for what she says about why they’re striking and how much the industry has changed – she’s right. Actors used to be able to survive on one TV job and their residuals and that’s all gone away.

Photos courtesy of Backgrid, Cover Images, Avalon Red.

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5 Responses to “Jessica Chastain on the SAG-AFTRA strike: ‘I don’t think the contracts are fair’”

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  1. Roan Inish says:

    Jessica is a great actress and a wonderful human being.

  2. Marietta2381 says:

    I loved her responses to the strike. It is annoying for everyone involved. BUT, this means we will be paid fairly (Screenwriter here) and that’s very important.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      Jessica’s statements were clear, consistent and fully supportive. Jessica has lived and experienced both sides of the fence and she hasn’t forgotten that experience either. I love that she is brilliantly honest and that she is on the right side of history.

      I must admit that I have mad respect for JC with how she is able to utilize her craft with her finished product, pure perfection!! JC has an amazing ability to become who she is supposed to be and the true JC disappears. JC is in a class all of her own.

  3. bisynaptic says:

    Glad she’s supporting her Union. Brad Pitt, take note.

  4. Kimberly says:

    It’s refreshing to see that she never forgot where she came from because far TOO often, it seems like MANY of those (NON-Nepo entertainers) who reach to a certain level of fame/fortune, forget where they came from. Hopefully she stays true to her word as it relates to her support for the strike……………Brad Pitt was mentioned & I hope she never goes down this route with that trifling behaviour.