Jessica Michelle Chastain was born March 24, 1977 and is an American actress and producer–she is known for her roles in films with feminist themes.
She was born in Sacramento, California, to Jerri Renee Hastey (née Chastain) and rock musician Michael Monasterio. Her parents were both teenagers when she was born. Chastain is reluctant to publicly discuss her family background; she was estranged from Monasterio, and has said that no father is listed on her birth certificate. She has two sisters and two brothers. Her sister Juliet died by suicide in 2003 following years of drug addiction. Chastain was raised in Sacramento by her mother and stepfather, Michael Hastey, a fire-fighter. She has said that her stepfather was the first person to make her feel secure. She shares a close bond with her maternal grandmother, Marilyn, whom she credits as someone who always believed in her.
Chastain first developed an interest in acting at the age of seven, after her grandmother took her to a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She would regularly put on amateur shows with other children, and considered herself to be their artistic director. As a student at the El Camino Fundamental High School in Sacramento, Chastain struggled academically.She was a loner and considered herself a misfit in school, eventually finding an outlet in the performing arts. She has described how she used to miss school to read Shakespeare, whose plays she became enamored with after attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with her classmates. With too many absences during her senior year in school, Chastain did not qualify for graduation, but later obtained an adult diploma. She later attended Sacramento City College from 1996 to 1997, during which she was a member of the institution’s debate team.
Speaking about her early childhood, Chastain has said that she grew up with a single mother who worked very hard to put food on the table. They did not have money. There were many nights when they had to go to sleep without eating. It was a very difficult upbringing. Things weren’t easy for her growing up.
In 1998, Chastain finished her education at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and made her professional stage debut as Juliet in a production of Romeo and Juliet staged by TheatreWorks, a company in the San Francisco Bay Area. The production led her to audition for the Juilliard School in New York City, where she was soon accepted and granted a scholarship funded by the actor Robin Williams. In her first year at the school, Chastain suffered from anxiety and was worried about being dropped from the program, spending most of her time reading and watching movies. She later remarked that her participation in a successful production of The Seagull during her second year helped build her confidence. She graduated from the school with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2003.
After studying acting at the Juilliard School, she was signed to a talent holding deal with the television producer John Wells. She was a recurring guest star in several television series, including Law & Order: Trial by Jury. She also took on roles in the stage productions of Anton Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard in 2004 and Oscar Wilde’s tragedy Salome in 2006.
Chastain made her film debut in the drama Jolene (2008), and gained wide recognition in 2011 for starring roles in half a dozen films, including the dramas Take Shelter and The Tree of Life.
Chastain made her Broadway debut in a revival of The Heiress in the same year. Her highest-grossing releases came with the science fiction films Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015), and the horror film It Chapter Two (2019), and she continued to receive critical acclaim for her performances in the dramas A Most Violent Year (2014), Miss Sloane (2016), and Molly’s Game (2017).
Chastain is the founder of the production company Freckle Films, which was created to promote diversity in film. She is vocal about mental health issues, as well as gender and racial equality.
Despite significant media attention, Chastain remains guarded about her personal life, and chooses not to attend red carpet events with a partner. She considers herself to be a “shy” person, and in 2011 said that she enjoys domestic routines like dog-walking and playing ukulele, rather than partying. She has cited the actress Isabelle Huppert as an influence, for managing a family, while also playing “out-there roles” in film.
Chastain is an animal lover, and has adopted a rescue dog. She was a pescatarian for much of her life; following health troubles she began practicing veganism. She is an investor for Beyond Meat, a meat substitutes company.
Chastain identifies as a feminist, and has often spoken against the discrimination faced by women and minorities in Hollywood. She wrote an opinion column on gender imbalance in the industry for a December 2015 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. At the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where she served as a jury member, Chastain bemoaned the passive portrayal of women in most films. She has complained about a lack of female film critics, which she believes hinders a gender-neutral perspective on film. Chastain advocates for greater gender balance on sets, including more representation of women on film crews and in positions of power. On social media, Chastain aims to “amplify the voices” of victims of sexual harassment in the industry. In 2018, she collaborated with 300 women in Hollywood to set up the Time’s Up initiative to protect women from harassment and discrimination. In the same year, she appeared alongside several actresses in This Changes Everything, a documentary about the poor representation of women in Hollywood films.
Chastain is a vocal advocate for equal pay in the workplace, and has turned down offers of work that she found unfair. She spoke out in support of fellow actress Michelle Williams, who received lesser pay than her co-star Mark Wahlberg for the 2017 film All the Money in the World, which Williams said led to greater awareness about the issue and a donation worth $2 million to the Time’s Up legal defense fund. In 2013, Chastain lent her support to the Got Your 6 campaign, to help empower veterans of the United States Army, and in 2016, she became an advisory-board member to the organization We Do It Together, which produces films and television shows to promote the empowerment of women. In 2017, Chastain featured alongside several Hollywood celebrities in a theatrical production of The Children’s Monologues, in which she performed a monologue as a 13-year-old girl who is raped by her uncle. The event raised funds for Dramatic Need, a charity that helps African children pursue a career in the arts.
Chastain supports charitable organizations that promote mental health, and is involved with the non-profit organization To Write Love on Her Arms to help high-school students of alternate sexual and gender identities overcome insecurities. She was teased as a child for having red hair and freckles, and now takes a stand against bullying and body shaming. Chastain has campaigned for access to affordable reproductive health care for women, and in 2017, Variety honored her for her work with Planned Parenthood. In response to abortion bans in certain American states, she joined several celebrities in refusing to work in those regions.