Meet Miss Sloane. She works as a lobbyist in the nation’s capital. She works to get bills passed or laws overturned for her clients. Elizabeth Sloane’s latest challenge is to take on her biggest opponent, the gun lobby, as she fights to get a gun control bill passed.
Jessica Chastain is in the driver’s seat as Elizabeth Sloane in this incisive political think-piece that has you on the edge of your seat at every twist and turn. It’s truly an exceptional thriller, with a sharp and exceptional performance from Chastain. I recently caught up with her on the Friday before the elections to talk about the film, the upcoming election (Well, we all know how that turned out), and learned some very interesting statistics about the world of lobbying.
Awards Daily: I love Miss Sloane. I love her fierceness, and it’s so good to see a female protagonist on screen like that.
JC: I agree. Especially in this society that doesn’t congratulate or allow women sometimes to be ambitious and be over-prepared. The main criticism about Hillary Clinton after the first debate was that she was over- prepared. You don’t hear that about men.
JC: So, it’s good to hear a woman like this. Hopefully, young women will watch Elizabeth Sloane and go, “I can ask for a pay rise,” and “I can ask for a promotion.” It’s alright to be good at my job.
AD: It really empowered me. You walk away from that film, as a female with courage. It’s hard not to.
JC: Oh, good.
AD: What was it like stepping into her shoes?
JC: It was exhausting. She runs at a rhythm much faster than my own. You have to think about a character and how their energy is. She’s doing many things at once, and she has an incredible amount of dialogue. She’s teaching, she’s lecturing, she’s ordering, and she’s also writing emails on her phone, and she’s stomping down a hallway. She’s washing her hands. She’s gathering folders together to fire someone in the next scene. There’s always this feeling that Elizabeth is doing twelve things at once, and by the end of the shoot. I was ready to sleep for a month.
AD: What did you take away from the lobbyists you spoke to?
JC: It was fascinating. I had started by reading Jack Abramoff’s book, the lobbyist who ended up in jail. I thought it was a good place to start the research. I was completely shocked to find out how much money is in lobbying. I initially thought I’d be playing this character with no makeup, the same clothes, and this work-obsessed woman.
I went to D.C and I met with women. I met with eleven female lobbyists, and it was important for me to meet with female lobbyists because less than 10% of lobbyists in DC are women.
AD:That’s a crazy statistic
JC: Crazy. So, I needed to speak to them about what they experience and what they have to navigate through.
This is just some fun facts. Seven of the eleven lobbyists that I met with were wearing black nail polish. I thought to myself that was odd. I assume black nail polish is rock and roll, so to see DC power players wearing black nail polish was a strong, bold and aggressive choice.
The way that they dress, a lot of black and power suits. Almost masculine in the way they dress, but still strong and sexy. I saw that it was a way of putting on a uniform and it was like a battle cry. A way of being heard and seen before you even enter the room.
I went to John Madden right after my DC trip, and said, I had to rethink how I was going to play this character.
AD: Do you get a lot of say in the characters you play?
JC: Yes, I’m very involved in every character I play. For me, the exterior of anyone is a reflection of the interior. I work on their subtext and personal desires, dreams, and history of the character, but there’s something they’re putting out in the world, and they want to be seen a certain way. Sometimes the exterior is a mask and I found that for sure with Elizabeth.
AD: What did playing her allow you to explore her as an actress?
JC: I loved the dialogue. It was like doing speech exercises at some point. I speak differently from her, and I’d have to practice lines over and over again. “Cynicism is a word used by pollyannists to denote a lack of naiveté they so keenly exhibit.” That line was so hard for me to say. I would memorize my lines the weekend before I’d have to do them. Every time I’d get to that line, I would stumble on something, it was so difficult to say it that it becomes a drill, and you say it over and over again.
When you’re finally acting it, you can be free with whatever the character is feeling. The dexterity of your mouth isn’t getting in the way of that.
AD: Did you have any hesitation taking on a role that’s politically charged as Miss Sloane?
JC: I didn’t. I don’t scare easily. [laughs]
AD: That’s good.
JC: I’m not interested in making propaganda movies. I’m not interested in lecturing people on how they should live. I am an actress. I’m making entertainment. I’m not making a documentary.
The great thing about this film is it’s a voyeuristic look at DC politics, but it’s also a study of this woman. At the end of the day, it’s an incredible female character with a beautiful arc.
AD: Let’s go back. What was your first thought on reading this?
JC: There were some things that were out of control. There’s that thing with the cockroach, and I thought that that was ridiculous, and not true. I said, “A movie like this, it needs to be factually correct.” So, I googled it, and I found out it was true.
I was shocked about the statistics involved in the gun debate, I was shocked about the money in politics. That to me was probably the most shocking.
AD: This also reunites you with John, who you worked with on The Debt.
JC: Yes, The Debt came out in 2011 at the beginning of my career, and ever since we did that movie, I wanted to work on more things with him. I would get attached to a script, and see his interest in it, but he was always busy because he’s an incredible director who everyone wants to hire. Finally, with Miss Sloane, everything aligned.
AD: I loved Gugu’s character.
JC: I know! Isn’t she incredible? My character is the pulse, it’s the driving force. Gugu’s character is the heart. It’s the one that forces you to stop, and really take stock of the emotional toll of what Elizabeth is doing. It completely changes how she views people. Before everyone can be collateral damage. She becomes responsible for another person’s feeling. I love Gugu.
AD: Those scenes were wonderful. You also have a production company. How’s that going?
JC: It’s great. I have many projects. I’ve hired writers, and I’m excited about creating platforms for artists that I love, and new artists that maybe the world hasn’t seen or heard much about but I want to give platforms for voices that don’t always have a voice.
AD: Will men fear Miss Sloane?
JC: I think sometimes Elizabeth can be intimidating, but I also think men like that a little bit. Most men that I meet, actually like a woman who knows her stuff, who’s ready and is a formidable challenger. I think it’s confusing because we’re not used to seeing women like this in movies. Or like I said, nurtured in society.
A couple of men asked me if Elizabeth was a psychopath, “No, I do not think she’s a psychopath.” [laughs] But for the most part, men are excited.
AD: Yesterday, you had your handprints immortalized. Congratulations. What did it feel like?
JC: It’s strange because I’ve had movies out for five years. Yes, I’ve done 27 movies. It’s insane to think that I’ve put my handprints in the Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
AD: I saw the still for your new film. [Woman Walks Ahead]
JC: What’s so exciting about that project is that’s the true story of Catherine Weldon who in 1889 went to go paint Sitting Bull, and they started this great friendship.
It was thirty years before women had the right to vote, they were still seen as property, and it’s this true story between two people. We know Native Americans had no voice in society, women had no voice in society, and they find this deep love and friendship at a time when the country is being created. It’s a true story and I love that. We usually see a movie about one minority group fighting for their voices to be heard. This is a true story about two different groups that have found this love and friendship in a time of being suppressed.
AD: I’m going to talk about the election because it’s four days away. Are you sleeping at night?
JC: I just have a pit in my stomach every single day when I wake up. No matter what happens next week, it’s going to be sad. It should never have gotten this far. It’ll be less sad if one thing happens. I’m really depressed, and it’s hard to be doing anything else. I’m grateful for this press junket because it’s really distracting me.
Miss Sloane Opens On November 25