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After Oscar nomination for ‘The Help,’ Jessica Chastain racks up more big roles



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Updated: September 27, 2012 11:06AM

There are moments in newfound stardom that still call for a little help.

Jessica Chastain, Oscar-nominated for “The Help,” says that moment came when she was tired, hungry and back in some nondescript Toronto hotel suite.

The actress glanced down at her cell phone.

“I got a message from Kathryn Bigelow on my cell and I was like, ‘Whaaatttt?’ ” says Chastain, who stars for the “Hurt Locker” director in one of the year’s most-anticipated movies. “People keep asking me how my life has changed in the last year. To have that message is one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. That’s how my life has changed.”

Out in December, Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” is about the capture of Osama bin Laden. It’s a busy end of the year for Chastain, who first stars this Wednesday in “Lawless” as the best-dressed woman of the Prohibition Era.

“Lawless” is set in the Depression era in Franklin County, Va., where bootlegging is the local business. Chastain’s character is a drifter who comes to town and falls in love with the gruffest bootlegger of all, Forrest Boundurant, played by Tom Hardy (“The Dark Knight Rises”).

“I play a dancer from Chicago,” Chastain says during a phone interview from Los Angeles. “She has been used. She is also used to being around men who are predatory.

“Then she meets Tom’s character, who is a very powerful, strong man. He says to her, ‘You can live in my house. I’m not going to try to take anything from you.’ We really start to see her blossom.

“When she finally goes into his room late one night, it’s probably the first time she has ever decided, ‘This is what I really want.’ ”

Chastain, 35, grew up in the suburbs of Northern California, where her father was a firefighter and her mother a vegan chef with a food truck. A dancer since she was a child, she began performing in Bay Area Shakespearean productions as a teenager.

“It’s very hard to explain why I wanted to act in the first place,” she says.

“I feel like my whole life I’ve wanted to do this. Maybe it’s because as a young child I had a very active imagination.”

She graduated Juilliard as a drama major. Al Pacino handpicked her to play the title character in the play “Salome.” Later, Pacino talked to his pal Terrence Malick, who cast her last year opposite Brad Pitt in “The Tree of Life.”

Chastain lost the best supporting actress Oscar to Octavia Spencer, her co-star in “The Help.”

The nomination made for a crazy time.

“The great thing about the last year is it really opened doors for me to meet people where I’m the fan,” she says.

“I remember when I met Gary Oldman for the first time on the red carpet. He actually knew my work. I’ve respected him for so long. For someone to have seen my work is such a gift.”

Another star moment? “Meryl Streep, what a goddess. I got to meet Cate Blanchett. I’m a big Isabelle Huppert fan. I got to go to Paris and see her in a play and then have dinner with her. Now when I’m there, I meet her for dinner.

“We just worked together. Everyday, it’s like, ‘Wow, am I dreaming?’ ”

Big Picture News Inc.

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