In the months leading up to the release of “Zero Dark Thirty,” when the film, its story, and its structure were still tightly under wraps, no one knew which actor in the massive ensemble, if any individual at all, would be cast as the main character. As Kathryn Bigelow’s film neared its release date, previews and interviews slowly drew back the veil and revealed Jessica Chastain as the main character.
From there, the world learned about Maya, the film version of an actual CIA analyst that followed up on a hunch and found Osama bin Laden. The general public reaction was surprise that a 10-year manhunt ended largely because of the work of a single woman, and Chastain even disappointed herself with a similar reaction.
“When I read the script, from the very beginning I was shocked that there was a woman at the center of it,” Chastain told MTV News. “Then I was disgusted with myself that I was shocked by it. Why would I be so shocked? Of course, a woman could have done this.”
Chastain said that the shock about Maya and her role in the mission partially stems from Hollywood’s traditional portrayal of women. “You start looking at lead female characters in film, they’re usually defined by the men in their lives. They’re either the victim of the man or the love interest of the man. Maya is not,” she said. “She’s not protected or mentored really. She’s not suffering from neuroses or trying to sleep with her boss or any kind of mental issues with her. She’s intelligent, capable, and she can stand on her own.”
The tendency, Chastain said, is for Hollywood to add a fundamental flaw to their female protagonists. “Making this film with Kathryn Bigelow, I think it represents this generation of women that we really don’t see,” she said. “I’m excited to see a character that Hollywood doesn’t change and say, ‘Yes, she’s the hero, but she has to take medication also. She’s also a mess.’ ”
The talk of a CIA agent on medication brings to mind the television show “Homeland,” which has become a popular comparison to make. Chastain, however, doesn’t see a connection. “I love that show. I love Claire Danes,” she said. “I think they’re apples and oranges because that’s a fictional character, and this is a real woman, and we had the utmost respect when portraying her.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Zero Dark Thirty,” out January 11.