I’m sitting in a small yet brightly lit room filled with cameras, facing a woman whose photo currently adorns the side of practically every bus stop I passed in the Uber on the way over here.
Whenever we see movie stars covering magazines, dressed up to the nines on the big screen or sweeping into awards shows clad in couture gowns and enough diamonds to sink the Titanic, we often console ourselves by thinking that it’s an illusion, a trick of the angles and lights or maybe just some super sleek airbrushing.
But the woman sitting elegantly in the chair in front me while obscuring the view of the Sydney Opera House has proved all those theories incorrect. Because, damn it to hell, unless there’s an undetectable alien technology level vortex sitting between us that has the power to abolish bad skin and add high level gloss to hair, she looks just the same in person as she does in the movie posters.
As soon as I read those words back to myself, I feel a cringe-inducing sense of guilt and shame because I know just how sacrilegious it is to kick off a story about Oscar nominated, award winning, critically acclaimed and wildly talented actress Jessica Chastain with comments about her looks.
However… that’s the thing about the thrall and legacy around Hollywood actresses, isn’t it? Their looks, their presence and their star power have always been the the source of their cache. Just because we now know that these are not the words we’re meant to be uttering, doesn’t mean that’s not the place where our minds are still conditioned to go.
Listen: The Binge host Laura Brodnik explains the story behind the emotional scene that was never meant to be in I,Tonya, plus all the best movies and TV shows you need to watch this week.
When you were a kid watching movies and telling anyone who would listen that you wanted to be an actress in the movies (don’t be coy, we all did it at some stage), chances are you were chasing that dream because you saw it as synonymous with beauty and fame, and not in any way connected with the creation of art or the ability to use your voice to enact social change.
When I was a little girl I have to admit that I hardcore worshipped at the altar of movie star adoration.
To me, the women who appeared on screen via the worn-out VHS tapes I played over and over again were the absolute epitome of what a successful woman should be.
They were practically sparkly, full-blown Disney Princesses finally made flesh and bone with just a few less obliging woodland animals around helping them to get dressed in the morning (that I know of….).
But in recent years, the mythology around actresses has started to change and shift, with this turning of the tide most prevalent when talking to Jessica Chastain.
Our chat was meant to centre around her new film Molly's Game, the big screen adaption of the autobiography penned by Molly Bloom which chronicles her journey from a young Olympic-class skier who, following a horrific injury, moved to Los Angeles and began running the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game.
More than a decade after she pulled herself out of that seedy yet glamorous world packed with high profile men, she was arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. What followed next became fodder for tabloids and gossip mags across America.
And even though her performance in the Aaron Sorkin written and directed flick could have kept us talking all day long, Jessica is one of an ever growing list of Hollywood women who have become more than their work on screen, with their comments and activism now affording them an extra kick of true star power.
Watch: Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik talks with Jessica Chastain about her new movie, Molly's Game.
When I asked her about the recent reinvention of red carpets and award ceremonies she spoke to the fact that it was more than performance based activism.
These kinds of comments could come across as just another chorus of empty words, if not for the fact that Jessica has a long history of backing up her statements with real life actions. She has participated in activism, donated money and recently made international news headlines after it came to light that she had helped her friend and co-star Octavia Spencer fight for and achieve equal and fair pay.
There's a small scene, right towards the end of Molly's Game, when Molly's lawyer (played by Idris Elba) pressures her to give up names and information in order to save her own skin. When she refuses, he loses his cool and delivers a killer monologue about the fact that she will continue to act with integrity because she wants to protect her own name. It's all she has left.
So, what does she want people to think when they hear the name 'Jessica Chastain', I ask her just before our interview is scheduled to end.
"What I strive for are not things that affect me directly," she says, after a very long pause where her face crinkled up with concentration as she considered my question. "What I am always thinking about before I walk into anything is 'what am I contributing this day to make the world a better place?' I mean, that's what we should all be thinking about. That's what I want people to think about when they hear my name."
In that moment, all the internal worship I had for her fame and her beauty was instantly abolished and replaced with a deeper sense of respect and awe for the person she is and the acts she has carried out.
I know this all must sound so very lame and hokey and if you skimmed through this story fast enough you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for a flowery passage of fan girl prose ripped directly from a 13 year old's online journal, but it really changed my mind about the actions and traits that are worth both emulating and being envious of.
I can safely say I've never walked into a situation and thought about making the world a better place, I've never put myself on the line to fight for a female co-worker to receive equal pay or faced the wrath of peers and future employers by criticising their depiction of women as Jessica did at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
Walking out of this interview, it made me consider what I want people to think when they hear my name.
I don't think I'm quite happy enough with what the current answer would be, but I'm going to work on changing that.
It seems that now, activism is starting to replace acting on the fame scale, and that can only be a good thing.
Molly's Game is currently playing in cinemas Australia wide.
For more stories like this, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor and host of The Binge podcast Laura Brodnik.