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How Jessica Chastain made sure her costars get equal pay, have ownership over their work

Yong Chavez | TFC News Hollywood

Posted at Jan 08 2022 09:04 AM | Updated as of Jan 08 2022 11:00 AM

Jessica Chastain in
Jessica Chastain in "The 355." Photo courtesy: Universal "The 355"

When Jessica Chastain decided to pursue her dream of producing and starring in a female-led spy movie, she intentionally did it differently from other projects out of the typical Hollywood studio system.

In 'The 355,' Chastain costars with Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’O, Penélope Cruz, and Bingbing Fan. Chastain shares how she made the actresses have ownership over their work.

The 355. Photo courtesy: Universal

"I have the idea in 2017 and I spoke to my agent, Hylda Queally, and we talked about how to get it made. And then I reached out to all the actresses and I said, ‘Here's the idea for a film I have. You would all be involved in creating your characters and developing the story, but also you'd have to be involved in raising the money.’ So we went to Cannes together, we raised the finances, we made it outside of the studio system, we made it independently. We made it for a fraction of the cost of what it normally would take for a film like this. And all of the women are the bosses of the film," Chastain says.

Her equality efforts also extended to the actresses' compensation, something that’s usually unheard of not just in Hollywood but also in many societies where income discussion is taboo. Chastain says she 'absolutely' made sure her female costars get equal pay.

"It's important that you're paid for the work that you do. So, I mean, I know sometimes people, their argument is like, ‘Well, if you're showing up for a few weeks or if you're showing up here, why should you be paid the same?’ The reality is I just did a movie with Ralph Fiennes and he was required there twice the amount of time I was. So we did not get paid the same for the project. However, we got paid the same for a daily rate. You get paid equally for the amount of work you do. And that's really important that everyone feels valued and supported and heard."

Penelope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, and Lupita Nyong'o in
Penelope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, and Lupita Nyong'o in "The 355." Photo courtesy: Universal "The 355"

Female-led movies and projects with diverse casts tend to be more scrutinized and not treated the same as traditional action films starring male Hollywood stars, and Chastain hopes that as Hollywood becomes more global, audiences and the industry alike could be more inclusive and less critical of efforts that aim for progress and representation in the genre.

"The industry tends to be more critical of a film that may be an ensemble of women, or about a group of people that aren't often celebrated by this industry. There's been a lot of movies this fall that had huge, ginormous budgets that have very small opening weekends. And I think what we need to do and request from most people is to just understand that we're living in a pandemic, and there is no sense to anything that's happening right now. Because people's safety is the only thing right now that they care about," Chastain says, adding that the pandemic must not be used to devaluate peoples' stories.