All the times Jessica Chastain did theatre
The Oscar-winning actress stars in A Doll's House on Broadway in 2023.
Everyone knows Jessica Chastain as a bonafide movie star — she has an Oscar and Golden Globe under her belt, plus dozens more nominations for various awards. You might recognize her as Celia Foote in The Help, Maya Harris in Zero Dark Thirty, or Murphy Cooper in Interstellar. But did you know she's also an established stage actress?
Chastain has starred in works from many time-honored playwrights, from Shakespeare to Strindberg. Her latest venture sees her return to Broadway — for the first time since 2012 — in Henrik Ibsen's trailblazing drama A Doll's House, now newly adapted by Pulitzer finalist Amy Herzog. To celebrate her return to the New York stage, we're looking back on all of Chastain's theatre roles, from her early first gigs to high-profile stage and screen projects alongside other Hollywood greats.
Romeo and Juliet
A Chastain by any other name would sound as sweet. The actress's professional stage debut was in Romeo and Juliet in 1998. The production by TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, California was set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, with the then-teenaged Chastain playing an Irish Catholic Juliet opposite Travis Engle as a Protestant Romeo.
Said Robert Kelley, the artistic director of TheatreWorks who cast her, "She was beautiful, high-energy, charismatic, and she had a real joy about her... The audience just completely fell in love with her; I guess everybody did." And so did recruiters — Chastain's performance led her to a successful audition for Juilliard that launched her career.
Toward the end of her second year at Juilliard, Chastain played Arkadina in Anton Chekhov's The Seagull. She previously suffered from anxiety about failing at the school, but this production was “when my confidence started to kick in,” she later told The New York Times. Little did she know she'd have a long future of stardom ahead of her.
In an almost-full-circle moment, the Chastain-led A Doll's House was supposed to premiere in London in the same season as a production of The Seagull, led by Emilia Clarke.
Other productions Chastain did at Juilliard include The King Stag and The Patient Fancy, both in 2003. Her co-star in the latter was Broadway alum Michael Urie.
The Cherry Orchard
Chastain continued her Chekhov kick with The Cherry Orchard at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2004. She played the young Anya, and her co-stars included Michelle Williams as Varya and Linda Emond as Liubov Ranyevskaya.
2004 was a busy year for Chastain, as she followed up her Cherry Orchard performance with her Off-Broadway debut at Playwrights Horizons. She played Lee, the daughter of a troubled movie actor, in Rodney's Wife by Richard Nelson. Though the production received lukewarm reviews, Chastain's performance impressed Nelson and led to her next major gig. Which was...
Salome wasn't just a gig; it was practically a whole era for Chastain. Al Pacino decided to direct and star in his own version of Oscar Wilde's tragedy after performing it on Broadway in 2003. On Nelson's recommendation, he cast Chastain as the title princess.
She first played Salome, a princess who seduces John the Baptist, in 2006 at Los Angeles's Wadsworth Theatre. Chastain reprised the role in two companion films to Pacino's production: the documentary Wilde Salomé (2011) and the straightforward play-to-film adaptation Salomé (2013).
Chastain's only other Off-Broadway credit following Rodney's Wife was a four-hour futuristic Othello with The Public Theater in 2009. She played the title character's wife, Desdemona, opposite John Ortiz as Othello and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villainous Iago. Hilton Als wrote in the New Yorker that Chastain found "a beautiful maternal depth in Desdemona."
In 2011, Chastain brought her Shakespeare chops from stage to screen. In Ralph Fiennes's film adaptation of Coriolanus, she played his wife Virgilia. Fiennes and Chastain were just two members in the all-around starry cast, which also included Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler, and Brian Cox.
At long last, in 2012, Chastain made her Broadway debut in the most recent revival of the 1947 play The Heiress. As the title character, Catherine Sloper, she played a woman hardened by cruel treatment and the loss of her love. A Vulture review of her performance read, "She’s marvelously put together on stage, and her final scenes — where Catherine finally declares her independence from the vampiric men who’ve ruined her life — are very well done, sometimes just shy of devastating."
At the time, Chastain was at a peak in her film career, having delivered acclaimed performances in movies like The Help and Tree of Life. A New York Times review of The Heiress introduced her as "the latest It Girl of thinking person’s cinema," and with her Broadway debut, she proved her versatility.
Chastain seems to have an affinity for classic plays — with Chekhov and Shakespeare under her belt, she moved to August Strindberg in 2014. She played the title aristocrat who has a whirlwind romance with a valet named John (Colin Farrell) in Liv Ullmann's film adaptation.
Miss Julie was one of three films Chastain starred in that year; if it didn't come across your radar, it's likely because one of her other projects, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, dominated the headlines.
A Most Violent Year
Her third film project of 2014 was A Most Violent Year, in which she played the merciless wife of Oscar Isaac's struggling oil company owner. The film wasn't based on a work of theatre, but Chastain's character, who urges her husband to violently fight back against hijackers that threaten his success, was inspired by Lady Macbeth. A San Francisco Chronicle review of the film praised Chastain as "the embodiment of a nouveau riche New York woman of the era."
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker was plenty theatrical in real life, with her bold hair and makeup, vibrant personality, and glitzy TV show The PTL Club. Chastain embodied all that and more in the 2021 film The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which won the actress her first Academy Award. Fellow theatre veteran Andrew Garfield starred opposite Chastain as Jim Bakker.
Now that a new stage musical, titled Tammy Faye and composed by Elton John, has premiered in London, Tammy Faye Bakker certainly counts as theatre. Chastain wasn't involved with the world-premiere run, but you never know what future productions could hold.
A Doll's House
After 10 years away from Broadway, Chastain makes her grand return in 2023. Continuing to build on her classical repertoire, she takes on Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, playing the "picture-perfect" but secretly unfulfilled housewife Nora Helmer determined to make a change.
This production, directed by Jamie Lloyd, was supposed to premiere in London in 2020, and it would have marked her West End debut. After multiple postponements, A Doll's House premieres on Broadway instead. So come visit the dollhouse through June 10 — who knows when Chastain, with such a busy career, will return to the New York stage next?
Originally published on