Jessica Chastain blazes as fierce warrior in ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’

Two-time Academy Award® nominee Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Martian”) has emerged as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses of her generation. Now, she stars opposite Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt in Universal Pictures’ fantasy adventure “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.”

Finding an actor of an equal caliber to play alongside Hemsworth as Sara, Eric the Huntsman’s true love, was perhaps the production’s greatest challenge. Indeed, a great warrior with a heart as true as Eric’s, Sara required an actress with true power. And Jessica Chastian fits the part brilliantly.

Sara finds it impossible to believe that Eric has remained true to her all these years apart, and refuses to forgive him for what she believes he once did. When she is left with no other choice, she joins him on an epic journey; but she’d just as soon take a knife to his throat as she would trust him again. “She’s trying to figure out if she’s worthy enough to be loved,” explains Chastain. “That’s a big hurdle for her, and she has a lot of trust issues to overcome.”

Chastain admits that she responded immediately to Sara’s journey. “I liked where she began and where she ended,” she states, “and I liked the secrets she holds. It was a character I’d never played before. I like the physicality, and I’ve done a lot of films that are dark and heavy, so I wanted to do something where I’m having a good time. This might be the most fun I’ve ever had.”

The approach to Chastain began at the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards. Hemsworth and Chastain share an agent, and Hemsworth pitched the character and promised to send a script. The actress’ first question, according to Hemsworth, was, “Do I get to kick ass in this movie?”

“She gets to kick a whole lot more butt in this than she’s done in the past,” Hemsworth confirms. “Most of my work in the film is with Jessica. She has a great sense of humor, and we had a good amount of banter back and forth. It was quite brotherly/sisterly at times. We wound each other up, and we had great fun.”

“Jessica brings a huge amount of variety,” says director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. “Sara wasn’t a character she’d played before, but she gave her all. She wanted to do the training; she wanted to be ready. She came to set knowing those routines, and they are really out there. She spins, kicks and twists her blades, and she loved it. We had a great time filming those scenes together.”

For Chastain, having a director open enough to listen was essential. “I worried if you’re doing a big fantasy film, whether you might lose some of your own reality in it. Reality is the most important thing when I approach a character. But Cedric listened and inspired me, and he would say something that led my character in a new direction. When I asked a question he’d listen and build on that.”

The casting of Theron, Blunt and Chastain demonstrates the emphasis the filmmakers placed on writing strong, complex characters across the board, especially for women. “One of the main reasons I wanted to do the film, in addition to working with Chris, was that it showcased incredible parts for women,” says Chastain, who has long campaigned for more inclusive cinema. “I knew Charlize and Emily were attached when I got the script, and I’m tired of being the only woman on a set. Stories, even fantasy like this, should represent our world, and I was really, really pleased with the fabulous roles for women that were written into this film.”

Concludes Nicolas-Troyan: “This is a female-driven film, even more than the first one. The great thing about Jessica’s character is she doesn’t need saving by the Huntsman. They can be there for one another and kick ass together, but they’re as strong as each other…and stronger together.”

Opening across the Philippines on April 13, 2016, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

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