“I’m a lover not a fighter. But I like that she‘s tough and speaks her mind. I can relate to that,” Jessica Chastain says of her character in The Huntsman: Winter’s War.
Chastain’s playing warrior Sara, the long-lost wife of Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman. She’s got a scar on her cheek – “I love scars. I know they are such taboos but I think they are so beautiful” – and “mother of dragon’s hair, which makes me happy,” laughs the 39-year-old.
Game of Thrones similarities aside, Sara also has echoes of Chastain’s favourite character growing up – something the actress says attracted her to the role. “There’s a movie from my childhood that I loved, Willow. I remember that red-head badass warrior Sorsha. When I was a little girl I wanted to grow up to be Sorsha, so it was like, ‘This is my chance!’”
The look of Sara is “everything”, says Chastain. “They sent me a sketch of the character before I got the script. I’ve never had that. She looked awesome.” And she’s enjoyed doing more physical acting: “It is the best fun. I was a dancer when I was younger so to me it’s just the same as a dance.”
But her time on the set of The Huntsman: Winter’s War wasn’t all spent in fight scenes. “Every day is funny,” she says, admitting she’s been caught laughing when she didn’t realise her face was in shot. She’s blaming Nick Frost and Rob Brydon. “They kept improvising! I didn’t know the things that they were going to say. It’s been hard sometimes to keep a straight face, but I like that. I like things being free.”
Sniggers, swords and stunts aside, what she’s enjoyed most is the “badass” women she’s been able to act alongside: “Emily [Blunt], Charlize [Theron], Alex [Roach], Sheridan [Smith].”
“They are all completely different. They are all as powerful as the Huntsman – and Sheridan and Alex are just as funny as Nick and Rob which is great… This is a equal opportunities film, finally!”
Asked whether she’s found it hard to find dynamic roles, she replies, “I’ve been lucky, but I know for a long time when reading a script I would think, ‘This part is great but I’d love to actually share a scene with another woman. Why am I always working with men?’
“I wouldn’t say [the industry’s] changed, but I think it’s on the brink of changing in terms of diversity,” she says, before talk turns to the gender pay gap, an issue Chastain is determinedly vocal about.
“It’s the responsibility of everyone to talk about it,” she says. “It’s important for women to be comfortable talking about the fact that the pay gap is so large… but also now to have journalists, the media, talk about it and also men talk about it.
“Some stories are insane… just crazy,” she continues. “The female actress is Oscar-nominated, more famous, it was her film that she brought a male actor on to and he gets paid double. That’s like a normal thing.
“It still happens but the more it’s talked about I think the more embarrassed men will be. That’s what I’m hoping!”
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is in UK cinemas 4th April