Meet the next big thing: ‘Tree of Life’s’ Jessica Chastain

It might surprise you, but Jessica Chastain and “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth actually have a lot in common.  No, Hemsworth didn’t attend Juliard and Chastain isn’t from Australia, but both actors have waited quite awhile for their big movie breaks to hit theaters.  Hemsworth had already completed “The Cabin in the Woods” and “Red Dawn” before even landing his role as the Asgardian god in “Thor.”  And Chastain? She’s had an even longer journey to the public eye.

Granted, the 30-year-old actress is no stranger to the industry. She has a number of small TV credits to her resume and has been active in the New York theater scene.  And yet, by the time “The Tree of Life” debuted at Cannes earlier this month before its limited roll out tomorrow, Chastain had a startling eight films either completed awaiting release or in post-production.  Let’s run them down in order of release, shall we?

“The Help”
In theaters: Aug. 12
Chastain isn’t being featured in the film’s trailer, but she has a significant supporting role as a young newlywed who soon discovers she won’t be accepted into the “society ladies” of 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi.

“The Debt”
In theaters: Aug 31
Debuting at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival, Chastain stars alongside Sam Worthington as the younger version of a Mossad agent on a mission to take out a Nazi war criminal.  My review brings up the movie’s faults, but Chastain isn’t one of them. 

“Take Shelter”

In theaters: This Fall
Both Chastain and Michael Shannon could find themselves with Oscar nominations after their work in this remarkable drama that debuted at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.


In theaters: Christmas
Chastain plays Virgilia in Ralph Fiennes modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragic play which also features Gerard Butler, Fiennes, Brian Cox and Vanessa Redgrave.  It debuted to strong reviews at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival earlier this year.

“Wilde Salome”

In Theaters: TBD
Al Pacino’s latest pseudo documentary/narrative based on Oscar Wilde’s play will debut at the Venice Film Festival in September and Chastain plays the title role.

“The Wettest Country in the World”

In Theaters: TBD
Chastain stars alongside Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce and Mia Wasikowska in John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Matt Boudurant’s depression-era novel.

“Untitled Terrence Malick Project”

In Theaters: TBD
Reuniting with Malick after “Tree of Life,” Chastain joins Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Ben Affleck and Rachel Weisz in the auteur’s new romance.  Its believed, however, that the film’s central storyline revolves around McAdams and Affleck’s characters.

So, let’s be clear here.  This isn’t some flash in the pain arrival by an overly hyped actress created by the Hollywood publicity machine.  Chastain is a genuine and true talent.  In fact, she reminds this pundit of an American Cate Blanchett in many ways, but without the increasingly mannered style that Oscar winner has devolved into over the last few years. Could she be one of America’s great new actresses?  Time will tell, but you’ll get your chance to finally sample her abilities with the debut of “Tree of Life” this weekend.

For more on the charming Chastain, check out my interview with her earlier this week embedded within this post.

“The Tree of Life” opens in limited release tomorrow.

For more year round entertainment industry commentary follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at @HitFixGregory