"How do I put this?"
Jessica Chastain is struggling to diplomatically describe her last stage appearance, in 2009 as Desdemona in Othello, a co-production of LAByrinth Theater Company and the Public Theater. "Did you see it?" she asks.
I tell her that I did not, but I did read some less-than-favorable reviews.
"Then you understand everything," she says. "It was a very draining experience," she continues, sipping a bottle of Kombucha tea. "When I got back to L.A., I received an e-mail from a director who wanted me to consider another play in New York. I replied, 'Thank you, but I will never do theatre again.' I wanted to focus my energy elsewhere."
Although her theatrical boycott lasted only three years, Chastain's shifted focus was fruitful: In 2011 alone she appeared in no less than seven films, including "The Tree of Life," "Take Shelter" and "The Help," the latter of which earned her an Oscar nod. In New York last summer for the premiere of "The Debt," she was offered the part of spinster Catherine Sloper in The Heiress, Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1947 play based on the Henry James novel "Washington Square."
"It's been my dream to be on Broadway since I was a little girl, but at this point I was so busy, so it seemed crazy to even consider," Chastain recalls. "Then I read the play and fell in love with the character, but I still wouldn't have done another play had I not felt I was going to be in great hands."
Helming The Heiress, which opens Nov. 1 for a limited engagement at the Walter Kerr Theatre, Moisés Kaufman now has those great hands over his ears as his star embarrasses him with praise. "Besides his brain, what I love about Moisés is that he makes me feel safe and supported," she says. "I do my best work with a director who creates a space where I feel the freedom to be both brave and vulnerable."
"I didn't want to do this production without Jessica," says Kaufman, whose Broadway credits include I Am My Own Wife, 33 Variations and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. "The moment she sets foot onstage, you know she has a lifetime of theatrical experience. She's a stage animal who lives and breathes theatre."
"Wow," Chastain responds, blushing. "Maybe I should cover my ears, too."
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