Jessica Chastain: ‘I will never be angry at a woman for doing what she has to do to survive’

Jessica Chastain: ‘I will never be angry at a woman for doing what she has to do to survive’

Actor Jessica Chastain in black dress against red background
Jessica Chastain: ‘I spend my life trying to put the female heroic out there.’ Photograph: Erik Madigan Heck/The Guardian. Dress: Giambattista Valli

She escaped a tough childhood to become an Oscar-winning star. Now she’s on a mission to rescue country singer Tammy Wynette from decades of feminist dismissal

There is a scene in George & Tammy, a new six-part biopic series on the country singer Tammy Wynette, in which Jessica Chastain has to perform on stage before a crowd of young extras. The song is Run, Woman, Run, a standard from 1970 in which Wynette, in customary style, exhorts women to stop being so demanding and knuckle down to life with any man who will have them. Or, as Chastain puts it: “Basically, you’re not going to find someone else, so go back to your man.”

On the day of filming, this presented the 45-year-old actor with a problem. Chastain, who took on the role partly to rescue Wynette from what she saw as decades of unfair feminist dismissal, is drawn to characters with room for ambivalence. But even she had to admit that lyrics such as “Run, woman, run / Go back to him and fix things up the very best you can” were a tough sell for a modern audience. They also offended her, personally. Standing on stage, she felt obliged to issue a quick public health warning before shooting the scene. “I looked out at all these sweet, young faces staring up at me and said, ‘Girls: I do not want you to listen to the lyrics of this song. Please. I love Tammy, but she did not believe this. She was married five times, so do not take any of this as gospel.’”

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