Jessica M. Howard was born in California, and spent her formative years in the San Francisco Bay area. She started dancing at age nine, and by 13, she was performing in Shakespearean productions using her mother's maiden name. Chastain majored in drama at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City where, during her last year, she signed a contract with television producer John Wells to appear on some of his shows, including "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009). Chastain padded her resume with a guest role on the mystery series "Veronica Mars" (UPN, 2005-07) and a recurring role on the series, "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (NBC, 2005-06), as an assistant district attorney. In 2008, Chastain starred in the drama, "Jolene," based on E.L. Doctorow's tale, Jolene: A Life, from his 2004 "Sweet Land Stories" collection. The movie centered on the cross-country adventures of its red-haired heroine - beginning at age 15 - over the course of a decade. It also starred Dermot Mulroney, Chazz Palminteri and Rupert Friend.Chastain was suddenly on Hollywood's radar after landing plum roles in big-budget films, particularly in the 2010 dramatic thriller, "The Debt," opposite an A-list cast that included Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Sam Worthington. Chastain delivered a solid performance as one of a trio of Mossad agents who were hunting down a Nazi war criminal in 1965 East Berlin, and living with the consequences of their actions 30 years later. To prepare for the role, Chastain relied heavily on her dance background, took fight-training classes, and learned how to speak German. Chastain also took on the lead role in "Wilde Salome" (2010), based on Oscar Wilde's 1891 tragic play. The film starred Al Pacino, who also directed it. In 2011, the talented actress starred in Terence Malick's highly anticipated drama, "The Tree of Life," which told the story of a Midwestern family in the 1950s as seen through the journey of the eldest son (played as an adult by Sean Penn) from childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile with his father (Brad Pitt). That same year, she had a featured role in the drama "The Help," based on Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel about the interactions between the rich white women and the black women who served them in 1960s Mississippi.Chastain's transition from relative newcomer to ubiquitous screen presence became complete with even more film appearances that same year, including a supporting role alongside "Debt" co-star Worthington and Jon Hamm in the dark crime-drama "Texas Killing Fields" (2011). Weeks later, she returned to theaters as the concerned wife of a man (Michael Shannon) plagued by visions of an impending apocalypse in writer-director Jeff Nichols' psychological drama "Take Shelter" (2011). Capping an incredibly successful year, Chastain's performance in the acclaimed film earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Female. As big as 2011 had been for the actress, 2012 shaped up to be just as momentous, with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in "The Help" and appearances in Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut "Coriolanus" (2012) and director John Hillcoat's prohibition crime-drama "Lawless" (2012), featuring the likes of Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Shia LaBeouf. Later that year, she played an intelligence operative who leads the hunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in Kathryn Bigelow's critically hailed "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012), a role that netted the actress SAG and Academy Award nominations for Best Actress as well as a Golden Globe win. Somewhat improbably, she followed that career triumph with the starring role in a small horror film, "Mama" (2013), and the title role in an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "Salome" directed by Al Pacino. Chastain next starred in "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," an art film about a couple's split by writer/director Ned Benson, which was originally released in 2013 as a twinned pair of films showing the breakup from each character's perspective and then reissued the following year as "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them" (2014), which combined the two perspectives. After starring in Liv Ullmann's adaptation of August Strindberg's "Miss Julie" (2014), Chastain returned to blockbusters with her co-starring role in Christopher Nolan's science fiction drama "Interstellar" (2014). After starring opposite Oscar Isaacs in 1981-set crime thriller "A Most Violent Year" (2014), Chastain co-starred in Ridley Scott's comic-tinged science fiction adventure "The Martian" (2015) and Guillermo del Toro's gothic romance "Crimson Peak" (2015), as well as big budget fantasy adventure "The Huntsman: Winter's War" (2016). The title roles in John Madden's political thriller "Miss Sloane" (2016) and war drama "The Zookeeper's Wife" (2017) were followed by the staring role in Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut, "Molly's Game" (2017), based on the true story of a former Olympic hopeful who begins running an underground high-stakes poker game. In 2016, Chastain filmed a starring role opposite Kit Harington in the drama "The Death and Life of John F. Donovan," but in February 2018, director Xavier Dolan announced that as part of trimming the film from its initial running time of over four hours, Chastain's entire role had been cut from the film.
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