How Jessica Chastain’s troubled childhood taught her to stand up to bullies

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Kayleigh Dray
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Jessica Chastain has opened up about her childhood, and how, when one of her mother’s ex-boyfriends turned on her, she learned to fight back against bullies.

From Molly’s Game to The Zookeeper’s Wife, Jessica Chastain is famed for bringing strong, empowered women to life on the silver screen.

Now, in a candid new interview with WSJ. Magazine, the actress has revealed that she considers herself to be a fighter, too.

Raised by a single mother in a financially vulnerable household, Chastain explains that things would always grow worse “whenever a man came into the household” – and that she once suffered abuse at the hands of one of her mum’s boyfriends.

“There was a turning point in my life where we were living with someone I didn’t like very much, a boyfriend of my mom’s,” she recalls. “And he did something – my room was messy or whatever and he had taken my clothes, and I was telling him to give me back my stuff – and he slapped me.

Chastain continues: “I just kicked him in the genitals, and he fell to the ground immediately. It was me, my sister and my brother – and I remember looking at my sister’s face, and we were both like, ‘Oh, my God, what did I just do?’ And then I ran out of the house.”

Chastain says the incident taught her to stand up for herself, explaining: “I always look back on that moment as knowing that, OK, if anything happens to me, I’m capable of fighting back.

“If you allow a bully to intimidate or victimise you, they’ll continue to do it. Bullies are actually weak; they don’t go after strong people.”

This revelation made Chastain aware of her own strength – and, over time, she has used that same strength to fight on behalf of others in need. She is a fierce advocate for social change and women’s rights, one of the founders of We Do It Together (a non-profit production company dedicated to the empowerment of womankind), and a firm supporter of the Time’s Up initiative, too.

Most recently, she led the charge against Mark Wahlberg when she learned that he had been paid $1.5 million for reshooting his scenes in All the Money in the World, while his female co-star, Michelle Williams was paid an $80 per diem totalling less than $1,000.

That works out to Williams being paid less than 1% of her male co-star.

Keen to draw this discrepancy to the media’s attention, Chastain tweeted: “I heard for the reshoot she got $80 a day compared to his MILLIONS. Would anyone like to clarify?”

“I really hope that with everything coming to light, she was paid fairly. She’s a brilliant actress and is wonderful in the film.”

Since then, Wahlberg has vowed to donate every last penny of his pay cheque to the Time’s Up initiative – in Williams’ name.

Chastain, explaining why she refuses to let any woman settle for less than they’re worth, tells the newspaper: “We need to look at ourselves and say, ‘What can we do to move the needle in a positive direction?’”

She adds firmly: “Being normalised to inequality isn’t good enough anymore.”


Images: Rex Features


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.