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How Jessica Chastain got 'Eleanor Rigby' director to shoot 2 versions

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Courtesy of The Weinstein Company
James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain star in "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby."

The star of the new film "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" persuaded writer-director Ned Benson to strengthen her character's role in the movie — and he shot a whole new version.

The new film "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," starring James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, is actually three films in one. 

Writer and director Ned Benson made a film about a married couple, Eleanor and Connor, whose relationship deteriorates in the wake of a tragedy.

He made one film called "Her," about the relationship from Eleanor's perspective. And another called "Him," showing Connor's side of things. Then he combined footage for the two for another movie called "Them."

But it wouldn't have happened that way had it not been for Jessica Chastain's input early on.

When Benson first showed her the script, it was from Connor's point-of-view, and Chastain says while it was a beautiful film, her character Eleanor "felt like a prop. A little bit like she was only there to move along the male point-of-view. And I wanted to know what she was up to. Where she was going."

So Benson decided to write the same story from the female point of view.

"I read scripts all the time where female characters are not given equal space as male characters," Chastain says. "And now I get to be in this film where I have scenes with all these incredible women ... and everyone has their own stories and we don’t always talk about men in the film."

"Them," which combines both their perspectives, opens on Sept. 12, and Chastain says this version is probably the closest to the true story: "You know the saying, 'Your version of the truth, my version of the truth, and the truth?' 'Them,' I guess, would be the truth."

But if you're interested in delving deeper into the story, the two films "Him" and "Her" will be released as a double feature on Oct. 10.  

"In this day and age when people, including me, are binge-watching 'Game of Thrones' or 'House of Cards' in a day, I'm excited by the prospect that people can sit through James McAvoy's story as he plays Connor and my performance as I play Eleanor," says Chastain.

More from Take Two's interview with Chastain:


How was this, as an actress, knowing you were playing the character from different perspectives?

I saw it as though I was playing two different characters. In "Her," I'm playing Eleanor Rigby, but in "Him," I'm playing Connor's perception of Eleanor Rigby. Which means that a scene I'm in is more about how do I participate in telling Connor's story? So sometimes that could mean my character is more mysterious, more inaccessible, she could be cold. There's a lot of questions she brings up because in his film she is inaccessible.

Your character in 'Zero Dark Thirty' was almost the total opposite of Eleanor Rigby. Is one tougher or more enjoyable to play?

"Zero Dark Thirty" was the toughest role I've ever done, for many reasons. Probably because the character is so different from me. I was raised in Northern California, I'm vegan, I've kind of like come from this very — in a beautiful way — hippie-dippy background. And with "Zero Dark Thirty," I'm playing this woman in the CIA that was trained to be unemotional. And I've spent the better part of my adult life learning to be free with my emotions. The subject matter was very dark for me. We were filming in Jordan in active Jordanian prisons in the middle of nowhere. It was an intense experience on all sides.

This — thank God I had James McAvoy — was a big lesson for me. Working with James, it's such a lesson in no matter how deep or difficult an experience may be that a character is going through, when there's joy and comedy or easiness on set it will filter into the acting. So even though, of course, there are very dark moments for Eleanor, having James as a partner in that freed me in a way that hasn’t happened before.

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