Since her meteoric rise to critically-acclaimed roles and Time's list of "100 Most Influential People in the World," Jessica Chastain has shown incredible versatility as one of Hollywood's most talented actresses. On top of downright jaw-dropping performances in Zero Dark Thirty, The Tree of Life, and A Most Violent Year, Chastain has a unparalleled work ethic, managing to star in an impressive six movies in 2011 alone.
Her great taste and hard work continue into 2015 with the highly anticipated 3D sci-fi epic The Martian.
Between her talent, poise, and intelligence, it's easy to deify Chastain as we tend to do with many celebrities, treating her like a perfect image separated from humanity. But life wasn't always as charmed as it appears now, and, while she generally prefers to keep her private life under wraps, Chastain has opened up on issues that truly matter.
Here's how Jessica Chastain has utilized her own personal hardships to educate the public and ultimately become the inspiring person she is today.
An absent father
Growing up in Sacramento, California, Chastain was raised by her mother Jerri Renée and her stepfather, Michael Leroy Hastey. The actress does not recognize her biological father Michael Monasterio as one of her parents and has publicly acknowledged Hastey as "Dad."
Tabloids have wrongly demonized Chastain for this, as this story came to light around the time of Monasterio's death. As certain news outlets were running stories about the actress's supposed callousness, Chastain kept tactfully silent out of respect to Hastey. It wasn't until an interview with Vogue a full year later that she made any comment about it, saying the invasive coverage was "very difficult" and that there's no father listed on her birth certificate nor proof of any parentage.
What I love about Chastain, other than keeping her cool among constant harassment for a soundbite, is how she managed to prove that parenting is not just a function of biology. She stuck by the man who was there for her throughout her whole life and consistently made decisions with him in mind.
Though Chastain is widely known as a Juilliard graduate, she admitted to Entertainment Weekly that such a prestigious education was not immediately a sure bet. The budding actress originally did not graduate from high school:
Nobody knows this about me. I dropped out of high school. I was not a hard worker. I was a terrible student. Eventually I got my adult diploma, but I did not graduate. And it wasn’t that I just dropped out and never went back—at the end of the year I had too many absences to graduate.
On those days off, she would sit in her car and read Shakespeare, a fact which immediately ruptures any stereotypes about drop-outs. In the end, it was Robin Williams who offered Chastain the chance to become what she is today. She was able to go to Juilliard on a scholarship that he started, and that's when her life really began taking shape.
I got to Juilliard and I’d never been around literature like that. It completely opened me up.
The loss of her sister
Though typically tight-lipped, Chastain has opened up about her sister's struggles with depression that eventually led to suicide. She's a vocal advocate for breaking the stigma against mental illness and uses her platform to speak out about it.
...My sister killed herself. And that is in my history. So, for me, suicide is a very important issue. If I can do anything to help someone move through any darkness that they’re in, I’m gonna do whatever I can to help.
Her sister's untimely death and battles with depression have led her to support the organization To Write Love on Her Arms, which helps young people struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm. She's taken the hardships that altered her thinking and used them to help others, constantly speaking up on issues like mental health that simply don't get enough attention.
Her must-read advice for everyone
These days, seeing Jessica Chastain glowing on the red carpet can easily make someone feel inferior, but she wants everyone out there to know that they have something to offer. It doesn't always seem worth it, but, if her experience is any indicator, hard work and determination can really pay off.
I thought that I wasn’t an intelligent person because I did so poorly [in school]. There are kids out there that aren’t doing well in school—and I hope they never think it means they’re stupid. It’s all about finding where your interest lies and finding what you’re good at.
Her poise, charm, and overflowing talent continue to be inspiring, and I can't wait to see what Chastain has in store for us next.