'A Most Violent Year' Stars Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac Talk Creating Fiction in Real Environment
Plus writer-director J.C. Chandor's longtime producer Neal Dodson explains how their past work informed the A24 film and their upcoming Deepwater Horizon project
J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year tells the fictional story of a couple trying to run a successful heating-oil business, with the husband, Abel (Oscar Isaac) determined to do so by honest, nonviolent tactics, even while he and his drivers and salesmen are being threatened and assaulted. The film is set in New York in 1981, said to have been the worst year on record for violent crimes in the city.
With this authentic backdrop, were there real-life inspirations for Abel and his wife, Anna (played by Jessica Chastain)?
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Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of A Most Violent Year's Armani-sponsored New York premiere, Chandor was vague about what's real in his film, explaining that he collected and pulled in things over a long period of time.
"It was a great period to set a story up and have this character study that I'd been working on for years set in this moment," the writer-director said.
Isaac added that he worked with Chandor on creating a backstory for his mysterious character, which isn't revealed in the film, to explain why Abel is so determined not to resort to violence.
"He definitely believes he's a self-made man, and he's let his past go, so we had to develop a backstory for him that he comes from violence from a Colombian family, and he's come to this country to make a better life," Isaac told THR.
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While Chastain also worked with Chandor and Isaac on creating the character of Anna, the tough daughter of a Brooklyn mobster, she explained that she tried to ground Anna in the time period as well.
"I started by researching 1981, and I realized the look that I wanted, the nails," she said. "I called up Armani … to see if they would be interested in dressing my character, because Armani was the big star at that time. … He was on the cover of Time magazine. … He came in with such a huge impression. He'd just done American Gigolo, the costumes for that. That's how I began: looks-based and then working with Oscar on a lot of the character stuff."
Armani and the '80s were a big presence at the premiere, with Chastain wearing a modern version of one of the Armani dresses she wears in the film (accented with a Piaget Rose Sky pendant necklace) and the afterparty set at Armani Ristorante in the Armani store on Fifth Avenue, where a few '80s songs could be heard woven into the music booming out of the speakers.
At the afterparty, THR asked producer Neal Dodson — who, along with Anna Gerb, produced Margin Call, All is Lost and A Most Violent Year — how his past work with Chandor helped with working on this film.
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"He always bites off a little more than maybe the average person might want to chew, but it's an exciting challenge," Dodson said. "So for me, it's taking what we know about his strengths from his previous movies and saying, 'What if we could do this? … Let's make it happen.' It's sort of a 'take what you know, and build on it.' "
Dodson, Chandor and Gerb are next set to take on the challenge of making a movie about the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, which Dodson said "is happening in a big way" with sets being built in New Orleans. But still that film has elements of Chandor's previous three, he said.
"It's sort of a contained timeline like the first movie, certainly on the ocean like the second movie, and has to do with oil and business and commerce like the third movie, so it feels like a logical next progression," Dodson explained.
A Most Violent Year is Dodson and Chandor's first collaboration with A24, which is distributing the Participant Media movie, releasing it in select theaters on Dec. 31.
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But Dodson says they're working on more projects with the New York-based indie distributor.
"They're young, they're aggressive, they're passionate about movies, and they care about making and distributing good movies and finding a way to market them, which is not always easy, including this movie," he said. "So for us it's a dream come true. We love having distributors who see the world the way that we do."
Also on hand for the premiere were Dodson's Before the Door co-founder Zachary Quinto, Girls' Zosia Mamet, Ang Lee, model Lindsay Ellingson, ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas and castmembers Christopher Abbott, Peter Geragty, Jerry Adler, Ben Rosenfield, Ashley Williams and Giselle Eisenberg, who plays one of Abel and Anna's young daughters and who Chandor said before the screening he was happy to learn walked the carpet but went ice-skating with her dad instead of sitting through the most-violent film.
Dec. 9, 4:38 p.m. An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that Anna Gerb still works for Washington Square Films. THR regrets the error. This story has also been updated to reflect that Gerb will be producing Chandor's upcoming Deepwater Horizon film.