Fresh off a Golden Globe win and starring in the nation’s No. 1 film at the box office, Jessica Chastain heads back to the big screen — though you might not recognize her at first.
The Zero Dark Thirty star is at the center of Mama, the new Guillermo del Toro-produced supernatural horror-thriller directed by rookie feature helmer Andy Muschietti. She dons a short black wig and a half-sleeve of tattoos to play the punk rocker-turned-reluctant mother figure to two girls who were left abandoned in the woods for five years — and are followed back to civilization by a haunting spirit that wants them all to herself. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau co-stars are the girls’ uncle, who has his own fights with the demonic “mama” ghost.
The film was born from a short by Muschietti that captured del Toro’s attention.
“I came across this strange video of a leopard eating a baboon, and during the process of doing it, the baboon gives birth,” Muschietti explained. “And the leopard jumps to it, and instead of attacking it, he starts taking care of it. It was one of those coincidences that was like, of course, that’s what Mama is about. It’s about imprinting and twisted nurturing.”
Del Toro said he had to fight for Chastain to be his star, as he noticed her from on a screener DVD of the thriller The Debt — before her big breakout at Cannes in 2011.
“She has two qualities that are very unique, and you don’t work on them. Either you have them or you don’t,” del Toro said. “One of them is that the audience cares what happens to you, and you don’t learn that. And she, second of all, is an actor that makes every emotion seem real, and these movies depend on that a lot. People ask, ‘What do you need to make a good horror film?’ Frankly, you need good characters at the center, and Jessica has that, times 10.”