Jessica Chastain, Tate Taylor Talk Turning Action-Thriller Genre on Its Head With 'Eve'

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images; Jim Spellman/WireImage
"I love what he's done with female characters," Jessica Chastain says of Tate Taylor. "He's such a champion for actresses."

During a lunch break on the film's Boston set, the star and director talked to The Hollywood Reporter about deploying the "criminally underused" Geena Davis and why it can be liberating to be thrust into a project at the 11th hour.

Seven years after they first partnered on the box-office smash The Help, Jessica Chastain and director Tate Taylor have reunited, upping the ante somewhat for Eve. The character-driven action thriller — being shopped by Voltage Pictures at AFM and boasting an all-star cast that also includes Colin Farrell, Geena Davis, John Malkovich and Common — sees Chastain in a darker and more murderous role than usual, playing a recovering addict and black ops assassin forced to fight for her survival when a job goes wrong. Eve is the debut picture from Chastain’s Freckle Films banner, the first production in a busy slate that includes the high-concept spy thriller 355, starring Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o and Fan Bingbing. Announced in Cannes, it was one of the buzziest films up for grabs. However, the star-studded lineup is now in doubt with the recent situation surrounding Fan, who disappeared for three months amid accusations of tax evasion in China. The development of Eve hasn’t been smooth sailing either, with Taylor brought on board after original director and writer Matthew Newton dropped out following a backlash over a history of alleged assault and domestic violence. During a lunch break on the set of Eve in Boston, Chastain (who refused to discuss the future of 355, Newton or any other film but Eve) and Taylor talked to The Hollywood Reporter about turning the action-thriller genre on its head, deploying the “criminally underused” Davis and why it can be liberating to be thrust into a project at the 11th hour.

Would you call this your first real action-thriller?

TATE TAYLOR It is! I just did my first horror-thriller, Ma, with Octavia [Spencer] and Blumhouse, so I thought I’d do an action-thriller. All I need next is a black-and-white silent film.

JESSICA CHASTAIN I had done The Debt, where I played a Mossad agent, and The Huntsman, which had a lot of fight scenes.

So there’s plenty of physically demanding action in Eve?

CHASTAIN Oh yes, so much, more than anything I’ve done before. With The Debt, I trained for four months, but there’s even more fighting in this one. It’s good fun.

TAYLOR Often in these genres, there’s not much drama or character development. But what’s great about this is there’s both. It’s made the fighting and the action very truthful and gritty. As far as it being a learning curve, to be honest, it’s very tedious and at times not very inspiring — it can be quite mechanical shooting this stuff. But it makes you think about doing a Marvel movie for 100 days.

After Newton pulled out, how did Tate get involved?

CHASTAIN Tate and I have been friends since we met on The Help. I really respect him. I love what he’s done with female characters — he’s such a champion for actresses, and I could see that he’d be a great director for this.

TAYLOR I’m actually in post with my movie with Octavia. Four days after I wrap this, we go to Mississippi and do additional photography on that. I had no real space whatsoever to be doing anything, but Jessica called me directly as Matthew fell out and was like, “Hey, I know we’re doing a movie together next spring [The Eyes of Tammy Faye,] but can you do this right now? Come on!” I read it and turned to my partner and went, “Shit, this is cool.” So we just made it work. I had three weeks’ prep, so you just kind of go for it. When it’s not your baby of eight years, it’s a different animal.

This is the first title from Freckle Films. What was it about Eve that you thought would showcase what Freckle is all about?

CHASTAIN I love any type of film that turns a genre on its head. I like anything that goes against an expectation of what a female character is supposed to be. This film does that. I’m really excited to work with Geena and Joan Chen, who I think have been criminally underused over the past 20 years. It’s very upsetting.

Does having it under your own production banner mean you’re far more involved in the process?

CHASTAIN Every job that I sign up for is something that I’m excited to be a part of. But now, having a production company, when they came to me with this offer to play the part, for me it was, “OK, this was really exciting.” Because when I’m involved in the film, I can speak up in terms of casting and in terms of script notes and help shape it into a story that I think is important to tell.

Tate, with Jessica, Octavia and Viola Davis, you seem to keep reuniting with the actresses from The Help. Is this on purpose?

TAYLOR I tend to keep working with people whom I love working with. The way I like to work is such a family atmosphere, and they’re the ones I gravitate toward. It’s really remarkable when you look at the ladies of that film and what they went on to do.

Eve is about an assassin. What’s the kill count?

CHASTAIN My character says early on that she’s been paid to kill 41 people. So it’s quite high!

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Oct. 31 daily issue at the American Film Market.