Zero Dark Thirty - Jason Clarke, Director Kathryn Bigelow, Jessica Chastain and Kyle Chandler
December 4, 2012 – New York, NY: Jason Clarke, Director/Producer Kathryn Bigelow, Jessica Chastain and Kyle Chandler at the Photo Call at Ritz Carlton ©2012 Columbia TriStar

Perhaps the most controversial movie of the year, Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of the hunt and ultimately the death of Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs, led by a tenacious CIA officer named Maya (Jessica Chastain).

The film was written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who won the Oscar for Best Director for her movie The Hurt Locker.

Kathryn Bigelow and Jessica Chastain spoke of movie at the press day for the film.

Can you talk a little bit about getting involved with Zero Dark Thirty?

Zero Dark Thirty - Director Kathryn Bigelow
Director/Producer Kathryn Bigelow on the set ©2012 Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn: Originally we were working on another project, still about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, but it was about the failed hunt in 2001.

While Mark was working on the screenplay, actually quite far along, May 1, 2011 happened and we realized after some soul-searching that it was going to be a little bit difficult to make a movie about the failed hunt for Osama bin Laden when the whole world knew that he had been killed.

So after much debate we pivoted and Mark being an investigative journalist set on his way to report the current story.

Can you talk about casting Jessica in the role?

Kathryn: We needed a tremendously talented actress with the verbal agility to handle the complexity of the dialogue, as well as the fearless approach that the role demanded. Jessica possesses a real gravitas and intensity.

She can channel depth and nuance into even the subtlest of moments..

And Jessica, what was it about role that made you want to play it?

Zero Dark Thirty - Jessica Chastain
Stationed in a covert base overseas, Maya (Jessica Chastain) is member of the elite team of spies and military operatives who secretly devoted themselves to finding Osama Bin Laden ©2012 Columbia Pictures

Jessica: By page 20 of the script, I knew I had to play Maya. I immediately understood why she was so completely consumed and obsessed by this search. I thought it was one of the best parts I’d ever read; I just loved her strength and tenacity

I was really moved and excited by Maya’s arc. In essence, you see her grow up through the film, as finding bin Laden becomes a more and more personal mission to her. You see her start to lose her old self and become someone new.

The very end of the movie is so interesting to me because it’s almost like she doesn’t quite know who she is anymore. And to tell that kind of emotional complex and very real story about a character is why I do this.

Unlike the military revelry when bin Laden is killed, Jessica’s character is depicted as unhappy, even crying. Can you talk about the thinking that went into the making of that decision?

Zero Dark Thirty - Director Kathryn Bigelow
Director/Producer Kathryn Bigelow (left) and Writer/Producer Mark Boal ©2012 Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn: That was beautifully articulated in the screenplay and we never deviated from that.

So that’s a creation of Mark’s and I think what is so interesting and so poignant for both Jessica and myself, is this idea that this woman has spent the last 10 years exclusively in the pursuit of one man.

And yes, at the end of the day she triumphed.

It’s not a victory, because finally at the end of the day you are left with much larger questions like where does she go from here, where do we go from here? Now what?

So I think that was one of the human elements of it, and what the weight of the question on your shoulders is.

Did you have a chance to meet the person your character was based on?

Zero Dark Thirty - Christopher Stanley, Jessica Chastain and Alex Corbet Burcher
Admiral Bill Mccraven (Christopher Stanley) with Maya (Jessica Chastain) and Devgru Operator (Alex Corbet Burcher) ©2012 Zero Dark Thirty

Jessica: I never met Maya because she’s an undercover CIA agent and it would have not been a good thing to do.

However, I got a lot of research from Mark. It really helps when your screenwriter is an investigative journalist, and I had to approach it like any other character I was playing.

So any questions I could answer through the research, I did, but questions I couldn’t answer through the research I had to use my imagination to create a character that went along the lines that respected the real woman.

I’m playing a character who’s trained to be unemotional and analytically precise, and as an actor you spend your whole life trying to be emotional and keeping yourself emotionally open.

So to find the humanity within that arc was a great feat that would have been impossible without Kathryn and Mark’s leadership.

Has the President seen Zero Dark Thirty?

Kathryn: Good question. I don’t believe he has and I’m sure at some point he will. We hope he will.

Jessica was ask if she ever imagined that she would be a part of telling this story? Click here to listen to her reply

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.