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Jessica Chastain Learned How to Run Like Tom Cruise to Play an Action Hero in ‘The Debt’

Tom Cruise has made a career out of playing action heroes. Jessica Chastain, however, was very new to the role when she was cast in The Debt. Fortunately, she was able to find inspiration from Cruise to feel believable in a very unfamiliar role.
What Jessica Chastain learned from Tom Cruise to be an action hero
Jessica Chastain | Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Chastain once starred alongside Sam Worthington in the 2010 thriller The Debt. The feature saw the actor portraying the younger version of Helen Mirren’s character in the film, who was a Mossad agent. Back then, Chastain considered the feature her first official introduction to the action genre.
“I think every role is so different that I’m playing, that every role is kind of the first to introduce me. Like this is my introduction to the action-thriller genre,” she once told Vulture.
To make sure she did the film justice, Chastain was taught fighting disciplines like Krav Maga to better serve her performance. But the actor also wanted to run the way she felt an athlete truly would in the film. Her co-star Worthington suggested to use the Mission Impossible star as a frame of reference for her goals.
“And Sam [Worthington] took it upon himself to be my action coach, and he taught me how to pump my arms like Tom Cruise when I run. A lot of times I see movies with girls in action sequences, and I don’t buy it at all, but he helped me make it look really real. Because I’d never been in a fight in my life,” Chastain recalled.
How Tom Cruise helped save Jessica Chastain’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty’
The Debt wasn’t the only time Cruise had a bit of influence on Chastain’s career. The mega-star once had a hand in saving her critically acclaimed feature Zero Dark Thirty. According to Chastain, the film’s director Katheryn Bigelow wanted to speak to her personally about the film.
“I got cold-called by [director] Kathryn Bigelow,” Chastain told The Hollywood Reporter in a 2017 interview. “I was in Toronto, and I had heard from [producer] Megan Ellison. We had done a film, [2012’s]Lawless, together. And she said, ‘By the way, do you know Kathryn Bigelow’s trying to get a hold of you? She wants to meet with you on something.’ And I was like, ‘What? Please give her my number.’”
But Chastain was scheduled to do the Cruise feature Oblivion, which would’ve conflicted with Zero Dark Thirty’s schedule. Fortunately, Cruise had no problem helping Chastain with her dilemma.
“I was contractually obligated to do something else that I was really wanting to do, and I was excited to do [the 2013 thriller Oblivion, starring Cruise]. But when this came my way, I realized I had to do this. And the person who made it possible for me to do this movie is Tom Cruise. Someone contacted him from my agency and said, ‘Listen, she wants to work with you. And she would love to, but there is this other film, and it’s so important.’ And he said, ‘OK, we’re going to let you out of your contract,’” Chastain recalled.
Although Chastain couldn’t work with Cruise on Oblivion, she looked forward to collaborating with the actor again.
“I really hope to find something in the future to do with him because I’m very grateful,” she said. “I’ve seen him afterwards. And I was like, ‘Dude, you’re awesome!’”
Jessica Chastain once called out oversexualized female action heroes
Chastain felt that the film industry had a habit of sexualizing and objectifying its female action heroes. She referenced two thrillers led by Jennifer Garner and Charlize Theron to illustrate her point.
“If you look at films like Elektra and Aeon Flux, the problem that studios have is they try to make kick-ass women very sexualized,” Chastain once told Radio Times. “They have to be in some catsuit.”
But there were other female heroes in the genre that presented a welcome contrast. And those were the types of heroes that Chastain wanted to see more of in cinema.
“But if you look at the most incredible female roles, like Ripley in Alien, she is a very sexy woman but she’s not wearing a lot of make-up. She’s in a T-shirt and jeans. What’s sexy about her is how capable she is. Same with Jennifer Lawrence in Hunger Games – she’s not wearing a catsuit, either,” she said.

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