Jessica Chastain followed her idol Elizabeth Taylor in sinking her hands and feet into cement Thursday at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre, marking a career that has brought two Oscar nominations.
Eyes concealed by black sunglasses, she struggled to control her emotions as she described how her family had kindled her passion for acting — but she also acknowledged her debt to the actresses of Hollywood’s golden age.
“Having my hand prints next to those of women like Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Davis, really it’s unimaginable. I still can’t believe it,” said Chastain, 39.
“These are women who are among a group of actresses (whose) talent and their passion inspired me to pursue a career in film.”
Born Jessica Howard into a middle-class family in northern California, Chastain began dancing at age nine, and in her teenage years began performing in Shakespeare around the San Francisco area.
Taking her mother’s maiden name, she was spotted in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” and urged to audition for New York’s Juilliard school of dance, music and drama.
One of five children of a fireman father and a vegan chef mother, Chastain was singled out for her stage work by Al Pacino, who later recommended her to Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life.”
She spent her early career in television roles, before her film debut in 2008 as the title character in “Jolene.”
Chastain’s breakout year came in 2011, when she had six films released, including “The Help,” which brought her a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her performance as ditzy, ostracized blonde Celia.
She received a best actress nod in 2013 for her portrayal of a CIA analyst in “Zero Dark Thirty,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
The filmmaker told the crowd on Hollywood Boulevard how she had wanted to work with Chastain since seeing her “hold her own” opposite Ralph Fiennes in 2011’s film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.”
“The reason why is not mysterious. Jessica is possessed of keen intelligence and enormous range, a sublime grace coupled with an almost feral intensity,” Bigelow said.
Chastain’s other film credits include “Interstellar,” “The Martian,” “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” “Crimson Peak” and “A Most Violent Year.”
John Madden, who directed her near the start of her career in 2010’s “The Debt,” and in her upcoming movie “Miss Sloane,” said her acting had been characterized by the extremes of “ferocity and fragility.”
“Jessica is an actress whose career is as astonishing in its range and versatility as it is in what you might call its brevity,” the British filmmaker said.