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Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain team up for The Debt...
At the London premiere: Marton Czokas, Tom Wilkinson, Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain and John Madden
26.Jul.45 • Chiswick, London
29.Mar.81 • Northern California
|B Y R I C H C L I N E
A remake of and Israeli thriller, The Debt tells of a 1965 Mossad mission shrouded in a mystery that takes 40 years to resolve. It centres on three agents who we see in their 20s and then in their 60s. One of these is Rachel Singer, played by 2011's rising star Jessica Chastain and veteran actor Helen Mirren. In London to promote the film's DVD release in January 2012, they talked about the character they both played. Chastain walks into the press junket thoroughly enjoying the experience; Mirren has a wry smile that shows that she doesn't take any of this seriously...
What drew you to this project?
Did you work together to make sure the characters were similar?
Helen: It's always an interesting question when you're playing maybe a Russian or an Israeli or a French person, but you're doing it in an English-language film. In theory, you're actually speaking Hebrew to each other, but you're using English because it's an English-language film. Should you be speaking English with an English accent, or American? John made the decision to really point up the fact that we're actually Israeli, so just to use a slight Israeli accent. And we had a very good dialect coach who had to work with actors from — well, Sam is Australian, I'm English, Jessica's American, Marton is half New Zealand and half Hungarian. She had a lot of different voices to deal with, and we all worked on bringing out our accents together so we became seamlessly one, at least from one country. And then yes, Jessica and I did work together to find little habits, little physical things that we could do to give the effect of this being one person.
Jessica: I actually can give you an example of it. We were talking about the character at one point, and Rachel twice is in front of a group of people and they're asking her the question: "What were you thinking, what was going through your mind when this incident happened?" She says, "I was thinking about my mother." We both say that at different points in the film. Helen said it's interesting that she's telling the same story — it's almost like being at a press junket, saying the same thing over and over again! And when she said that we realised that, in a way, Rachel is putting on a character. So when you watch that part in the film, it's very obscure, but at the point when we say, "I was thinking of my mother", both of us touched our hearts at the same time. We assume that for those 30 years that she's telling that story she's doing the same thing because it's almost like she's living her life as a robot.
Helen: Yes, the difference is that when Jessica does it, it's how it should be: it's genuine and it's heartfelt and it's real, even though it's a lie. No, thinking about her mother is not a lie, so she's telling an absolute truth. And then many years later here's Rachel Singer telling the same story. She does the same gesture, but it's hollow. It's affected. Well, I hope! That was the effect I wanted.
Jessica, you had something like seven films out in 2011?
Helen, there was a rumour that you took self-defence classes for this role.
Helen: I didn't take any self-defence classes! Jessica did. She had to do the fight stuff. I do have a fight in the film, we called it the geriatric fight. It's between a 60-year-old woman and an 80-year-old man. It's really hard to get up once you're down! So no, I didn't do that fantastic fighting.
How was it to shoot the film in Tel Aviv?
Have you been haunted by anything in your own past? Maybe a lie that you've told?
THE DORCHESTER, LONDON • 21.SEP.11
© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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