Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Role: Maya, the hyperfocused CIA agent who spends a decade tracking down Osama bin Laden.
Oscar History: Chastain earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination last year for The Help.
A Near Miss: Chastain almost turned down the role without knowing a thing about it. When the filmmakers contacted her agent, they were told she wasn't available. Then Chastain's pal Megan Ellison, who financed Zero Dark Thirty, reached out. That led to a conversation with director Kathryn Bigelow, and the actress was so taken with the script she decided to free up her schedule. ''They showed a lot of trust in casting me,'' says Chastain, ''because there was no process.''
Getting Her Props: Screenwriter Mark Boal based Maya on a real-life agent while omitting identifying details. To help fill in the blanks, Chastain asked the props department to create reminders of her character's personal life. ''There are little clues in the movie, things that I added in,'' she says. ''There's this child's drawing in her room in Pakistan. Screensavers. Postcards that I would have certain things written on from friends back home. I wanted it to seem like there was this other life beckoning me.''
Up Next: Chastain appears opposite James McAvoy in a pair of linked films, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her, due later this year. Rob Brunner