How Tony Nominee Jessica Chastain Crafted Her Signature Moments in Broadway’s ‘A Doll’s House’

When Jessica Chastain explains how she and her collaborators created the standout moments in her Tony-nominated Broadway performance in “A Doll’s House,” one wouldn’t expect to hear her mention the Sam Raimi horror movie “Evil Dead.”

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

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But that’s exactly what the Oscar-winning actor (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”) did in the new episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast. “Evil Dead,” she explained, figured into her early thinking as she and director Jamie Lloyd were brainstorming how to stage her character Nora’s performance of a dance called the tarantella. It’s one of the most famous sequences in Henrik Ibsen’s classic play — and when Chastain performs it, she never rises from the chair in which she sits for almost the entirety of the play.

In the overall production, Chastain is confined to the chair as a physical echo of the constrictions placed on Nora as a wife and mother in a patriarchal society. In trying to imagine what Nora’s dance might look like, Chastain said she asked Lloyd, “What if she’s completely out of control and her body’s taking over and she doesn’t want it to happen?

“I even said, ‘This is not how I’m going to play it, but do you know that movie ‘Evil Dead’ with the actor Bruce Campbell, and his arm becomes possessed and tries to kill him? What if the dance is Nora’s body trying to break free, and she’s trying to stop her body? Because she wants to stay in the cage. It’s safer, but it’s like her body won’t let her.”

As the idea evolved, Chastain recalled, choreographer Jennifer Rias brought up the history of the tarantella, which was initially believed to expel the venom of a spider. “It was less of dance and more like an exorcism,” Chastain said. “Many times women would dance for freedom in societies where they didn’t have freedom.”

On the new episode of “Stagecraft,” Chastain also offered a glimpse of what goes through her head during what has become the best-known element of her performance: the 20 minutes before the show that she spends onstage sitting in her chair, rotating slowly on a turntable. She’s in full view of the audience — and she looks right back at them.

“It’s sweet. People send me hearts and they smile at me and they wave,” Chastain said. “Sometimes they try to break me, try to make me laugh. I look at them and sometimes I’ll hold contact longer. But I always keep in character, so they understand the space that we’re creating and they understand the journey that we’re going to go on. … We’re doing this together.”

Chastain also revealed why she spent years scared to return to Broadway after her 2012 debut in “The Heiress,” named the one stage role she’s determined to play one day and explained why the final moments of “A Doll’s House” make her think of “The Wizard of Oz.”

To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple PodcastsSpotify and the Broadway Podcast NetworkNew episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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