Jessica Chastain presents a new kind of feminine hero in Miss Sloane – or anti-hero depending on your point of view. She’s extraordinary and brilliant, a bruisingly cunning woman in a powerful position as an anti-gun lobbyist. She moves forward like a shark, never looking at the damage she’s caused just off to the side. Miss Sloane looks only forward, to the win. She’s Gordon Gekko for a new era in which women with this kind of moxie are rare and seen as scary. And rightly so, her harsh, Byzantine moves are beyond the pale, yet she’s effective. She seems to have ice water in her veins as she tackles the gun lobby one of the biggest and most powerful institutions in the United States. We spoke with director John Madden whose previous films – Shakespeare in Love, Ethan Frome, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – are nothing like this heart pounding psychological and business thriller.
The film couldn’t be better timed as Trump wants to “drain the DC swamp” of lobbyists – are you secretly excited that he’s unwittingly promoting the film?
Haha yes! Well I’d love that to be the case of course. We watched aghast as this spectacle unfolded as we started to promote the film; political surprises upstaged by another tumultuous catastrophic surprise. From my perspective, yes these are very significant and unprecedented times, extraordinary.
Do you think Chastain’s character Elizabeth is a sociopath?
Yes she has sociopathic elements and that’s the separation of any empathetic considerations or concern for damage you might be doing in pursuit of what you want. You could define her initially in those terms but the interesting thing and without it, it’s not worth making the film it this weren’t true, she undergoes a transformation. So someone recoiling from her or disapproving or even shocked by her, they are engaged and rooting for her. That’s the mystery of acting and what a film can do in terms of bringing you very close to how someone operates. As a heroine or anti-heroine it’s so unusual and outside the mould for a woman who has negated all those aspects of her life – humanity, empathy, sexuality, maternity, romanticism the more familiar attributes of a woman are completely absent. The whole film is kamikaze. She knows she has no life and yet she is engaging.
Chastain delivers an extremely dense script; did it give you pause?
It’s the rhythm, I knew she would have the verbal dexterity to handle this and I knew she would colour it to lift it out of a possible monotony. She uses language as a weapon and pile driver to pursue her ideas and drag people along with her. It’s an invitation to deliver lines in a certain way – as a juggernaut. Jessica has extraordinary range and strength and intelligence, and strangely her femininity which makes the line seen. For ten minutes you’ll think holy smoke, I can’t keep up – and then you fall into it. It’s like when I see Shakespeare and I am a big fan. I’m not hearing the meaning of the words and it may take me ten minutes to tune in to the language to respond to it. There is something of that in this film. It’s a credit to suggest all the actors in this ensemble took part. Every character.
It’s a fable about good and bad on a very high order, guns and power, life and death.
I was very careful about not making polemic, but it’s not surprising to know which side of the line the filmmakers came down on in this argument, someone who doesn’t live in that world and doesn’t buy the American attitude about guns, which seems an incomprehensible thing, that defies the laws of logic and humanity and that there is no appropriate legislative response to an outrage like Sandy Hook which is the most egregious example. They happen with dismaying frequency and rendered the President speechless. The film is not to demonise any side of the argument. You could argue the central character straddles the line between empowered female and a maverick and on the other side she incorporates both qualities. It’s about the political process which is damaged and fragmented in DC by everyone’s agreement and shines a light on the necessity and money and corruption.
There’s such a fearsome energy in Miss Sloane, the opposite of some of the pap we’re offered during the holidays.
It’s the opposite; it’s a shot of adrenaline. She’s a character who thinks and moves at lighting speed and makes sure she’s several steps ahead of any arguments coming at her – that was an exercise in lifting momentum! You watch and wonder if you’ll catch up, but you settle in. It’s odd to yoke that with the subject matter, being a thriller that is engrossing when that is how your characters communicate.
You shot in Toronto and it is wonderfully itself, for those who know it.
It’s the one place we knew we wouldn’t get away with passing one city off with another. In Washington we did. Toronto offered itself to me creatively. We created this little universe (around the Shangri-La Hotel on University Avenue) and shot there and in the downtown core and we were almost always in walking distance.
Miss Sloane Opens Friday December 9th, 2016