​The brightly-burning star that is Jessica Chastain


The "Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" actress is not convinced her success is more than fleeting: "Let's just enjoy it while it lasts because it could be gone tomorrow."

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"Zero Dark Thirty" is just one of the many films that introduced Jessica Chastain to movie fans virtually all at once. Her success is the payoff for a long waiting game, as we hear from Tracy Smith in our Sunday Profile:

Before "Zero Dark Thirty" was ever made, we knew the ending -- that Navy SEALs would kill Osama Bin Laden.

What we didn't know is that Jessica Chastain, as CIA agent Maya, could be even more scary than the guys with the guns.

MAYA: "You just want me to nail some low-level guy so you can check the box on your resume that says while you were in Pakistan you got a real terrorist. But the truth is you don't understand Pakistan and you don't know al Qaeda. Either give me the team I need to follow this lead or the other thing you're gonna have on your resume is being the first station chief to be called before a Congressional Committee for subverting the effort to capture or kill bin Laden."

Smith said, "There's an intensity there that seems like, perhaps, it is a part of you. Are you that intense, sometimes at least?"

"I can be," Chastain said. "There many more differences between Maya and myself than similarities. She is someone who doesn't care at all what other people think. That's not me!"

In the past five years, Jessica Chastain has gone from virtual unknown to one of the hottest names in Hollywood: a bankable star, no matter what the role.

Her latest film, "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," is about a happy couple hit with a heart-rending tragedy. It's actually three separate films: one shot from his point of view (titled "Him"), one from hers ("Her"), and the combined version ("Them").

"It begs the question: can you love someone enough to let them go?" Chastain said. "And hope that they could come back, but know that they may not?"

It's the perfect part for an actress who like to lose herself in her roles.

To capture the serenity of the mother she played in 2011's "The Tree of Life," director Terrence Malick told her to go to New York's Metropolitan Museum and study Madonnas, such as one by Raphael.

"I can look at it and then I can take inspiration from it," Chastain said.

Jessica Chastain, right, with correspondent Tracy Smith at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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Her own childhood wasn't quite as ornate. Growing up in Sacramento, Calif., Chastain's early life was pretty short on glamour.

"We definitely didn't have money," she said. "I remember one time asking my mom -- I wanted to go to a concert, probably New Kids on the Block, I think it was! -- and I said, 'Can I have $20? I'll, you know, clean the house or whatever.' And she's just like, 'I don't have it.'"

What Jessica DID have was a clear vision of a life on the stage, for as long as she can remember.

"My grandmother took me to a play when I was, like, seven years old," she said. "There was a little girl on stage, and as soon as I saw that a little girl was on stage doing it as her job, it's just clicked in my head, like, 'This is my job.'"