Jessica Chastain says her female friends "keep her alive"

Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain talk motherhood and the power of female friendships

Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain
(Image credit: PMA Film & TV)

Women’s History Month might be nearly over but Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain make an impassioned case for women supporting women every day, always.

The actresses are sitting across from me in a virtual press junket that I was so nervous about; I cracked a joke about how the cleaner had just been washing the window behind me (the interview was on EST, and while sitting in the virtual waiting room, I’d frantically flail my hands every 15 minutes to turn the lights back on). It was a naff gag, but I knew I was in good company when Anne and Jessica politely chuckled. It soon turned into actual laughter as Hathaway cooly replied, “We’re amazing,” when I asked why people are so fascinated by female friendship.

Mothers’ Instinct, co-produced by the Academy Award winners, deals with female friendship in all its twisting layers. Alice (Chastain) and Céline (Hathaway) are best friends and neighbours—both literally and figuratively—whose seemingly perfect lives in ’60s suburbia are shattered by a tragic accident involving one of their children. The story follows the women as their sisterly bond is eroded by guilt and paranoia, revealing the darker side of maternal love.

My female friends and the connections that I have with women are some of the most important connections I’ve ever had...

Jessica Chastain

The lush costume design by Mitchell Travers and picture-perfect production design by Russell Barnes riff off the thriller genre’s glamorous golden era and call to mind Hitchockian suspense films and the infamous Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. The latter— a film Chastain loves—served as inspiration for Ryan Murphy’s first season of Feud, as lead actresses Betty Davis and Joan Crawford were famously pitted against each other in what Chastain describes as “psychological warfare”. Fortunately, the mind games were kept on-screen only in Mothers’ Instinct.

Both women wax lyrical about the importance of female friendship, which Chastain says keeps her alive and able to get out of bed every day. After years of women being compared and encouraged to compete, it’s refreshing to see two of Hollywood’s biggest stars celebrate each other so jubilantly.

Women are not economically empowered the same.

Anne Hathaway

“I think that sometimes what’s so beautiful about female friendships is that it’s someone that you can relate to,” says Chastain, adding, “I can relate to Annie being an actress and a producer, but also being a woman navigating the waters of Hollywood.” Chastain is one the industry’s biggest advocates for gender equality; she’s spoken out against Roe V Wade (and why men need to speak up, too) and advocated for equal pay (she lost a huge Hollywood role because of it).

It’s something that is close to Hathaway’s heart too. “Women are not economically empowered the same,” she argues, adding, “that automatically creates a power imbalance between what we’ve labelled as ‘genders’. Hathaway suspects it’s this sense of inequality which might also be driving female competitiveness. Chastain says that work needs to be done to teach young girls and women “that the success and the love of one woman actually just creates more for yourself.” It’s a rousing argument worthy of making it to our greatest speeches by inspirational women list. We’ve been socialised to think that there are only so many roles for women. Chastain likens it to the “divide and conquer” attitude of the ancient kingdoms, explaining that the ruling class wants other people to fight because then they won’t fight for power. You might say it’s her Roman Empire.

Mischa Anouk Smith
News and Features Editor

Mischa Anouk Smith is the News and Features Editor of Marie Claire UK.

From personal essays to purpose-driven stories, reported studies, and interviews with celebrities like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and designers including Dries Van Noten, Mischa has been featured in publications such as Refinery29, Stylist and Dazed. Her work explores what it means to be a woman today and sits at the intersection of culture and style, though, in the spirit of eclecticism, she has also written about NFTs, mental health and the rise of AI bands.