Festival honors Jessica Chastain

WAILEA – With back-to-back Academy Award nominations over the last two years, actress Jessica Chastain has shared deep emotions and powerful truths with audiences watching her on the screen – but she says she has never actually shown herself.

“With every character, there are things I have in common, and things I disagree with,” said the screen and stage artist prior to accepting the Maui Film Festival Nova Award in a Saturday-night tribute at the Celestial Cinema at the Wailea Gold and Emerald Golf course. “But I would never say one of the characters was me.”

The Sacramento, Calif., native had visited Maui once before, “but I don’t remember anything because it was so long ago. So this really feels like the first time. We went zip-lining yesterday, which was fun. My family is here with me, we’re reading books and being by the ocean and taking helicopter tours, and then I also get to watch movies – things I love!”

She called the Nova Award a special honor. “As an actor, you’re used to so much rejection in your life, so the past two years have been such a gift for me. To be here receiving this acknowledgment from the festival in this incredible environment and to share it with my family . . . it’s a wonderful moment where work and family collide.”

Chastain’s most recent Academy Award nomination was for her searing portrayal of a CIA analyst single-mindedly pursuing Osama bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty.” She was nominated as best actress in a leading role, one of the film’s many nominations, including best picture.

That nomination followed her supporting actress Oscar nomination a year earlier in “The Help,” playing a white Southern wife joining efforts by African-American maids and nannies bucking the bigotry of the ’60s in Jackson, Miss.

In the same year, she co-starred with Brad Pitt in Terrence Malick’s visionary tone poem, “The Tree of Life.”

The inscription on the Maui Film Festival’s Nova Award “honors a film artist for their astonishingly original and seamless performances, and the way they consistently infuse each character that they embody with insight, humanity and wisdom.”

Besides her repeat Oscar nominations, Chastain also had the distinction of starring in the top two movies at the box office earlier this year, when her “Mama” topped the charts, bumping “Zero Dark Thirty” to the second spot. Her filmography also includes “Lawless,” “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” “The Debt” and “Take Shelter.”

Other awards and nominations encompass the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics’ Choice Awards. She stars in “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” due for release this year and the drama “Miss Julie,” due in 2014.

Chastain’s two Oscar-nominated roles couldn’t be more different, but she avoided an analogy to a chameleon.

In “The Help,” her Celia Foote was soft and vulnerable in her innocence. “So much of Celia Foote is that heart energy. She is such a cuddle bug, and I’m a little bit of a cuddle bug.”

Her role in “Zero Dark Thirty,” in contrast, is tough-minded and laser-focused in her hunt for the world’s most wanted man.

“In a way the character is married to her job, and loves her job. I’m never that extreme, because I have my family and my friends that I make sure I stay in contact with. But her job consumes her and I can understand that, because I love this job so much.”

The Maui Film Festival concludes today, with a Celestial Cinema tribute to actress Brie Larson at 8 this evening. Larson stars in “Short Term 12,” written and directed by Maui-born-and-raised Destin Cretton, which screens at 6 p.m. at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater. Cretton will attend the screening and answer questions at its end. For more details on today’s festival schedule, visit www.mauifilmfestival.com.

* Rick Chatenever can be reached at rickchatenever@gmail.com.