Jessica Chastain Had Jimmy Fallon Play Female Characters. Here’s Why It Was Frustrating.

“I barely got to speak there.”

For Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain, the Time's Up movement goes beyond sexual harassment and assault. She's also calling "time's up" on the underrepresentation and underutilization of women in film and TV. And on the January 18 episode of The Tonight Show, she showed Jimmy Fallon just how demoralizing it can be to play female characters on screen.

"I'm really excited to be a part of the movement for better female representation because female roles have been so underwritten, especially compared to male roles," she told Jimmy.

Then Chastain enlisted the late-night host — with whom she previously exposed Hollywood's sexist auditioning process — to act out three example scripts, asking him to play the female characters while she took the male parts.

The first script was a rom-com "meet-cute" scene in which she talked over Jimmy as she, playing a male character, waxed poetic about their fateful encounter. "I barely got to speak there," Jimmy said after the scene.

Next up was an action scene where Chastain laid out a plan to take down the bad guys before telling Jimmy to wait in the car. "I didn't get to speak at all in that one," Jimmy said afterward. "Yeah," she replied, knowingly. "There you go."

And the third script was a sci-fi scene in which Jimmy's female character was the one who got to lay out a tactical plan. But unlike the male dialogue in the previous scene, this female dialogue was more expository than heroic. And Chastain's male character dismissed the plan out of hand, saying, "No, thanks."

Check out the scenes in the clip below:

These scenes were all humorous, but Chastain used them to make an important point: Female actors rarely get to talk, and when they do, they often don't get the memorable lines. Instead, they're stuck with dialogue that props up their male counterparts and dialogue that's more functional than fun.

With Chastain's focus on female representation, it's probably no coincidence that she's has so often played the hero of the story, from her Oscar-nominated role in Zero Dark Thirty to her latest turn in Molly's Game. (The "2016-present" section of her Wikipedia entry is even subtitled "Feminist lead roles.") As such, she's the one who gets the cool lines. "Whenever someone recognizes me, they always say, 'I'm the motherfucker who found this place, sir' [from Zero Dark Thirty]," she told The Hollywood Reporter last year. "It's good."

But this 40-year-old is the exception, not the rule. Thanks to her critical prestige, she has the power the demand these "feminist lead roles." Less-famous, less-recognized actresses aren't so lucky, which is probably why she wanted to shed light on the issue with this Tonight Show skit.

Plus, Chastain isn't just making these underrepresentation claims anecdotally — research backs her up. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, for example, uses machine learning to examine how often women are seen and heard on screen. In a 2016 study, the Institute found that male characters got twice the screen time of female characters in movies in 2015 and spoke twice as much.


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