Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard on Memory and Chemistry

“This is a very natural part for me. When your whole life is survival instinct, you can’t really lead with logical thought,” says memory Star Jessica Chastain. “It’s fight or flight energy all the time.”

Chastain, speaking during a virtual press conference with memory Writer/director Michel Franco and co-star Peter Sarsgaard play survivors looking for closure. Her character, Sylvia, is a recovering alcoholic and has hidden the roots of her addiction inside her memory bank. A high school reunion resurfaces old wounds when Saul (Sarsgaard) sits at her table. Without a word, Sylvia abruptly leaves the party. Saul, however, follows her home with a charming smile. Without a single word being spoken between the two, memory leaves an uneasy feeling that indicates Sylvia’s battle with the flight impulse.

For Franco, memory After his 2020 prizewinner continues his cinema of discomfort A new order. But as Sylvia and Saul confront the past, the film gradually reveals a surprisingly sweeter side of her life. “I wanted to make a film about broken people, about two characters who shouldn’t have an extra shot at love or anything in life,” says Franco. “Two people whom society tells to just shut up and retire from life.”

Telling an authentic story

Chastain says the appeal of playing Sylvia was the complexity and absence of clichés in telling the story of a recovering addict and sexual assault survivor. “I liked that Sylvia seemed like an authentic human being, someone who made very complicated decisions and wasn’t always responsible for how she lived her life,” Chastain observes. “Everything I did while I was shooting was her daughter’s idea and her connection. It helps keep him almost alive. Chastain says working with young actor Brooke Timbers, who plays Sylvia’s daughter Anna, provided a point of connection. Despite Sylvia’s troubles and her habit of distrusting everyone in her life (note the number of locks on her door), she strives to be a better parent than her mother (Jessica Harper).

Sarsgaard admits that the opening scenes where Saul drives Sylvia home were the most challenging. Playing a character with dementia, Sarsgaard explains that Saul could not reveal himself to the audience. “There is a story point that I need to work on as an actor. The audience thinks one thing about me that’s not true and you don’t want to act out of character just to satisfy the plot and the story,” notes Sarsgaard. “But I wanted the piece to be fun from the start.” While Saul seems like a complete creep from Sylvia’s point of view, Sarsgaard plays him as a mild romantic. “I wanted this to be a story about a man who has a condition and not a man who is his condition.”


Sylvia and Saul’s secrets explode in an exciting scene that builds memoryCenter of Sylvia takes Saul into the forest and places him on a log. In a feat of acting that defies the expected tête-à-tête, Sylvia confronts Saul, hoping to jog his memory. She tells him that he was one of the boys who sexually assaulted her during high school. Saul, however, responds with a blank stare. Legitimately seems to have no recollection of these events.

“I, as Sylvia, I’m sure as Jessica, were very excited to do that scene,” Chastain recalls. “I felt powerful, like, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment and I’m going to kill it.’ I had the energy of a cat playing with a mouse.”

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However, the absence of explosive drama makes the clash so effective. Sylvia wants a fight and Saul can’t give it to her. Franco heightens the tension for long stretches that hold the two actors on either side of the frame as Silvia tries to sway Saul.

“We didn’t over-rehearse anything with Michelle—she captured it all on camera the first time,” Chastain explains. “What Peter responded beautifully in that scene was that he was no match for my strength. Part of the chemistry is when two people hold different rhythms or different energies and they don’t match each other, so there’s tension in the difference. He was very quiet, sweet, confused. It was the opposite of Sylvia’s expectation. She wanted to fight. She was ready to take blood. Chastain says she felt the power shift between the characters. By the end of the scene, she has hot tears streaming down her face and recalls feeling defeated by Sylvia.

On trust and chemistry

“What’s wonderful about the way Mitchell works is that he doesn’t overshadow a scene,” Chastain adds. “He figures out where the camera should be and can move it from one to the other. He doesn’t really worry about continuity because we don’t match anything. Each scene is basically one take. When you have more than one actor in your frame, you can surprise each other.

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Sarsgaard, who won the best actor award for his performance at the Venice Film Festival, says he approached the scene romantically. For Saul, being led into the forest by a beautiful woman who admires him offers an opportunity for connection. But he is shocked by Sylvia’s aggressive response. “By the end of the scene I’m saying, ‘What do I know about myself?'” Sarsgaard reflects. “Maybe I’m not me. It might be because I didn’t match his anger. I’m at a place in my life (as Saul) where anything can be true, anything is possible.”

He echoes Chastain’s thoughts on his chemistry and says memory Often manifested in the way actors listen to each other and respond accordingly. “Chemistry is something that exists because we are both open to listening. It’s just this back and forth,” he says, signaling their synergy with his hands. “You can’t really make that up. If one is not compatible with it, it will not happen. “

Represents dementia and addiction

The actor adds that he drew on his experiences watching his uncle drift away with dementia to find Saul’s responses. “Dementia is just a condition. He’s standing in the way of getting what he wants,” says Sarsgaard. “A big part of his struggle was how people around him were reacting to the diagnosis.” Saul’s family is overprotective of him in the way that Sylvia overprotects Anna from the world. As the love story between Saul and Sylvia develops, it equally becomes a drama about their right to assert their own agency.

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Meanwhile, Chastain gives one of the best portrayals of a recovering addict on film. memory The film opens with Chastain attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as the reason for Sylvia’s recovery in reality. Real survivors share their stories as Sylvia empathetically listens. Chastain says she had no idea about Franco’s plans for the scene until she got to the location. “You don’t have to look like an actor in a scene when everyone else is projecting this rawness and this vulnerability and this humanity,” she observes.

“You don’t want to fake it, so how do you get really deep into yourself and make it as real as possible for you? That’s how the whole film was for me in every aspect, not just AA, but where Sylvia works. is there,” adds Chastain, whose character is a social worker. “It was a real house where the residents lived. I would serve them lunch and the camera would roll and capture moments of me talking and working there.”

A sobering portrait

Franco adds that everyone at the AA meeting agreed to be on camera and that he drew from the experience to create Sylvia’s story. “They survived, and I have a lot of respect for them,” says Franco. The director notes that it opens memory With the anniversary scene attending to similar milestones for others in their lives to recover.

“Of the broken people you see here and there every day, we never know what half of them are going through.”

memory Now playing in select theaters.




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