Jessica Chastain revealed that The 355 came out of seeing little to no action films featuring women ensembles. After learning about the women involved in international espionage while working on Zero Dark Thirty, the producer and star said she knew a story about women spies was worth telling.
During the New York Comic Con Saturday panel, Chastain joined The 355 co-stars Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing to talk the impact they hope The 355 will have on audiences and the movie industry.
“My goals and dreams for The 355 is that we just accept the fact that women are awesome and tough and bada**,” Chastain said. “I’m excited for society to start acknowledging what’s happening in our world.”
The 355, directed by Simon Kinberg, kicks off when a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands. Wild card CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown (Chastain) will need to join forces with rival badass German agent Marie (Kruger), former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah (Nyong’o) and skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela (Cruz) on a lethal, breakneck mission to retrieve it, while also staying one-step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Fan) who is tracking their every move.
While the ideation of The 355 stemmed from her time working on Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain said the actual inspiration for the film’s title itself goes back to the 1860’s. She explained that the series of numbers was actually code for the first woman spy in the American Civil War, a woman who has since gone unnamed and under-appreciated. Given the significance of the numbers, Chastain said she and her co-stars think of the film’s title like a “badge of honor.”
The film, which sees the women face off against each other and eventually their common foes, required amounts of rehearsals and hours of combat training, Kruger said. While training for fight scenes is nothing uncommon for action films, especially those heavily featuring male ensembles, the stars also shared that they had to train to fight in heels and more feminine clothing than men.
Kruger said that working with a cast and crew on a film that centers women made she and her cast mates feel valued. She added that the women were even allowed to bring their children on set, which made production feel like a family. Fan, who said Chastain asked her to join the project shortly after serving on the Cannes jury, said that The 355 was an opportunity to learn from her fellow actresses.
When making a film, Chastain said she often thinks about how 13 year-old girls will feel. Citing The Martian and Interstellar, she said she’s proud to know that young girls can see women represented in impressive career paths and thrive in extraordinary circumstances.
“We all know that when you see examples of it that it’s possible, I wanted to show how important women are in society, especially in the international espionage field,” she said.
Theresa Rebeck and Kinberg wrote the script. The film is produced by Chastain and Kelly Carmichael for Chastain’s Freckle Films and by Kinberg for his Genre Films. Richard Hewitt exec produces. Huayi Brothers has Chinese distribution rights.
The Universal spy film is set to release domestically on Jan. 15.
Watch the full panel above.