Did Jessica Chastain’s role in ‘The Help’ pay off for ‘The Debt’?

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Is there a Jessica Chastain effect at play at the box office?

That’s what some industry executives deduced after ‘The Help’ and ‘The Debt’ -– both of which the actress stars in – were the top two choices among moviegoers at the multiplex this weekend.

‘So many people have seen Jessica’s performance in ‘The Help,’ that I think it helped us that she was a familiar face that some people were happy to see again,’ said Jack Foley, president of domestic distribution for Focus Features, which released ‘The Debt.’ ‘We put our trailer up on ‘The Help’ -- because we knew that for adult moviegoers going to the movie theater, it was going to be, ‘Now we’ve seen ‘The Help,’ what can we see this weekend?’'

Although both films may target an adult audience, they are certainly quite different tonally –- and Chastain plays polar opposites in each one. In ‘The Help,’ she’s a ditzy blonde whose lack of cooking skills and affinity for low-cut blouses make her a social outcast with the women of the Mississippi Junior League. Meanwhile, as a Mossad secret agent in ‘The Debt,’ her strong-willed character is tasked with capturing a Nazi war criminal.


Chastain, 30, was months ago deemed the ‘It’ girl of the season, for the sheer volume of pictures in which she appears this year. She played a part in the art-house hit ‘The Tree of Life’ released earlier in the year and is featured in three films due by the end of 2011: ‘Take Shelter,’ ‘Texas Killing Fields’ and ‘The Wettest County in the World.’ Two more of her movies, ‘Coriolanus’ and ‘Wilde Salome,’ are making the rounds on the festival circuit.


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‘The Debt’: Helen Mirren plus Jessica Chastain equals one Nazi hunter

-- Amy Kaufman