When's the last time an actor was in the leading role of the top two box office hits? And was starring in a play on Broadway? Now, can you think of a woman doing so—and not just any woman, but a Juilliard-trained 35-year-old whose resume is padded with more arthouse fare than box-office smashes? You guys, I think Jessica Chastain might just be the next big thing. Period.
Not only is she gunning for an Oscar for her portrayal as the obsessive CIA agent hot on Osama Bin Laden's trail in Zero Dark Thirty. She also plays the hilariously goth punk-band member in the ludicrous horror film Mama, which beat Zero Dark Thirty for the top spot on the U.S. box office this weekend. Sure, Mama is the kind of terrible movie that is only released in January (I called it "Jessica Chastain's Gothika" when I caught an early screening last month), and Zero Dark Thirty is surprisingly a box-office hit (using bin Laden as the ultimate film antagonist and its journalistic treatment of torture as just existing allows the film to appeal to both sides of the political spectrum), but what other woman has been able to take the lead of not one but two hit films? (Remember when everyone was shocked—shocked!—that Bridesmaids, with a female-heavy cast, managed to make any money at all, despite the fact that Baby Mama, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, also took the number one box office slot the year previous?)
Meanwhile, Chastain is in the coveted role of Catherine Sloper in a revival of The Heiress on Broadway. Chastain has tough competition for a Tony award this year, but her only competition for an Oscar is Jennifer Lawrence. Will the Academy reward Lawrence for a comedic performance over Chastain's dramatic one? It seems unlikely. But even if Chastain loses, she certainly has more weight to her future career as a respected actress who also has the benefit, thanks to her leading roles in two popular movies, as becoming a household name. There are few female actors working today who have that advantage, who may be able to transfer seamlessly between weighty roles on screen and stage as well as parts in fluffy popcorn flicks.
Basically, what I'm saying is: watch out for this one, because it's quite possible that she'll take over one day.
Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.