Spy thriller The 355 fronted by global A-list actresses
LOS ANGELES – The 355 – a globetrotting, all-female spy thriller – has a star-studded international cast led by Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Fan Bingbing and Penelope Cruz.
Opening in Singapore cinemas on Jan 13, it begins with a top-secret weapon falling into the wrong hands and an American intelligence agent ( Chastain) on a mission to retrieve it.
She teams up with two agents – the German one is played by Kruger and the British counterpart is taken on by Nyong’o – as well as a Colombian psychologist (Cruz).
And another secret agent (Fan) watches the crew’s every move as they race through Paris, London, Morocco, Berlin and Shanghai.
Chastain produced the movie through her production company, Freckle Films, which she created to promote diversity in cinema. And the American actress made this film to fill a gap in the male-dominated spy-thriller market as well as inspire young girls.
The idea came to Chastain in 2017 when she was attending the Cannes Film Festival as a juror and noticed posters all over the French town advertising action flicks with international ensembles.
Speaking at a virtual panel for The 355, the 44-year-old says she then had a conversation with her agent about how those ensembles were all male.
“I had never really seen a female action ensemble that took itself seriously, that didn’t make it silly that girls were actually good at the job,” says the star, who appeared in the science-fiction blockbuster Interstellar (2014) and the period drama The Help (2011), which earned her an Oscar nomination.
When she played an intelligence analyst in 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, a thriller based on the hunt for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, Chastain had learnt “how many women are in espionage and how often they’re utilised”.
“It kind of started from there. And then I came up with a wish list of the best actresses working today and we took off,” she says.
She also wanted to make something that would be aspirational for young women.
“A lot of the time with the stuff I act in, I try to imagine what would happen if a 13-year-old girl was watching it and seeing these ideas of women in careers and extraordinary circumstances who really succeed.
“Because when you see examples of it, you know that it’s possible,” she says. “And I wanted to show how important women are to society and how important they are in international espionage.”
Portraying skilled female spies was challenging for the cast both mentally and physically, they say.
Nyong’o, 38, plays a mathematics and computer whizz who used to work for MI6, the British intelligence agency.
“She’s extremely smart and I was attracted to that, and the potential for it to influence and inspire young girls,” says the Kenyan-Mexican star, who won an Oscar for the drama 12 Years A Slave (2013).
It was rewarding playing such a brilliant woman, but also tough to keep up with the character intellectually, she says. “I wasn’t very good at computer science – I was probably an E student – and she’s definitely a lot smarter than I am.”
Kruger, 45, plays an agent “who is very bold, determined to do a good job, driven and smart”.
The German actress, who appeared in the war drama Inglourious Basterds (2009), says: “She’s very athletic, which was part of the fun for me. I’d never done action scenes or been this bada**.”
Kruger and Chastain had several action and fight scenes together that involved a foot chase through London and some punishing hand-to-hand combat.
“I remember Diane kicking my a**,” Chastain recalls with a laugh. “And being exhausted, tired and sore. We trained for weeks before we shot it. But Diane is an admirable foe and it was one of my favourite scenes.”
Kruger enjoyed both the fights and the overall atmosphere on set. “It was really fun to work with Jessica and all the girls. It was a set of great camaraderie and female empowerment, and all the good things.”