The 355 assembles a top-notch international cast of female stars for a globetrotting espionage thriller.
Inspired by female producers like Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman, Jessica Chastain set up her own production house, Freckle Films, six years ago to make the sort of films that she wanted to see on the screen.
Having produced – and starred in – 2020 action flick Ava and last year’s critically acclaimed The Eyes of Tammy Faye, The 355 is her most ambitious film so far.
Assembling a group of fellow female A-listers to co-star with her in this fast-paced spy thriller, Chastain would be judged not only by the audience but also by her peers.
The genesis of The 355 began at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017 when Chastain was serving on the jury. Posters all over town advertising upcoming action movies anchored by international male stars prompted her to wonder why, when there are so many respected actresses on the international stage, no one had thought to bring them together in a single film.
Turning to writer-director-producer Simon Kinberg (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Deadpool), whom she had previously worked with on The Martian, she found a like mind, quickly recruiting Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o and Fan Bingbing to join them in a sort of cooperative where everyone would share ownership over the film.
“It was important for me to make a film where we had actresses not just for hire but to have ownership over their work – and that decisions wouldn’t be made by the people in some office in LA. They would actually be made by the creatives on set,” explains Chastain.
The film’s unusual title is an homage to an enigmatic female spy known only by her code-name, 355. Her identity has been described as the last remaining mystery of the American Revolutionary War, given how this real-life woman played such a pivotal role in George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, helping to convey vital information about British troop movements to American generals.
Centuries later, her groundbreaking accomplishments are not forgotten; women working in intelligence today sometimes referring to one another as 355. Indeed, it proved to be the perfect title for a thriller that assembles a top-flight cadre of international actresses to portray intelligence and espionage specialists.
Set in exotic locales including Paris, Shanghai, Marrakesh, London and Berlin, the story spotlights the disparate talents of its eclectic mix of female characters, each a gifted specialist in some facet of spycraft, be it combat and field ops, cutting-edge tech, marksmanship or psychology. As a collective, they are smart, savvy, and when necessary, lethal.
Chastain plays wild card CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown, forced to join rival badass German agent Marie (Diane Kruger), teaming with former MI6 ally and computer specialist Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’O) and Colombian psychologist Graciela (Penelope Cruz) on a breakneck mission to retrieve a top-secret weapon that has fallen into mercenary hands – all the while staying one step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing), who is tracking their every move.
Only an actor confident in his own masculinity would be game to tackle these elite women warriors – namely the Winter Soldier himself, Sebastian Stan.
“I had a great experience working with Jessica on The Martian,” says Stan. “We stayed friends, and when she asked if I would consider playing the part of Nick in The 355, I was so taken with that offer that I immediately said yes. And when I saw everyone else involved, it was a no-brainer. The film’s script was great: fun, entertaining, unpredictable, original and had great action, character development and plot twists.”
On set, Chastain and Kruger enjoyed duking it out as their rivalry turns to friendship, going from fighting one another to taking down targets together.
“Jessica’s one of her generation’s best actresses,” says Kruger. “She brings such thoughtfulness to every role she’s ever portrayed, and Mace is no different. She has brought an amazing amount of depth and sensitivity into her character. She’s tough as nails yet soft and vulnerable.”