Jessica Chastain and director Niki Caro dish on the animals in 'The Zookeeper's Wife'
Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain and acclaimed director Niki Caro stopped by AOL's BUILD Series for a discussion about their new film 'The Zookeeper's Wife'. The movie is based on a true story of the same name by Diane Ackerman, which tells the narrative of Antonina Zabinska (Chastain) and her heroic actions during World War II. She helped saved hundreds of Jews when the Germans invaded Poland by smuggling them into the Warsaw Zoo.
Said zoo was replicated for the film due to the modernization of Poland in the post WWII years. Caro and Chastain discussed the working environment and acting alongside the wild animals on set.
Caro shared some details into how the zoo was recreated for the film:
"My strong filmmaker instinct is to be authentic as possible and if we could have shot in Warsaw, we would have. But Warsaw was destroyed first by the Germans and then by the Russians. It's a very modern city now and we had to replicate Warsaw in the 30s which was known as the Paris of the North. It was very cosmopolitan. So the way we express that was to build our own zoo in the middle of Prague in Czech Republic and that's a unique thrill. It was a very big set. It had to be strongly constructed because we put real animals into it."
A notable point about the constructed version of Warsaw Zoo in the film is the fact that the animals didn't have to live in cages. They only had to be in cages for those short moments that was needed for their scenes then immediately after that they got to roam more freely.
You will witness numerous wildlife like lion cubs and elephants in this film which Chastain got the chance to bond and interact with.
"I think we can learn a lot from animals. She [Antonina] says in the film, 'You look in their eyes and see exactly what's in their hearts'. Animals are so authentic and they don't lie to you. They don't manipulate. They're these pure beautiful beings and I think we have a lot to learn from them as opposed to what the general consensus in society is like 'Oh we're so intelligent, and we're so superior!'. I don't think that's the case. I was really excited to work alongside animals", raved Chastain.
The animals seen in this film are treated humanely and with a lot of patience, and respect. There were no forceful tactics, and no cheap motives to get the animals to do tricks.
"Niki would create a space that they were free to be who they were. So if they were hungry, they ate. If they were sleepy, they slept. We didn't wake them up! The first scene, my character was suppose to feed them [lion cubs] but they didn't want to eat so Niki put them on the bed", shared Chastain.
Caro felt no urge to humanize the animals or make the human-animal relationship inorganic.
"I was able to just kick back and allow these two species to communicate in the way I believed Antonina did. She and Jessica share a very rare gift.", said Caro.
Chastain, the animal whisperer, if you will, was able to play with the animals with such poise as she explained during the interview:
"People say 'actors never work with animals and babies', but I'm the opposite, that's all I want to work with because they force you to show up without expectations which is kind of an amazing way to live anyway. Just to be open to what life has to offer you."
"You show up and you see how he or she feels like and then you kind of go along with it. And you try to as an actress make sense of the scene like [for example] in the scene of the elephant birth."
"The first take it's me with this puppet and Lily the elephant is behind me and she wasn't very interested in what I was doing with the puppet because it's not real (laughs). And then so I thought, how can I get her to play more? I spent a lot of time with her before we were ever in front of a camera, just to get to know each other and I knew she liked apples. So I gave her some apples and I was like 'Look!', and I started to hide them all around the set. So all of a sudden she became really interested in me, and I was covered in elephant mucus and her trunk is all over trying to find the hidden spots underneath the puppet of where the apples were. It's the magic of movie making!"
You can see Jessica Chastain in her heroic portrayal of Antonina Zabinska in 'The Zookeeper's Wife' in theaters starting Friday, March 31st!