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Jessica Chastain: It Was 'a Little Scary' to Wear Elizabeth Taylor's Necklace

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Joel Ryan/Invision/AP

Jessica Chastain was so nervous about wearing Elizabeth Taylor‘s sapphire-and-diamond necklace at the Cannes Film Festival’s Cleopatra screening, she didn’t even ask its value.

“I didn’t want to know how much it was worth,” Chastain told PEOPLE at a Bulgari-sponsored soirée, following the film’s 50th-anniversary screening. “It was so thrilling to wear it, but I was overwhelmed too. It was a little scary. I was the first person to wear it since Elizabeth. I felt as if I was able to spend the day with her today by wearing the necklace.”

That sense of familiarity likely extends from Chastain’s choice of reading material. She admitted to picking up Furious Love, a book about Taylor and Richard Burton’s tempestuous love affair, which began on the Cleopatra set and was marked by Burton’s many opulent Bulgari purchases for Taylor.

“I was captivated … [by] what an incredible love story they had,” Chastain said. “And I loved Richard’s famous quote about how ‘Bulgari’ was the only word Liz knew in Italian. I was just touched by everything about their love.”

PHOTOS: See all the stars’ stunning Cannes styles in one place — here!

Chastain first paired the necklace with a simple white Versace Collection dress on the red carpet. However, by the time of the rooftop after-party, where Adrien Brody and Clive Owen were mingling, Chastain had changed into a white Givenchy gown and Taylor’s Bulgari emerald brooch and ring. The original sapphire “sautoir” was back in a glass case, along with more jewels that the house had re-purchased at Taylor’s 2011 Christie’s auction.

A heavier-than-usual security detail stood guard among the jewels as they sat on display at the party. It was an extra precaution given the Chopard jewel heist at the start of the festival, plus several other Cannes-related robberies in recent days. Once Chastain knew the necklace was under lock and key, she was able to relax — and possibly angle for a role in a new film. “I hope a new generation of people in the industry see Cleopatra and are inspired to make an epic as exciting and dramatic,” she said.

Tell us: Did Chastain pull off the look?

–Dana Kennedy

PHOTOS: See the gems from the Elizabeth Taylor auction