While she was making her new film Woman Walks Ahead, Jessica Chastain says, the nearby Dakota Access Pipeline protests prompted her and the crew to get involved.
In the film, Chastain, 40, plays Catherine Weldon, a portrait painter in 1890s Brooklyn who travels to the Dakotas to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull and becomes embroiled in the Lakota peoples’ struggle over the rights to their land.
“People there are very close to nature and there is this groundedness and centeredness I found when we were filming,” Chastain says of making the film.
The actress, who premiered the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, sat down with director Susanna White and her costar Michael Greyeyes, who plays Sitting Bull, at PEOPLE, Entertainment Weekly and InStyle‘s studio.
“There were spiritual themes to the movie and they affected us as we were making it,” says White. “There were a lot of Native Americans in the crew. There was something transformative about it.”
Chastain, who also earned buzz at the festival for the Aaron Sorkin-directed poker drama Molly’s Game, isn’t the only celebrity to get behind the protestors’ efforts to halt construction of the 1,172-mile oil conduit across the Missouri River. Celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Sarandon, Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley have also lent their support, but the pipeline became operational in June.
Says White: “The struggles that Sitting Bull and the Lakota people had fought 100 years prior were being relived in our time.”