A world weary of the pandemic devoured the sight of Oscar Isaac, brooding in a classic black tie on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival, hand in hand with his exquisite “Scenes From a Marriage “Jessica Chastain in a sparkling red dress. Slow-motion images of Isaac with sparkling eyes kissing the inside of Chastain’s bare arm went instantly viral.
The red carpet moment was a case where the reality was more Hollywood than HBO’s five-part limited series (premiere Sunday, 9 EDT / PDT), an emotionally raw story of a torn marriage entirely in a middle-class Boston home.
Playing husband and wife in “Scenes” involved the kind of intensity that tested the decades-long friendship between Chastain, 44, and Isaac, 42. Chastain struggled to separate her own feelings from the pain she brought in her dramatic performance.
“There is great love there. When you do something difficult to someone you love, it’s difficult,” said Chastain, speaking with Isaac about the festival, hours before hitting the mat. “I’m not going to lie. It got to a point where I was like, ‘I can’t see your face right now.'”
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The couple’s long friendship, which dates back to the drama school of the Juilliard School in Manhattan (Chastain graduated in 2003; Isaac in 2005) had intrigued “Scenes” director and co-writer Hagai Levi for its modern adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s revered Swedish miniseries from 1973.
Chastain, who has two children from his marriage to fashion director Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, and Isaac, who has two children with screenwriter Elvira Lind, had even played husband and wife together onscreen in the drama. 2014 police officer “A most violent year”. ”
“When I found out that they were actually friends, it was like a huge gift for everything because of the chemistry and the trust they had in each other,” says Levi.
At 18 in his native Israel, Levi says he was deeply affected while watching the original series, which starred Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson as Marianne and Johan, a married couple whose marriage is unraveling after that Johan revealed an affair.
The series, with its searing portrayal of a couple discussing divorce, is credited with leading to a significant increase in divorce rates in Sweden next year.
“It was shocking. I felt it was art, it prompted me to study filmmaking and go in that direction,” Levi said, adding that the series served as an inspiration to both for her HBO psychotherapy drama “In Treatment” and for Showtime’s extramarital affair. drama “The Affair”.
To research the relevance of the new series almost 50 years later, Levi’s “Scenes” reverses the gender roles. Mira de Chastain is a technical executive who announces that she is leaving Jonathan d’Oscar, a philosophy professor who works from home to take care of the couple’s daughter.
Turning amid the pandemic at a studio duo in upstate New York last November, the duo only had three weeks of intensive rehearsal for hours of long, intimate conversation scenes. Isaac and Chastain relied on their well-worn relationship.
“There isn’t a lot of energy in trying to get to know yourself, in trying to feel,” says Isaac. “So we could just dive in and be bold.”
“I just knew that if I stayed there and watched Oscar, the performance would just happen,” Chastain said. “I didn’t have to push anything.”
Isaac spoke at length with Levi about his college look: long hair, glasses and beard.
“Then we talked a lot about how the look changes. Are the beards and the glasses going away?” Isaac said. “We talked for a while about Jonathan going for Lasik (surgery) in Episode 4. But we ended up staying in the same area. It felt right to us.”
The new series follows many of the same rhythms as the original, including a heart-wrenching twist from the Bergman version in which Marianne helps her husband pack his suitcase to travel to meet her lover.
In the new series, it’s Jonathan who prepares the bag for Mira to meet her lover. The two-time Oscar nominated actress said the wrapping aid would never happen in real life.
“I am an exceptional packer,” says Chastain. “Nothing turns me on like an organized bag. Phew. It’s hot. An organized spice rack, a labeled bathroom. I’m all for it.”
But there were enough real feelings in the couple’s portrayal to evoke real, difficult emotions.
“I would like to be a better actor,” says Chastain. “But even the tiniest thing in the character, I take it and cultivate it within me. So yeah, that becomes everything and very personal to me.”
“What we use is ourselves and how we feel,” says Isaac. “Things are racing.”
But as the romantic and playful red carpet theater showed, the couple’s closeness underwent deep exploration and psychological strain.
“There has been no change in the friendship,” says Chastain. “We spent time together this summer; our kids played together. We’re a family.”