TIFF 2023 'Memory': Jessica Chastain bought her costumes at Target for touching film

"I went to Target and bought a lot of my costumes. It was a really exciting and wonderful way of working," Chastain revealed in Toronto

Jessica Chastain at the
Jessica Chastain at the "Memory" screening at the 48th Annual Toronto International Film Festival held at the Royal Alexandra Theatre on September 12, 2023 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images)

Jessica Chastain, alongside co-star Peter Sarsgaard and filmmaker Michel Franco, brought many in the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) audience to tears at the North American premiere of the movie Memory on Tuesday.

The film received an interim agreement from the SAG-AFTRA union, which allowed the actors to promote the movie at the festival.

While Chastain has an impressive body of work, the masterful actor takes on the role of Sylvia with a tender, emotional and intriguing portrayal of the movie's lead character.

What is 'Memory' about?

Set in New York, Sylvia is a single mother to her teenage daughter Anna (Brooke Timber). Sylvia is 13 years sober, works at an adult daycare centre and is particularly concerned about security and safety for both herself and her daughter. Sylvia has multiple locks on her apartment door, in addition to an alarm system, and she watches her daughter from across the street during Anna's school recess.

At a high school reunion, while Sylvia's sitting at a table alone as her fellow ex-school mates are dancing, Saul (Sarsgaard) sits next to her, but says nothing. When Sylvia gets up to leave and take the subway home, Saul follows her and stays outside her apartment overnight.

The next morning, Sylvia realizes that Saul suffers from dementia and lives with his brother, played by Josh Charles. He followed Sylvia home after forgetting where he was.

While Saul doesn't remember Sylvia from high school, she believes he was among the boys who raped her in her youth. But confusingly, Sylvia's sister Olivia (Merritt Wever) believes she's mistaken because they left that school before Saul was a student there.

At this point Saul's brother asks Sylvia if she'd be interested in helping to take care of him, which leads to the pair spending significant time together and getting close. While Saul struggles with his memories, Sylvia faces a flurry of memories she tries to reconcile with, as Franco slowly reveals more about the character's past.

Memory only really works because Franco brings these two characters together in a way that feels compassionate and honest. But what really makes this story so engrossing is the chemistry between Chastain and Sarsgaard, to the point where even with the dicey circumstances under which these two come together, you feel invested in their journey.

Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain in Memory (Courtesy of TIFF)
Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain in Memory (Courtesy of TIFF)

Jessica Chastain's Target run for 'Memory' character's costumes

At a Q&A following Tuesday's screening at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, Chastain explained that her path to playing Sylvia began when she was asked to meet with Franco. She was happy to engage with the filmmaker, being familiar with his work.

"I read the script and what was so incredible, at first I thought I knew the direction it was going," Chastain said. "We had come out of Time's Up and #MeToo, and out of the pandemic, and I thought, 'OK I can see what's happening here. This is going to be some kind of revenge, Michel Franco, darkness situation.'"

"What I was so moved by was that it was absolutely devoid of any kind of cliché. So I knew immediately I wanted to do it."

That's when Franco and Chastain got on Zoom with the goal of figuring out if they could work together, with Franco stressing to Chastain that this filming process would be particularly unique.

"He said, 'You know I don't have trailers.' That's fine. And he goes, 'You know there's not really going to be anybody doing your hair most days.' No problem," Chastain revealed.

"I went to Target and bought a lot of my costumes. It was a really exciting and wonderful way of working."

Sarsgaard also told the audience in Toronto that Chastain actually recommended him for the role, but his initial conversation with Franco included a long walk in New York City, where the filmmaker stressed he wanted to get to know the city he was going to film in.

"I really felt like I was meeting someone that I could talk honestly to, because this is a guy who does not lie and that is the most important thing to me," Sarsgaard said.

Franco's initial idea for Memory started with the scene in the film where Sylvia and Saul meet at a school reunion, he follows her home and stays outside overnight.

"I didn't know the rest, I didn't know why, who they were," Franco explained. "I just had the, hopefully, cinematic imagery in my mind."

"I like broken characters. I like people who are usually invisible to have a spotlight. I always felt like an outsider myself."