Jessica Chastain didn’t break into Hollywood until her mid-30s. Woman Walks Ahead and Molly’s Game continue her unprecedented effort to make up for lost time. 

By Yang-Yi Goh

We’ve only had Jessica Chastain with us, in earnest, for six years. That seems impossible. She’s such a force on-screen—elegiac and tender in one moment, blisteringly sharp the next—that it feels like we’ve been watching her forever, as if she were a cherished child star who blossomed into one of our finest leading ladies.

But Chastain wasn’t. Somehow, it took until 2011 for her to break into Hollywood, after well over a decade of theatre work, TV guest spots, and starring roles in forgotten indies. The moment she finally hit, though, she made it count. That year, the California native starred in no less than six movies, receiving critical adulation for her turns in Take Shelter and The Tree of Life, along with an Academy Award nomination for The Help. Chastain used that momentum to spark a Serena Williams-esque blaze of greatness. There was Kathryn Bigelow’s controversial Zero Dark Thirty in 2012, which earned her a second Oscar nod, and the underrated The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby in 2013. She worked with Christopher Nolan on Interstellar in 2014, and then followed that with Ridley Scott (The Martian) and Guillermo Del Toro (Crimson Peak) the very next year.

Talk about making up for lost time.

In 2017, Chastain has already headlined one potential Oscar contender—World War II-set The Zookeeper’s Wife—but that isn’t nearly enough to keep the 40-year-old satisfied. She’s set to add two more buzzed-about projects to her ever-lengthening IMDb page: the historical drama Woman Walks Ahead, and Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin’s much-anticipated directorial debut. Both films find Chastain at her stirring, magnetic best. In the former, she plays Caroline Weldon, the 19th-century artist and activist who became a close confidante to Sitting Bull; in the latter, she’s Molly Bloom, an Olympic-level skier whose exclusive high-stakes poker game made her the target of a federal investigation. Two resilient, forthright women who forged singular paths to success? It’s little wonder the casting directors knew exactly who to call.

So, yes, Jessica Chastain has only been with us for a measly six years. But she’s all the way here now—fully and completely arrived—and she’s already given us more than some actors deliver in a lifetime. And if Woman Walks Ahead and Molly’s Game are any indication, her best is still very much yet to come. Bring it on.