VOD Spotlight: Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain team to collect on “The Debt”

In the dramatic thriller The Debt, Oscar winner Helen Mirren plays Rachel Singer, a former Mossad agent who discovers that a notorious Nazi war criminal she had helped hunt down and kill 30 years earlier may still be alive. Needing to know the truth, she returns to Eastern Europe to relive her past.

The film features flashbacks to the original 1966 mission, with costar Jessica Chastain (who’s had a breakout year in 2011, also starring in Coriolanus, The Tree of Life, The Help and Take Shelter) playing Rachel in these scenes. While the producers wanted to find the best actress — not necessarily a lookalike for Mirren — to play the younger Rachel, Chastain was an ideal fit for both her ability and her uncanny resemblance to Mirren.

“She is magnetic to watch … and emotionally, she is absolutely clear,” says director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) of Chastain. “Helen has exactly that same quality. You can see the tiniest change of mood flutter across her face. That kind of transparency is rare, and it’s a gift. The baton of Rachel passes effortlessly from one actress to the other.”

To make the resemblance even stronger, the two actresses met, compared notes on their character, read scenes together and made sure their mannerisms and gestures matched. They also had to take into account Rachel’s youth when she was on the mission, highlighting her inexperience as the youngest agent on the mission.

Both actresses had their action moments, and both trained in krav manga, the self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, though Mirren, with her character having been years out of active service, is realistically out of practice. Chastain trained for four months and, with the skill she acquired, does all her own stunts in the film.

“The Debt” is available starting Dec. 6 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.

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© 2011 Universal Studios

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