How 'Zero Dark Thirty' Producer Megan Ellison Snagged Jessica Chastain

The Hollywood Reporter
How 'Zero Dark Thirty' Producer Megan Ellison Snagged Jessica Chastain
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How 'Zero Dark Thirty' Producer Megan Ellison Snagged Jessica Chastain

Megan Ellison, the 27-year-old daughter of America’s third-richest person, is making waves in Hollywood as the producer of films such as Zero Dark Thirty and The Master.

A Vanity Fair profile by Vanessa Grigoriadis chronicles Ellison’s dogged pursuit of casting Jessica Chastain for the Osama Bin Laden pic, as well as her falling-out with Harvey Weinstein.

It also tells how Ellison, whose father is Oracle software co-founder Larry Ellison, likes to consort with her film's actors and share her on-set adventures via social media. During production of Zero Dark Thirty, she tweeted, “Nothing like a little sandstorm to bring production to a halt” and “We just had to abort our location due to an anti-Pakistan riot in India.”

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She developed friendships with Chastain, who recalled after a hard day of shooting they’d “order food, pig out, watch Game of Thrones together and relax.”

Chastain said during casting, Ellison texted her after the actress did not return a phone call: “If I ever ask you for anything in my life, it’s to call me back for five minutes.” Chastain called Ellison back, and was informed director Kathryn Bigelow wanted her for the project, but had been told by the actress’ agent she was unavailable.

“'I cannot accept that for an answer,’” Chastain recalled Ellison saying. “Megan was so determined and passionate. This girl then really went to town [negotiating the deal] to make sure I got on the picture.”

Ellison also became close with Zero Dark Thirty star Jason Clarke, who recalled taking motorcycle rides through Chandigarh, India, and a trip to the Taj Mahal with her. Some nights, the producer would knock on his door and say she couldn’t sleep, asking if it was the same for him.

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“We’d go up on the rooftop of the Marriott hotel for some gin-and-tonics, looking out over the city,” Clarke said.

According to Vanity Fair sources, Ellison has vowed to never again work with Harvey Weinstein, distributor on several of her films. The pair once had a good working relationship, but that deteriorated after after The Master failed to perform at the box office. Weinstein reportedly told Ellison it was doing poorly because director Paul Thomas Anderson and the film’s stars were not doing enough press, and essentially pinned the failure on her.

The source added that Weinstein had made her cry multiple times. When Weinstein later asked Ellison to tweak Killing Them Softly, she refused. The Brad Pitt starrer ended up stalling at the box office and earning a rarely seen F grade on CinemaScore.

In addition to Zero Dark Thirty and The Master, she has partially financed Lawless, and Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmasters. Her films currently in production include a new project from Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman as well as a film from Silver Linings playbook director David O. Russell. She and her brother, David, she recently bought the rights to the Terminator franchise.

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