Jessica Chastain is cozying up to her wild side in the first official stills released from her upcoming drama The Zookeeper’s Wife.
The Oscar-nominated actress is featured — alongside a pair of lion cubs, two zebras, and costar Johan Heldenbergh — in a series of first look images from Niki Caro’s adaptation of Diane Ackerman’s 2007 nonfiction book of the same name.
Set in 1930s Europe amid the early stages of World War II, The Zookeeper’s Wife follows the real life story of Antonia Żabiński (Chastain) and her husband, Jan (Heldenbergh), who served as director of the Warsaw Zoo as the Germans invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.
The couple watched as their animal sanctuary was partially destroyed during the siege on the city, and, in subsequent years, became a part of the underground resistance as they sheltered Jews who fled from the nearby Warsaw ghetto.
As the war raged between 1939 and 1945, the couple convinced a former associate, Nazi zoologist Lutz Heck (Inglourious Basterds and Rush actor Daniel Brühl ), to keep the place open, and they ultimately continued operating the zoo as a pig farm. The Żabińskis regularly traveled to the ghetto, however, claiming they were there to collect food for the pigs, though they were really smuggling refugees into the animal enclosures via garbage cans.
Speaking to USA Today (which first premiered the new photos), Caro, filmmaker behind critically-lauded films such as Whale Rider, North Country, and the Cannes-debuting short Sure to Rise, said she approached the material with a different perspective on a subject typically covered in Hollywood, noting the film focuses on healing versus overt trauma.
“When you dive deep into the Warsaw ghetto, you can’t help but be extremely affected by that. All the more reason to make the work very expressive of a way forward and a coming together, caring for one another.” she said, also noting Chastain’s “tremendous delicacy” in tackling the role. “There wasn’t a creature on that set, human or animal, that she couldn’t mesmerize.”
Academy Award-nominated production designer Suzie Davies (Mr. Turner) worked on the film’s sets, while Blue Valentine cinematographer Andrij Parekh shot the film. The screenplay was written by Angela Workman, who previously penned the script for the 2011 Chinese-American historical drama Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
According to Chastain’s Twitter account, a trailer for The Zookeeper’s Wife will be released on Thursday. The film is set for a theatrical debut, via Focus Features, on March 31, 2017.