Casting began in early 2020. After Isaac met with Levi, he wrote to Chastain to tell her about the project. She wasn’t available. The producers cast Michelle Williams. But the pandemic reshuffled everyone’s schedules. When production was ready to resume, Williams was no longer free. Chastain was. “That was for me the most amazing miracle,” Levi said.
Isaac and Chastain met in the early 2000s at Juilliard. He was in his first year; she, in her third. He first saw her in a scene from a classical tragedy, slapping men in the face as Helen of Troy. He was friendly with her then-boyfriend, and they soon became friends themselves, bonding through the shared trauma of an acting curriculum designed to break its students down and then build them back up again. Isaac remembered her as “a real force of nature and solid, completely solid, with an incredible amount of integrity,” he said.
In the next window, Chastain blushed. “He was super talented,” she said. “But talented in a way that wasn’t expected, that’s challenging and pushing against constructs and ideas.” She introduced him to her manager, and they celebrated each other’s early successes and went to each other’s premieres. (A few of those photos are used in “Scenes From a Marriage” as set dressing.)
In 2013, Chastain was cast in J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year,” opposite Javier Bardem. When Bardem dropped out, Chastain campaigned for Isaac to have the role. Weeks before shooting, they began to meet, fleshing out the back story of their characters — a husband and wife trying to corner the heating oil market in 1981 New York — the details of the marriage, business, life.
It was their first time working together, and each felt a bond that went deeper than a parallel education and approach. “Something connects us that’s stronger than any ideas of character or story or any of that,” Isaac said. “There’s something else that’s more about like, a shared existence.”
Chandor noticed how they would support each other on set, and challenge each other, too, giving each other the freedom to take the characters’ relationship to dark and dangerous places. “They have this innate trust with each other,” Chandor said.