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While male ensembles are all too common in action films, it's much more rare to see a group of women partner up — especially when it comes to the spy genre.
Universal Pictures' The 355 seeks to change that, with Jessica Chastain (It: Chapter Two), Lupita Nyong’o (Marvel's Black Panther), Diane Kruger (In The Fade), Penelope Cruz (American Crime Story), and Fan Bingbing (X-Men: Days of Future Past) starring as female spies working separately around the globe, but all forced to team up to help save the world.
Today's NYCC panel saw most of the main cast, minus Cruz, come together to discuss the importance of a film like theirs for a young female audience, and the significance of the symbolic title.
"355 was the secret codename for the first female spy during the American Revolution," explained Chastain, who also produced the movie. "Her name still remains a mystery to this day. She was never even given a name or acknowledged for the incredible work that she did, so a lot of female agents use the code '355' as a badge of honor. I loved that idea of looking at women who have been doing the work behind the scenes, who haven't been acknowledged for the incredible sacrifices they've made, and honoring all those women with that moniker."
This isn't the first time the revolutionary spy has been honored this way, with Agent 355 from the Vertigo Comics' Y: The Last Man also being named for her, along with characters on the shows Turn: Washington Spies and White Collar.
A lot of inspiration for The 355 came from Chastain's previous body of work, most notably Zero Dark Thirty, where she played a female CIA operative. While speaking to the real-life agent that her character was based on, she learned of just how many women play a role in international espionage. Hence she wanted to put together a female ensemble that not only took their roles as spies but also featured women from various spy agencies. While her own character "Mace" is a CIA agent, Nyong'o plays a former MI-6 operative, and Kruger is a rival German agent. Not much as been revealed about Bingbing's role, beyond the fact that she manages to stay a step ahead of them every step of their mission.
"Combining such kickass women from different countries and backgrounds is what makes this movie very special," said Bingbing of the film's international ensemble. "I'm very honored to be part of this project. It's a great opportunity to learn from each other."
Chastain also wanted the film to serve as inspiration for young girls, in the hopes that it will be encouraging for them to see women succeed professionally.
"I wanted to imagine what would happen if a 13-year-old girl was watching it," said Chastain of what she hopes people will take away. "So making The Martian, I loved the idea that a girl sees that image of a woman being the commander of a mission to Mars. Or Interstellar. All these ideas of women in career opportunities and these extraordinary circumstances that really succeed. Because we all know when you see examples of it, you know that it's possible, and I wanted to show how important women are to society, and especially international espionage."
Kruger agreed, though she wanted people of all ages to take note. "I'm hoping the industry will take notice that [women] kick ass and that we can hold a movie in this genre."
At the end of the day, Chastain wants people to recognize that despite The 355 revolving around a group of women, it's not about gender specifically. Rather it's about showcasing characters "doing extraordinary things" who just happen to be female.
"My goal and dream for 355 that we just accept the fact that women are tough and awesome and badass," said Chastain. "My character at one point tells Lupita's character, 'You're the best in the world at what you do.' It has nothing to do with male or female. It just has to do with being the best. I'm excited for society to start acknowledging what's happening in our world and creating those spaces for everyone."
The 355 is currently scheduled to hit theaters Jan. 15.
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