Jessica Chastain's challenge in 'Zero Dark Thirty'

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Building the story in "Zero Dark Thirty" around a single woman was not only, as screenwriter Mark Boal said, rooted in the research (there really is a "Maya"). It's also dramatically sound: Maya provides the audience entree into a world that she's only just learning about herself. The fact that she's a delicate-looking albeit fanatical female tracking down a misogynistic lunatic provides a certain irony. That she's being played by Chastain -- who laughs out loud when it's suggested that Maya is a bit of a nut herself -- is added value.

Currently on Broadway in "The Heiress," the actress said what she learned about the real-life Maya -- whom she never met -- led to her rather solemn portrayal of a person with little else in her life.

"She really thought she had a calling," Chastain said. "When her friends are killed, she says, 'I believe I was saved to finish the job.' I think when someone really has that drive, it's easier to become a servant to the work."

She said she understands the compulsion, if not Maya's lack of any life but bin Laden. "That's what everyone, people she knew, kept saying about her, 'She's a computer, she had very strange social skills, no friends.' "

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Asperger's?

"Maybe a little bit, yeah," Chastain said with a nod. "And, as you see in the film, people realize that it's easier to give her what she wants than to tell her no."

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