Jessica Chastain campaigned to get Johan Heldenbergh cast in new film

Jessica Chastain believes animals have the power to heal people.

Jessica Chastain searched the Internet for footage of Belgian actor Johan Heldenbergh speaking English so he’d be hired for The Zookeeper’s Wife.

Jessica plays real life war hero Antonina Zabinski in the film, which tells the story of Polish couple Antonina and her husband Jan (Johan), who heroically saved the lives of 300 Jewish people during the Nazi occupation of World War II.

Jessica suggested Johan for the lead role and director Niki Caro quickly agreed, but studio executives got cold feet when they realised the actor had never appeared in an English language film.

“So I went on YouTube. And I’m an obsessive person,” she told W magazine, adding she kept searching until she found a video of him giving a toast in English in a Los Angeles bar.

“And I’m like, ‘He can speak English. Here you go.’?”

As the movie’s name suggests, Antonina and Jan ran a zoo in their native Poland. The film is based on Antonina’s unpublished diaries, and how the couple managed to smuggle Jews to safety during one of the darkest periods in modern history.

“You look into their eyes and you can see what’s in their heart,” animal lover Jessica said of our fury friends.

“Animals helped (Antonina) to heal. I think Antonina could connect better to animals than she could to people. And I believe animals can teach you how to handle people. I never go into their space unless they are ready to receive me.”

The Zookeeper’s Wife also stars Daniel Brühl and hits cinemas from March (17).

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