Eyes of Tammy Faye, The: Jessica Chastain–Suffering for Art?

The actress spent more than seven hours putting on makeup and prosthetics, an experience that made her “panicky,” “afraid” and even gave her hot flashes.

 

Jessica Chastain’s major transformation into famed televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker for the biopic, The Eyes of Tammy Faye has done permanent damage to her skin.

Chastain, in a recent interview with the L.A. Times, revealed that the process for becoming Faye on the set involved an average of four hours in the makeup chair, with the longest being more than seven hours. “I think for sure I’ve done some permanent damage to my skin on this,” Chastain said.

The actress says she eats “very pure” and takes care of her skin, the makeup was “heavy” and stretched out her skin.

“When you’re wearing it all day every day — the weight of it on your body, it stretches your skin out,” Chastain said, “I finally took it off and I was like, ‘I look 50 years old!’”

Chastain said it was fine because “it’s for my art,” but the very first test she did with all the makeup on still “freaked” her out and made her question whether she would even be able to act while underneath it all.

“People think it’s easier, but it’s not. You have to reach through the makeup — you can’t let the makeup be the performance,” Chastain explained. “She was so emotional, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get emotional with all this stuff all over me. Am I going to be able to see people and feel free? I just had to get used to it. So much for me is I have to trick my mind.”

After that first test, she experienced a day where she was in the makeup chair for seven and half hours. After that, Chastain said she was both “panicky,” “afraid” and was experiencing hot flashes because what she was wearing was so heavy and hot. The actress said she had “no energy left” when she got to set that day, which became a slight issue for her as Faye was “supposed to show up with so much energy.”

“It was like going on a long-distance flight every day. Because if it takes seven-and-a-half hours to put on, it’s going to take at least two hours to get off. It was concerning to me. I was worried about my circulation,” she said. “That’s the most prosthetics I’ve worn. Even the bronzer and the foundation are so much darker, the lashes are thicker. The makeup gets heavier as she gets older.”

It took nearly a decade for the actress to bring her passion project to the screen, but even after immersing herself in the role — she visited the evangelist’s church once a week during production — she had to get past her own fear.

 

On the first day of production, right before cameras rolled on The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Chastain said a prayer.

She had spent nearly a decade trying to get the movie made, having bought the rights to the 2000 documentary of the same name from directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato after watching it in 2012 during a night of insomnia while on the Zero Dark Thirty press tour.

In the intervening years, she was nominated for two Oscars (for Zero Dark Thirty and 2011’s The Help), worked with Ridley Scott (2015’s The Martian) and Aaron Sorkin (2017’s Molly’s Game), and started her own production company, Freckle Films.

Still, despite the lead time, on that mid-November morning in North Carolina, Chastain had one last hurdle to get over–her own fear. “I’m going to fail so spectacularly,” she remembers thinking of the part. “This will follow me for the rest of my career.”

 

Film still of 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye'
The actress sees her role as Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Bakker) as a big challenge.  The televangelist became a tabloid regular once it was revealed that her husband, Jim Bakker, had used church donations for personal expenses, including hush money for Jessica Hahn, a former church secretary who accused him of rape.
She was willing to take the role because of her dedication to play a woman whose story she desperately wanted to recast after it was relegated to mean-spirited — and what Chastain saw as misogynistic — late night joke fodder. “The media has done an injustice that it could be interesting to correct,” says Chastain.
“People were more interested in how much mascara Tammy Faye Bakker was wearing than what she was actually saying.”
On Sept. 12 the movie premiered at the Toronto Film Fest to mixed reviews.
Chastain generated early buzz for the type of transformational role that can carry a campaign for the requisite six months.
Lazy loaded image
Jessica Chastain on the set of The Eyes of Tammy Faye. She admits that the first time she saw herself in prosthetics and Messner’s signature makeup, she had a “bit of a panic.” DANIEL MCFADDEN/SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES

Chastain reached for the hands of her Tammy Faye cast and crew, including director Michael Showalter and co-stars Andrew Garfield and Cherry Jones, to lead them in a blessing–because it was what Messner would do. Says Chastain, “I had to just shove myself off a cliff.”

It was only one month prior that the actress had been in London with her Freckle Films partner Kelly Carmichael, wrapping up production on a different project: Universal’s splashy all-female spy thriller The 355. “Jess would shoot all day, she would get home and have dialect lessons, then we would interview [heads of departments], then we would review prosthetic molds and drawings,” explains Carmichael of the hectic schedule that had her doing prep for Tammy Faye while filming 355.

Transforming into Messner involved perfecting her singular Minnesotan drawl and compiling wardrobe with enough lamé and sequins to make Liberace blush.

The first time Chastain saw herself in the prosthetics and Messner’s signature makeup, she admits to having a “bit of a panic.” Notes Carmichael, “This was a very crucial piece that had to work. I think the prosthetics and the look of the actors was the thing that kept us all awake at night.”

To further prepare for the role, Chastain read Messner’s and Bakker’s memoirs, watched every clip available on YouTube and procured unseen footage from Messner’s children, Tammy Sue and Jay (Messner died of cancer in 2007). Chastain had called both while the project was still in development to explain the premise: “[Tammy Sue] said, ‘No one’s ever reached out to us. So many people have profited off of our family, and no one’s even asked us what we thought about anything.’ ”

The research continued into production, with Chastain and Garfield attending church services at the Bakkers’ former Fort Mill headquarters (and amusement park), Heritage USA. “We were very shy. Like, ‘Are people going to recognize us? Are they going to throw us out?’ We didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Chastain, who adds that they were welcomed, openly. They continued to attend services once a week during production.

For Chastain, the most important scene was Messner’s 1985 interview with Christian AIDS patient Steve Pieters, notable for showcasing LGBTQ issues to her markedly conservative, Christian audience at PTL Network. Every day, to get into character and practice her accent, Chastain would rehearse the exchange. She notes that the movie’s re-creation is not a “carbon copy,” but one element was important for her to duplicate — a heart-shaped necklace like the one Messner wore in the original broadcast — because she saw it as an important outward manifestation of Messner’s message that “everyone is deserving of love.” And the day production filmed the interview scene, Tammy Sue happened to visit the set and was wearing her mother’s necklace. “They were on the monitor, and when I finished shooting I came to hug them, and I was like, ‘That’s the necklace!’ ” remembers the actress, who read the coincidence as a positive omen.

Chastain likens Messner’s story to Lorena Bobbitt’s and Tonya Harding’s, who have gotten their Hollywood recontextualization with Amazon’s Lorena and the Margot Robbie-fronted I, Tonya. With The Eyes of Tammy Faye readying for release, Chastain hopes that audiences revisit their own preconceptions. Either way, the actress no longer is plagued by the worry that “people will make fun of me.” Says Chastain: “Tammy Faye probably thought that and then she did it anyway.”