‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’: Jessica Chastain Believed Playing Tammy Faye Was a Huge Opportunity for Her to Fail

Jessica Chastain has played diverse roles in her more than a decade-long career in films. She played a 60s socialite who forms an unlikely friendship with her Black maid in the movie The Help. In Zero Dark Thirty, she transitioned into a CIA analyst working to find Osama bin Laden and in The Martian, she played the role of a spacecraft commander.

While the Interstellar actor has played versatile characters, her recent role as Tammy Faye, in the movie The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Chastain believes has been challenging for one major reason: she is playing a real and a popular person. 

Jessica Chastain, in a full, black jumpsuit, at the LAte Show with Stephen Colbert in New York City in 2021.
Jessica Chastain | Robert Kamau/GC Images

Tammy Faye, along with her husband Jim Bakker, was a famous religious preacher with a TV show called The PTL Club. Known for her peculiar makeup that included heavy eyelashes and a high-pitched voice, Faye became the subject of many tabloid jokes. 

Her career was marred with controversies that her husband was involved in. But her personal life never deterred her from her cause. She was popularly known for her acceptance of the gay community at the height of the AIDS epidemic. 

She died of colon cancer in 2007.

Chastain extensively researched Faye’s life to prepare for the film

Chastain spent 10 years developing The Eyes of Tammy Faye from a documentary of the same name. To understand Faye as a person, Chastain left no stone unturned. From hitting the books on Faye to speaking to her children and people who knew her — she did it all. 

She also took the time to rewatch her clips to get her voice and actions correctly. The Sloane actor also went through a challenging makeup transformation for her role. Yet, Chastain found Faye’s popularity a challenge while playing her. 

“I have played real characters before, but she’s someone who is really easy to Google,” Chastain told Entertainment Weekly.

Faye’s videos, pictures, clips from her tv show are all available to any individual with an internet connection. And so are Chastain’s. This opened up Chastain’s acting to a detailed comparison with the real person she was portraying.

“For me, it was much harder because everyone knows who I am and this is a huge opportunity — they know my mannerisms, they know my voice — this is a huge opportunity for me to fail,” Chastain said. 

Moreover, emulating Faye’s peculiar characteristics, which had, so far, made her pop culture laughing stock, could have garnered similar reactions from the audience.

“People could have said, ‘Jessica just made a fool out of herself. She’s singing,’” Chastain said. “Everything about this character took me so far out of my comfort zone. It was a big leap, embarrassment was a possibility for sure.”

The results, however, make Chastain proud

While the movie opened to praises from critics at the Toronto International Film Festival, what truly made Chastain happy were the reactions from a few special people.

Steve Pieters, a minister who Faye famously interviewed in 1985, and Faye’s son Jay Bakker were in attendance at the movie’s premiere in New York City.

“These are the people who knew her and they have positive things to say, so that makes me happy,” Chastain said.

She also noted that the movie tried to shine a light on the previously unknown side of Faye’s journey that departs from her mistreatment in the media. 

“It’s really important to me what I put out into the world,” Chastain said. “I believe this a positive thing that’s righting a wrong of a sexist culture that she[Faye] was vilified in. It really makes me proud of the work for sure.”

The Eyes of Tammy Faye releases on Sep. 17.

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