Jessica Chastain on Tammy Faye Bakker
TAMMY FAYE MESSNER (FORMERLY BAKKER) AND OSCAR-NOMINATED actress Jessica Chastain aren’t usually thought of in the same breath. “I’m so obsessed with her. I studied her for 10 years.” That work culminated in The Eyes of Tammy Faye (in theaters September 17), which Chastain also produced. “Every day I was like, I may get laughed at,” but eventually she realized that’s exactly how Tammy Faye felt. “She thought, they’re gonna make fun of me. I’m gonna do it anyway.” To get through some of the scenes, particularly the live singing, Chastain turned to liquid courage. “My assistant had a bag filled with whiskey. I was so embarrassed to sing in front of people, but that’s what got me through it.” For Chastain, the ultimate takeaway she hopes people get from the film is how inclusive Tammy Faye was. “At a time when the government wouldn’t even say AIDS and communities were dying, here’s this woman in this world run by white men. She’s saying Christians are supposed to love everyone and yet, we’re so afraid of an AIDS patient? She was really out there and radical and cool and actually speaking what faith is supposed to be.”
Tammy Faye is seen as so overthe-top. How did you find the right balance?
I love that she lived larger-than-life in every aspect in terms of her clothing, her voice and how silly she was. But also I don’t want it to ever look like I’m making fun of her. Certain things I literally took straight from her mouth. Like when she says, “I’m not a drug addict.” And then she goes, “Well, I am addicted to Diet Coke.” It’s genius.
What do you hope people take from the film?
It would make me super happy if people realized they are worthy of love and compassion. A lot of people feel the sense of not being worthy, and Tammy really reached out and said, “You are deserving of grace and no one is to be discarded.”
Why was it important to show how inclusive Tammy Faye was, particular to queer people at the height of the AIDS epidemic?
There’s something about Tammy Faye that says what is different about you is what is special about you. She had the fearlessness of a drag queen, and I wish I had that.
Considering the level of glam and hair and makeup, you’re basically prepared to be a drag queen. Are you ready for Rupaul’s Drag Race?
If I was drinking whiskey on the first day [of filming], can you imagine what my purse would look like if I showed up on Drag Race? —H. Alan Scott
“What is different about you is what is special about you.”
Visit Newsweek.com for the full interview