‘The Eyes Of Tammy Faye’s Jessica Chastain On Her Transformation Into Televangelist And Capturing “The Uniqueness Of Her”

In a short period since blasting out of a cannon on the big screen in Terence Malick’s Oscar nominated and Palme d’Or-winning The Tree of Life in 2011, Jessica Chastain has quickly built a resume of playing strong willed women. Alas, some are Greek tragic heroes, who reach for the stars, only to fall short; Tammy Faye Bakker being one of them. She, along with her husband Jim Bakker, built PTL into a massive multi-million dollar earning evangelical television network, a solid amount he siphoned for personal use, ultimately serving close to five years in jail. Tammy Faye Bakker meant a lot of things to a lot of people: a soulful Christian singer, a sensitive preacher who reached across the aisle to recognize the plight of LGBT during the AIDS epidemic, as well as material for late-night talk show hosts in her ambitious fashion and make-up sense. Chastain yearned to get under her skin and tells us how she prepared for the role in the Searchlight movie and produced it.

DEADLINE: When did you get the desire to play Tammy Faye Bakker? Was it after seeing the documentary?

JESSICA CHASTAIN: It was definitely after the documentary, and I saw that around the time of Zero Dark Thirty press. I was jet-lagged somewhere, and I thought, wow. First of all, I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been made before as a film. She’s such an incredible character, but I think it was also that I was disappointed with how the media had told her story. And that Steve Pieters interview for me was such a radical act of love.

She really went against what the conservative evangelicals were saying at that time, and in some sense, the fear and the homophobia that was really prevalent in society across the board. I mean, the U.S. government wasn’t even talking about AIDS. So, what she did was so rebellious, such a radical act of love, and I wanted to celebrate that, and also, I think as an actress, I don’t think there’s a scarier part to play, because really, you know, your ass is on the line. The voice, the pitch is different, the accent is different. The singing, which is so embarrassing for me. I learned her songs and learned how to sing, you know. And then, also, this wonderful, ridiculous, camp quality that she loved and embraced. I mean, there’s so much in there that is just terrifying, but really, there’s a lot to tackle with this role.