As a child, Hollywood actress Jessica Chastain thought larger-than-life televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker was a silly woman with oversized eyelashes.
But now that she’s playing her in a new movie, she’s had a change of heart.
“I didn’t watch religious TV, but I knew it was stupid and easy to make fun of.
She was on the cover of tabloids so I thought she must be a terrible person,’ Chastain said of Bakker who, along with her cheating husband Jim, used to host a religious TV show from their Christian headquarters in Heritage, North Carolina, in the 1970s and 80s.
Hollywood actress Jessica Chastain stars as televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in new film
The star’s new film – titled The Eyes Of Tammy Faye – opens here on February 4
Pictured: Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker and Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker
Several years ago, however, she caught up with a documentary called The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which made her see Bakker in a new light. “I felt guilty for judging her so harshly,” she said.
Her new film – also called The Eyes Of Tammy Faye – opens here on February 4. The photo, in which she is also a producer, is her way of atoning.
When we met to discuss the photo, at a hotel in Soho, she offered me some Bakker.
‘Baz!’ she cried, grabbing my elbow. “Do you like my shoes, honey?
If I hadn’t already seen his bizarre, and ultimately moving, portrayal twice, I might have let him down.
In my head were memories of occasionally watching the real Tammy Faye and her husband on television when I lived in the United States in the early 1980s.
Everything about them was flamboyant and they were always spoofed on late night TV shows. And Chastain cut it down to a T.
I remember hearing from friends who had worked with Mrs. Bakker at the time, after she had left the church and after her husband had been imprisoned for his crimes.
She carried her heart out, they said; and was always enthusiastic about meeting new people.
“It was easy to make fun of her,” admitted the actress. “But she was genuinely sincere.”
Chastain spent the better part of seven years researching her subject: reading books, studying film footage and meeting those who knew her, including her two children.
Bakker with her fraud husband Jim, used to broadcast a religious television program from their Christian HQ in Heritage, North Carolina in the 1970s and 80s
Chastain spent the better part of seven years researching her subject: reading books, studying film footage and meeting those who knew her, including her two children. Pictured: Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker in 1982
Tammy’s son Jay was initially “a little nervous and slow to trust,” she said, but he was happy when he saw the finished film.
The actress said she liked that Tammy never “labelled anyone”, even though she herself was “an easy target in a cynical world”.
Which made his maxim – “We’re all just people, made of the same old dirt, and God made no junk” – all the more admirable.
“Her husband made mistakes – and Tammy was reviled for it,” she said. ‘But really, it was because of her looks. Women have been commodified in society. There’s so much about physical appearance and that’s how women were judged.
Once she started digging into Tammy Faye’s character, she discovered that the little girl’s high-pitched voice, flamboyant figure – and the rest of the stunning ensemble – could all have been a counterpoint to her mother. , who was drummed out of church because she was a divorced and remarried woman.
“She was ashamed, and Tammy is the physical embodiment of that shame,” Chastain said.
“People would look at her and say, ‘He’s the child of a broken family. It was like that.
“She knew what it was like to be unloved and intrusive. Her thought was to connect and reach strangers, as she believes in the good grace of God.
The thing is, they were Pentecostal. ‘The church doesn’t allow makeup, ding-dong!’ she said, checking that I was following.
Whatever thrilled Tammy, Chastain gets it on screen, gloriously. And the same goes for Andrew Garfield, as husband Jim: the “man of God” who can’t keep his hands to himself…and out of the crate.
Garfield is having a blast, as they say on American talk shows. He’s in it and he was also crowned for his role as songwriter Jonathan Larson (he wrote the musical Rent) in the Netflix movie tick, tick, BOOM!
And he’s in the Spider-Man hit No Way Home, starring Tom Holland and Tobey Maguire. “He’s a shapeshifter,” Chastain said admiringly of her co-star.
On Sundays, during filming, the couple attended Sunday service at the church built by the Bakkers.
They were hesitant to go “because people think, ‘Oh, this is Hollywood, liberal elites coming to church!’ However, the members of the congregation were “kind and welcoming”.
Chastain has worked steadily during the pandemic. She shot the mini-series Scenes From A Marriage, with Oscar Isaac; and is currently filming a six-part drama about Tammy Wynette and George Jones titled George And Tammy.
She also has three films in pre-production, ready to shoot back-to-back.
Her London theater debut in a new version of A Doll’s House, directed by Jamie Lloyd, was due to open in 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic.
Lloyd has worked more on the adaptation and they hope to reassemble towards the end of the year; although this is not yet confirmed.
Laurie Kynaston, who won an Evening Standard Award for Emerging Talent three years ago for The Son, at the Kiln, has done it again.
He’s electrifying as Melchior, a member of a group of passionate teenagers who must hide their desires from their prying, repressive elders.
The show is Spring Awakening: Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 19th century tale.
Laurie Kynaston (pictured) who won an Evening Standard Award for Emerging Talent three years ago for The Son, at the Kiln, has done it again
Director Rupert Goold and choreographer Lynne Page put a spring in the step of the show.
It’s certainly much livelier and more exciting at the Almeida Theater than previous versions I’ve seen on Broadway and in London.
There is an unconfirmed hope that he will be transferred to the West End. But there is a problem in finding a suitable theater.
Kit Esuruoso, Taylor Bradshaw and Thomas Grant were good in key roles when I saw the show on Tuesday. Cameras caught it the night before.
The show is Spring Awakening: Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 19th century tale