While America knew Tammy Faye Bakker as an 80’s tabloid fixture and wife of disgraced televangelist Jim Baker, her evolution into talk show host, reality show contestant, and LGBTQ advocate is arguably her most inspiring chapter. While her entire story was documented in the brilliant 2012 documentary The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, her story is now being retold as a splashy Hollywood film starring two Hollywood titans. Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain is on board to play Bakker (Andrew Garfield is portraying her husband Jim, who ended up convicted on federal charges of mail and wire fraud in the late 80’s following an affair with Jessica Hahn that toppled the Bakker’s PTL empire).
For Chastain, she tells People that “I just was so blown away by her and her story,” going on to say “The thing I loved the most about Tammy is her capacity to love. She knew what it felt like to not feel important, and she didn’t want anyone to experience that.”
After a decade of research on Bakker, Chastain wanted to be sure to get her portrayal right. As it turns out, the stories Chastain had been fed about Bakker were not entirely accurate. She told People that “Even the thing about the mascara running down her face. There is not one picture of her with mascara running down her face in reality. But people were always making her into a clown…” Getting the portrayal right was a commitment for Chastain, spending four hours a day in the makeup chair, donning everything from makeup, prosthetics and wigs.
Chastain found herself most surprised after watching Bakker’s interview with Christian gay minister and AIDS patient Steve Pieters (largely credited with sparking Tammy Faye’s support and devotion to the LGBTQ community. “That’s really why I wanted to make the movie” Chastain stated. “Because in a time when people were even afraid to say AIDS, we had this female televangelist. And she was a minister too in her own right. She wasn’t just the preacher’s wife, the singer. The interview is phenomenal. It’s so beautiful and loving. And it’s such a huge turning point in terms of what people could associate God’s grace with, because I feel like she was filled with grace.”
One person who Chastain found sympathy for from this 1980’s real-life soap opera was Jessica Hahn, who Chastain said she was able to recognize as “being re-traumatized over and over, simply by people talking about the incident and about her.” A much-anticipated summit between Bakker and Hahn did take place via phone prior to Bakker’s death (the two women never met in person). According to Hahn, “Tammy said to her, ‘Oh, honey, if I was with you right now, I would just throw my arms around you,'” Chastain says. “I just want people to leave the theater feeling like she was there, and she did throw her arms around everyone.”
One overarching message in Tammy Faye Bakker’s life was simply love; and Chastain wanted to be sure that that was evident as a takeaway from the film. Chastain said she “found a video of her singing a song, and she turned to the camera and said, ‘God loves you just the way you are“. She goes on to say “Whatever God means to anyone. I’ve never been baptized. I didn’t grow up within a church, but I do believe in unconditional love. We are all part of this world, part of humanity and part of grace. No matter where you come from, you are perfect, and you are fully and unconditionally loved. And that’s what I hope people leave the theater knowing.”
‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ is scheduled to be released September 17th, 2021