"I think the eyes are so important. I believe the eyes are the soul, I truly do."
So said Tammy Faye Bakker in a 2000 documentary about the infamous televangelist's rise to fame, scandal-plagued fall and cheery insistence on rising again. Her gaze always dramatically framed by trademark false lashes, that heavily made-up face served as solace to some and a punchline for others, but she never stopped banking on her flamboyant persona.
Jessica Chastain caught the movie on TV one night almost a decade ago and was captivated. She secured the rights to the documentary in hopes of one day redeeming the much more complicated real person at the center of the story, realizing that she too only knew Tammy Faye (who by 2000 was Tammy Faye Mesner, her marriage to Jim Bakker having imploded along with their ministry) through a prism of scandal and all that mockery.
And she always intended to play the woman herself.
Holy moly, did Chastain's perseverance paid off. The fruit of that journey, also called The Eyes of Tammy Faye, earned her the trophy for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role at the 2022 SAG Awards, making her the front-runner for the Best Actress Oscar.
And yes, it involved a lot of time in hair and makeup.
"The longest was actually seven-and-a-half hours," Chastain recalled to the Los Angeles Times about physically transforming into Tammy Faye each day with the help of a top-notch team, headed up by Linda Dowds, also Oscar-nominated for the film along with Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh. "And I got to set and I was so panicky. I started to have hot flashes because it's so heavy and hot. I was afraid. It was like going on a long-distance flight every day."
Understandably, after the equivalent of an average working day had passed and only then did the call of "action" ring out, the fair-skinned star ended up rather exhausted.
"By the time I got on set that first day that was seven-and-a-half hours, I was like, 'I have no energy left,'" Chastain recalled. Meanwhile Tammy Faye's "supposed to show up with so much energy. That was the '90s look—the very end. That's the most prosthetics I've worn. Even the bronzer and the foundation are so much darker, the lashes are thicker. The makeup gets heavier as she gets older."
And Chastain knew she ran the risk of the character running a distant second.
"You have to reach through the makeup—you can't let the makeup be the performance," explained the actress, who's also a producer on the film. "She was so emotional, and I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get emotional with all this stuff all over me. Am I going to be able to see people and feel free? I just had to get used to it. So much for me is I have to trick my mind."
Not that Chastain was the only one rendered almost unrecognizable by the magic of the movies. To properly bring Jim and Tammy Faye's world to life, as it ranged from muted and modest to over-the-top glam and gaudy, the whole cast was in for some serious face time in the makeup chair.
Here's a guide to the actors and the very real characters they play:
This story was originally published on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 at 9 a.m. PT.