It was the hardest role of my career, says actor Jessica Chastain

Actor Jessica Chastain, following her first Oscar win, talks about the challenges of bringing to life an iconic televangelist
 

Published: 03rd April 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd April 2022 08:30 PM   |  A+A-

A still from The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Did you have any idea that this moment, of winning an Oscars, would come?
It’s a shock just because of all the amazing actresses in the category. I really didn’t think this would happen but it has.

Where are you going to keep your Oscar?
I have no idea. This is the first time I have even held an Oscar. I’m friends with Eddie Redmayne and I’ve been to his house in London. Everyone was like, ‘Oh look, it’s Oscar!’ And they all picked it up but I was like, ‘I can’t pick it up.’ I felt superstitious. This is the very first time I have even held it, so I have not thought about where it’s going to go but I will respect it wherever it is.

Jessica Chastain

What does winning mean to you?
It’s very meaningful to me. It was 10 years ago that I got the rights to tell this story. To be here 10 years later with a film that I, kind of, willed into existence, is incredibly meaningful. It’s also incredibly special to be part of a film that means something to me in that it rights an injustice. This is a beautiful moment. It means so much to me in terms of my profession, but also my life and what I’m putting out into the world.

You are the fifth actor from The Help to win an Oscar. Is that film some kind of lucky charm?
I think that’s actually a testament to Tate Taylor (director) and his incredible skills at casting. He fought for me to be in The Help because I definitely was not the obvious choice for the part of Celia Foote. I didn’t look like her. I didn’t sound like her but he really fought for me for that role. It really goes on to show his respect and admiration for actresses and I think you can see that in the careers the women have had since his film. I thank Tate Taylor for that.

How did you first discover the story of Tammy Faye Bakker?
I was on the press tour for Zero Dark Thirty, I was jet-lagged somewhere and a documentary about her was on television. I was just completely blown away by this woman who was so filled with compassion and love and I was shocked that I didn’t really know anything about her, except for the drama and what the media sensationalise. The Steve Pieters interview in the documentary just blew me away. It was so profoundly beautiful and loving. I just knew then that I had to be a part of telling her true story.

Why was it important for you to tell Tammy Faye’s story?
I just felt like a great injustice was done to her and I really loved what she stood for. The idea that she could take cruelty and transform it into love was incredible.

How did you go about the physical transformation to play Tammy Faye?
There were prosthetics and I just went a little bit Minnesota because, obviously, Tammy was born in Minnesota. I think the longest I was in prosthetics was seven hours! But it felt like the most incredible transformation by the most glorious hair and makeup team and the costume department.

What kind of research did you do before shooting?
I did so much research. I watched so much. It’s funny because when most people think of Tammy Faye, they think about the makeup and the mascara running down her face. But I could not find one image of mascara running down her face. I realised that it was all a myth. So I tried looking beneath the mask of who she really was, separate from the public opinion of hers.

Was it hard to break out of the character? 
Yeah, I still find myself being her every once in a while. I’ll be doing something and I just suddenly start talking like her. There are two characters that have been like that—Celia Foote and Tammy Faye Bakker. I think it is because with both of them, I just love the way their voice is. It was so much fun to talk like them, so those voices come back quite easily.

Would you say this was one of the most challenging roles of your career?
It is the most challenging role of my career, for sure. It relied on a lot of skills I learned in college in terms of accent work but also voice placement. I was preaching and there were so many aspects of this character that were very technical. At the same time, I had to fill her emotionally because she was a woman who was so open, so loving and so vulnerable. So yeah, it was the hardest. 

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