Throughout the 1980s, televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker made headlines and became tabloid fodder for their elaborate religious empire and the eventual scandals that overtook their massive ministry. Jim Bakker was accused of swindling his supporters and convicted of fraud and sexual misconduct. Tammy Faye, meanwhile, became a nationwide sensation thanks to her homespun country personality but gaudy appearance, which was lampooned often on the covers of The National Enquirer and like-minded supermarket rags.
But in the South, particularly in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Bakkers were locals whose story captivated their neighbors and friends. So when Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain were given the opportunity to film their upcoming movie The Eyes of Tammy Faye in Charlotte -- the Bakker’s one-time “backyard,” so to speak -- they jumped at the chance. In our exclusive interview recorded during the Toronto International Film Festival, the two stars tell CinemaBlend why the location shoot mattered so much, and how it helped their preparation.
Directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick), The Eyes of Tammy Faye traces the path of Jim (Garfield) and Tammy Faye (Chastain) from their early calling to preach Jesus’ word through their meteoric rise in the industry of television preachers such as Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) and Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio). It hints at the reasons that the Bakkers became swept up in their quest for financial successes, but skims the surface of the true motivations behind their devastating fall from grace.
The acting duo were able to draw inspiration, it seems, from the people surrounding them as they filmed. Setting up shop in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker founded the PTL Satellite Network for televangelism, and the sprawling headquarters of Heritage USA, Chastain revealed how the local color and flavor helped her to understand Tammy Faye better. She told CinemaBlend:
It was very, very important being there, on all aspects. Every Sunday morning, I would pick up Andrew with our Starbucks and we would go to Heritage USA. It’s run by, I think, Morningside Church now. But a lot of the people that were there with Jim and Tammy are there now. And that’s how we’d start our week. Also, it was constant with people on the crew (who) knew her, you’d go into a store and someone would say, ‘I worked as a waitress and I knew Tammy, and she was always the nicest.’ Every conversation, people knew Tammy, and there was not one negative thing that they said about her. They loved her.
That compassion bleeds over into Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of Tammy Faye Bakker, which is far more humane than one might have expected, given the tabloid nature of the former Christian sensation’s reputation. The Eyes of Tammy Faye tries to get to the heart of who this woman was behind the scandals, and it’s Chastain’s fearless performance, inspired by the down-home roots of North Carolina, that helped her pull off that task.