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TIFF 2021: Jessica Chastain brought to tears bringing her Oscar-worthy 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye' to Toronto

·4-min read

As the credits rolled and the lights came up, the audience at the Princess of Wales Theatre erupted and were brought to their feet, causing tears of joy to stream from Hollywood star Jessica Chastain’s eyes at the premiere of her film The Eyes of Tammy Faye, part of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

It’s no surprise Chastain got so emotional seeing this film with an audience for the first time, not only taking on the lead role in this spectacular, captivating movie, but also producing the film.

(Original Caption) Gatlinburg, Tenn.: Jim Bakker, founder of the PTL television ministry and his wife Tammy Faye stand in front of a replica of the Constitution after signing a scroll to commemorate the bicentennial of the signing of the constitution.
Gatlinburg, Tenn.: Jim Bakker, founder of the PTL television ministry and his wife Tammy Faye stand in front of a replica of the Constitution after signing a scroll to commemorate the bicentennial of the signing of the constitution. (Getty Images)

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is based on the 2000 documentary of the same name, chronicling the life of Tammy Faye Bakker Massner, the vivacious televangelist who, along with her then-husband Jim Bakker, built a multimillion dollar empire, including a theme park dubbed the "Christian version of Disneyland," the development of the PTL Satellite Network and television program “The PTL Club” in the 1970s and 1980s.

But their luxurious lives were brought to grinding halt following sex scandals and fraud, resulting in their divorce, and a prison sentence for Jim. Hot on the news cycle, the quirky personalities of the couple, paired with their criminal and legal issues, became regular “Saturday Night Live” jokes.

Dana Carvey, right, plays the Church Lady in a sketch with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker- played by Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks. (Photo by �� Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Dana Carvey, right, plays the Church Lady in a sketch with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker- played by Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks. (Photo by Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Chastain’s transformation is nothing short of incredible in this film, you begin to forget where Chastain ends and Tammy Faye begins, particularly under the intricate hair, makeup and signature Tammy Faye accent. 

During the screening in Toronto, Chastain revealed that her physical transformation helped to elevate her performance because she knew the makeup couldn't "walk into the room" before she did.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Courtesy of TIFF)
Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" (Courtesy of TIFF)

'I feel they saved lives with that interview'

With Andrew Garfield perfectly cast as Jim Bakker, alongside Chastain, this pairing transports you right into the lives of the the legendary televangelists.

But for Chastain, she did have a goal to humanize Tammy Faye. In the actor/producer's mind, after seeing the documentary about Tammy Faye's life while on a press tour for Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain was completely taken by her “compassion” and “love,” and believes Tammy Faye faced a “large injustice.”

While the financial fraud was very real, when she was on television Tammy Faye, with her extravagant outfits and sparkling personality (and sparkly makeup), was a public supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, a position largely not taken by Evangelical Christians.

Through the movie, which starts when Tammy Faye was just a young girl, moving to when she met Jim and all through the creation of their empire, The Eyes of Tammy Faye also expertly recreates key moments from PTL television and other TV interviews with the pair.

One that stands out is an interview Tammy Faye did with Christian minister Steve Pieters in 1985, who spoke to Tammy Faye about coming out, his AIDS diagnosis and how his family responded.

At the TIFF screening, Chastain revealed that the interview “blew her away.”

“It’s so profoundly beautiful and loving,” she said. “I feel they saved lives with that interview.”

TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) President of Production at Searchlight Pictures Matthew Greenfield, Michael Showalter, Jessica Chastain, Rachel Shane, Abe Sylvia, President of Production at Searchlight Pictures David Greenbaum attend
TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) President of Production at Searchlight Pictures Matthew Greenfield, Michael Showalter, Jessica Chastain, Rachel Shane, Abe Sylvia, President of Production at Searchlight Pictures David Greenbaum attend "The Eyes Of Tammy Faye" Premiere during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival at Princess of Wales Theatre on September 12, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

"I grew up as a young, gay boy in the Bible Belt and was fascinated with this sparkly woman in the tabloids," screenplay writer Abe Sylvia shared on Saturday evening. "There's a bravery to those people that I think gave me freedom to do what I wanted to do in my life."

The Eyes of Tammy Faye director Michael Showalter (White Hot American Summer, The Big Sick), revealed he loved the story of Tammy Faye and, in particular, wanted to work with Chastain.

"It’s this crazy world," Showalter said. "I just loved the theatrical possibilities."

"I loved that idea of kind of looking deeper...like Tammy is sort of an underdog."

While Chastain has been nominated for Academy Awards for her work in The Help and Zero Dark Thirty, all eyes will be on the actor in the upcoming award season because her role as Tammy Faye is definitely a worthy of her first Oscar.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs until Sept. 18 with both in-person and digital screenings of films. The Eyes of Tammy Faye will be released in theatres on Friday, Sep. 17.

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