Jessica Chastain: ‘Doing full nudity’ was less exposing than playing Tammy Faye Bakker

“I wanted to acknowledge her for the incredible things she did,” says Jessica Chastain while discussing her critically acclaimed portrayal of Tammy Faye Bakker in Searchlight Pictures’ “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. In some sense it’s easier doing full nudity. There was something so exposing about this.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” chronicles the rise, fall and redemption of the controversial televangelist as well as her rocky marriage to Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield). The film directed by Michael Showalter has earned Chastain a Critics Choice Film Awards nomination for Best Actress. The Oscar-nominated star of “The Help” (2011) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012) is also this year’s recipient of the Desert Palm Achievement Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

While on a press tour for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Chastain was resting in her hotel room when she came across Bakker’s documentary for the first time. “Why hasn’t anyone made this movie?'” she explains. “I remember being a kid, when she was on the cover of tabloids, and just knowing her as being this ridiculous figure and people making fun of her for her makeup and her voice. The documentary showed the incredible things she did. So I just wanted to tell the story. I wanted to celebrate her.”

Chastain co-produced the film and admits her initial instinct was to limit the storyline to Bakker’s life after scandal had destroyed the televangelist’s media empire. “I wanted to just explore her after the fall,” she explains. “That was my initial impulse. But working with a team of people, and collaborators, it just shifts. Also once Andrew Garfield came on it was clear that we’ve got to show him because he’s a great actor. We actually created more scenes between Jim and Tammy when Andrew came on because it was an exciting prospect. So in the seven years from when the rights were bought to getting to set, it was in constant development. As a producer, that’s exciting.”

The physical transformation Chastain underwent to become Bakker helped the actress get into character, but she admits the process is “complicated.” “I find that sometimes, with actresses, it’s not as welcome as it is with actors,” she reveals. “So much, with actresses, currency is the way we look. So to change that, especially drastically, can be a shocking thing. There’s so many times I’ve come onto a set and a studio is like, ‘Can we just keep your hair red?’ There’s been a lot of conversations about the fear of me looking different than the audience is used to seeing me.”

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