Jessica Chastain, as Tammy Faye Bakker, will give Pennywise a run for his makeup
LOS ANGELES—After appearing with a certain heavily made-up character in “It Chapter Two,” Jessica Chastain will play one herself. The actress will portray Tammy Faye Bakker, the late colorful televangelist known for her exaggerated makeup in a biopic.
“I bought the rights to a documentary called ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ that RuPaul narrated,” Jessica said in our recent interview, looking fresh in a purple Ferragamo dress. “I saw it right after ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ came out. I was like, ‘Why has no one played Tammy Faye? She’s such a good character.’
“So, I got the rights for $5,000. I have been wishing the film into existence, and now we are going to make it. Michael Showalter is directing.”
Jessica said that Andrew Garfield would play Tammy Faye’s husband, Jim Bakker. The couple founded a worldwide TV ministry, cohosted “The PTL Club” and built a theme park before it all crumbled amid scandals involving sex, drugs and finances.
“It’s going to be wonderful,” gushed Jessica about the opportunity to play the televangelist who sang Christian songs, often with tears, while Jim did most of the preaching. “I already did the prerecords. I recorded seven very religious songs with Dave Cobb, who produced the album. He worked on ‘A Star is Born.’”
The Golden Globe best actress winner for “Zero Dark Thirty” and Oscar nominee said she was more than ready to portray Tammy Faye, who became a gay icon because of her compassion for the LGBT community.
“Oh yeah!” Jessica enthused about her chance to wear outrageous outfits. “And a lot of wigs. Tammy Faye had the tattoo makeup on her face.”
Tammy Faye filed for divorce from Jim in 1992 when he was in prison for fraud and conspiracy. In 1993, she married Roe Messner, who was also imprisoned later for bankruptcy fraud. She died in 2007 after years of battling cancer.
Before shooting “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Jessica is filming “355,” a female-led spy film that she is producing. “It’s a film about espionage and the women working in it,” she said of the movie being directed by Simon Kinberg.
“What I did in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ was I started to do a lot of research and realized how important women are in espionage because they’re on the front line. They’re often underestimated. They’re good at sneaking in and discovering secrets.
“So, I had this idea and called up Penelope Cruz and Lupita Nyong’o. And now, we also have Fan Bingbing, Diane Kruger, Edgar Ramirez and Sebastian Stan. The different thing about this film is that the creatives own the film. It’s like a coop in some sense.
“We raised the money in Cannes and we all have percentages of the film, so it’s good. It might be nice to see, if it’s successful, how it can influence the industry, especially for women who in the past may have been deemed not of value because of their age. I was excited to have a film with women where you get to see how powerful and incredible they are.”
She added, “We’re only halfway through. I was shooting on Friday and ran in my costume to the car. I changed my clothes in the car on my way to the airport to arrive here.”
We were in Heritage Park Museum, a surprise of a place tucked in a quiet Los Angeles neighborhood that showcases eight Victorian-era homes. The small-town atmosphere evoked Derry, the fictional setting of some of Stephen King’s horror novels, including “It.”
Seated inside one of the houses, Jessica talked about playing the adult counterpart of Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis plays the younger Beverly).
On Bill Skarsgard, who plays Pennywise, the malevolent clown, Jessica said, “He’s a very gentle person. But I will say that my very first impression of him was at the table read. He was sitting to my right. I get shy at a table read because there’s like a hundred people in one room. I had this fear that everyone is judging and trying to figure out what to do with the character.
“Then, in one of the very first scenes, Bill was reading Pennywise. We were all playing it low, then he just, without warning, stalked in my face and went, ‘Boo!’ Like how he makes that noise? I just went (screams).
“Everyone laughed in the room. I’m sure all the Warner Brothers executives were like, yes, we got it (laughs). Bill was good fun.”
Not only Sophia but Andy Muschietti also wanted Jessica to play the adult Beverly in “It Chapter Two.” “I heard about it before they even made the first one,” Jessica recounted. “Andy sent me a picture of Sophia and of me, that were like side by side. He went, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’
“Not even knowing that he was winking here and there. Then, when he finished the first movie, before I even saw it, he’s like, ‘I really want you to play Beverly in the second one.’ That was before we really even knew if there was going to be a second one.
“I was always going to say yes, but I’m nervous when it’s your friend, because when friends ask you to do things, you want to work with them, you love to collaborate together and help them achieve their artistic vision. But there’s also a lot of pressure when you show up to see the first film. I showed up and Barbara (Muschietti, Andy’s sister and collaborator) sat to my left and handed me a glass of wine. She’s like my sister.
“And Andy is to my right. It was the first time I saw the film, and I was sitting between the two of them. I felt a little nervous like, what if I didn’t like it? And within three minutes, I was like, oh my gosh, I love this film. It was everything that Andy envisioned and yeah, I was so happy that he wanted me to be a part of it.”
On her relationship to old houses, Jessica answered, “I love old things. I live in an apartment that was built in 1880 and it was the first one to have electricity. After I bought the apartment, the Post or some article was like, ‘Jessica Chastain Buys Haunted House (laughs).’ I did not even know that. When there is history, whether it be with a house or clothing, you feel the energy of what was with that article before.
“And a house is something that contains so many memories, so many joys and sadness, that you can’t help but feel them when you go there. I remember after I did ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife,’ I went to the zoo in Warsaw and immediately got very emotional, because you feel the energy of a place and what it has to offer you.”
Jessica’s introduction to the horror genre happened in her early teens. She shared, “I saw ‘The Exorcist’ when I was 14. My mom was a cool mom and she thought I could handle it more than I could. But a reason why I like horror films now is that I saw ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Jaws’ far too young. I am still afraid to go to the ocean.
“Both films really rely on imagination a lot of the time. Especially for a child who had a very active imagination (laughs), it really rocked my world for a little bit.”
Jessica and her husband, Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, an Italian count whom she married in 2017, have a daughter born in 2018 through surrogacy. As the producer of “355,” she’s keeping a kid-friendly set.
“One thing we’re doing in ‘355’ that’s amazing [is that] we have on the set a children’s trailer,” she shared. “We have high chairs and cribs, games for older kids and babies so any of the actors can bring their kids to set.
“And it’s not that expensive. Everyone’s very happy to do it. That’s one thing that I’m excited to hopefully try to use any kind of influence I can in our industry because in the past, the industry has looked down on women for being pregnant or for being moms, thinking that it wasn’t possible to achieve both. I actually think people do better work when they have their kids around.”
The busy actress is also scheduled to play another Tammy, the late country star Tammy Wynette, in “George and Tammy,” about the singer and her equally famous late husband, George Jones.
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