Inside Jessica Chastain's 7-Hour Transformation for 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye' (Exclusive)

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"I am, like, swinging for the fences here," Jessica Chastain says of her performance in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, in which she embodies the infamous and eponymous televangelist. "Because Tammy Faye is such a larger-than-life personality. The pitch of her voice, the accent, the way she sings, the way she preaches, the clothes she wears, the way she did her makeup, the way she loved, everything is so large."

In bringing her story to the big screen, Chastain is tasked with portraying Tammy Faye Bakker (née LaValley) over multiple decades in her life, including her rise to holy stardom in the '70s and her eventual fall from grace in the late '80s. A longtime passion project for the two-time Oscar nominee and producer, it was important that she fully transform in the role, inside and out.

"When we tested the '90s look, it took seven and a half hours," Chastain tells ET's Lauren Zima, "which was super difficult. For the most part, it was like two and half hours of prosthetics, plus makeup and hair, plus costumes before I got on set."

The physical transformation included facial prosthetics, dozens of wigs, and some of the very same cosmetics that Bakker wore. The directive was clear: The look had to be accurately larger than life, but never a caricature. Still, when Chastain saw herself in the mirror, "I was like, 'This is a lot! It's a lot!'"

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Searchlight Pictures
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Jessica Chastain and director Michael Showalter on set of 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye.' (Searchlight Pictures)

Andrew Garfield, who co-stars as husband Jim Bakker, remembers Chastain's process beginning long before she stepped into the makeup trailer. "We started by doing dialect sessions together and talking in character. Very, very specific accent work that we did with our wonderful dialect coach," he recalls. (Tammy Faye was born in Minnesota, thus the distinct accent.) "And then we started sending pictures of the prosthetic tests to each other, getting each other's opinion and trying to inspire each other."

"I know there was one day where I was like, 'Oh yeah, there she is. That's Tammy there,'" Garfield says. "Her and her team spent the whole day really zeroing in on one of her iconic looks for a screen test, and it was like these artists at work combined with Jessica's artistry, this is going be really special."

That dedication continued throughout the course of filming, as Chastain and Garfield attended church together every Sunday. "I would pick him up with Starbucks and we would drive to Heritage USA, when Tammy and Jim had their ministry," Chastain says. On set, as her prosthetics were applied and makeup shellacked on, she listened to hours upon hours of recordings to let Tammy Faye's voice seep into her psyche. And then it was lights, camera and director Michael Showalter calling action and, if Chastain gets her wish, who audiences will see is Tammy Faye Bakker.

"I'm a perfectionist," she says. "I mean, listen, I grew up watching her being made fun of [on late-night shows], and I guess the proximity of that made me think, 'OK, I could end up a late-night joke. Here we go!' What inspired me to go forward is Tammy did. She was like, 'People might laugh at me but i'm going to give them love.' I wanted to be inspired to do that."

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is in theaters on Sept. 17.


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