In 2012, not long after Jessica Chastain wrapped Zero Dark Thirty, a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller about the search for Osama Bin Laden that garnered the 44-year-old actress her second Academy Award nomination, she took a serious look at the Hollywood around her.
“I immediately saw there weren’t a lot of options for women, at least in terms of great characters that are different. Actresses were regulated to a single type,” says Chastain, talking via Zoom while on vacation with friends and family in Italy. Studying acting and repertory theater at Juilliard in New York had given her a wide breadth of choice roles, but, suddenly, she opened her eyes to see that the film world might be “a tad limiting in terms of what people were offering.”
It was around that time that Chastain stumbled on the 2000 documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Narrated by RuPaul, it’s about the life of the late Tammy Faye Messner, a Christian TV personality, singer and evangelist often parodied for her marriage to Jim Bakker (who was later imprisoned for fraud and conspiracy), not to mention her over-the-top style, which included heavy makeup and a perpetual tan. Messner died in 2007 of colon cancer.
“I knew about Tammy from what I’d seen on Saturday Night Live, but I actually had never seen her give an interview until I watched the documentary,” Chastain says. “My impression from sketch television was that she cried all the time, she was a crook and always had mascara running down her face.”
But Chastain found herself particularly moved by the film and Messner’s message that “everyone is deserving of love,” she explains. So she called her agent and manager and bought the narrative feature film rights to the documentary herself.
Go ahead. Call it one of Chastain’s “crazy ideas,” she says. “But I have these ideas that we have to push against an old-fashioned way the film industry has worked.”
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