Jessica Chastain still can’t believe it. The actress just arrived home after spending the past 10 days in the studio with Grammy- and Academy Award-winning producer T Bone Burnett in Nashville, Tennessee, recording music for the upcoming series George & Tammy starring Chastain and Michael Shannon as country legends (and roller-coaster couple) Tammy Wynette and George Jones.
“I’m not a singer,” Chastain attests on a video call from her place in New York, clearly still processing the experience as her blue eyes dart back and forth under her signature red locks, looking far less fearless than the characters she typically portrays. “I’m an actor who can tell the story through a song.” She pauses for a beat. “I hope.”
Among the 31 songs Chastain recorded with Burnett, who famously crafted the music for O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Walk the Line, was Wynette’s iconic “Stand By Your Man.” Chastain cites taking on the anthemic and oft debated ballad as one of the biggest challenges of her career. “Mike Shannon and I were talking about it, and I told him it’s worse than full-frontal nudity,” she says with a snicker. “It could not be more uncomfortable.”
Chastain has fully embraced uncomfortability — including, yes, full-frontal nudity — over the past year while portraying emotionally bereft tech executive Mira Phillips in HBO’s Scenes from a Marriage and bubbly televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Both performances heaped more critical acclaim on the two-time Oscar nominee, who will be honored with the Desert Palm Achievement Award at this month’s Palm Springs International Film Festival for her humanizing portrayal of campy PTL co-founder and LGBTQ+ icon Tammy Faye.
Despite crooning tunes like “The Sun Will Shine Again” and “Jesus Keeps Takin’ Me Higher & Higher” on screen in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last September, Chastain says the process hasn’t been much easier for her in George & Tammy because these Tammys are so — as Tammy Faye might put in her chirpy Minnesotan accent — gosh darn different.
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