Jessica Chastain’s theatrical range knows no bounds—she’s played a fiercely protective wife and mother as Anna Morales in A Most Violent Year; the “epitome of grace,” as she puts it, in The Tree of Life; and most recently, she embodied the infamous televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. For W’s annual Best Performances issue, Chastain reflects on almost 10 years of learning about Tammy and her approach to faith—while discovering some religion of her own along the way.
How did The Eyes of Tammy Faye come into your life?
I was on the press tour for Zero Dark Thirty, and I was jet-lagged in a hotel room somewhere. The documentary on Tammy Faye came on television, and I was blown away by her and the true story of who she was. I called my manager and my agent, and I said, “How do I figure out how to make a movie?” I got the rights in 2012, and we were on set shooting seven years later.
How did you bridge that gap between using information in the documentary and re-creating Tammy’s life in your own film?
I just wanted to tell her story so bad. And in fact, the documentary filmmakers were so sweet. They told me recently that on our first meeting, right before they gave me the rights to the story, they were like, “I don’t think Jessica could do this.” They’d been so supportive and given me hundreds of hours of unused footage from the doc. They absolutely took a leap of faith by allowing me to tell her story.