People has debuted the first images from The Eyes of Tammy Faye, the upcoming biopic about televangelists Tammy Faye Bakker Messner and her husband, Jim Bakker. The “Praise the Lord Club” co-founders were active in the 1970s and ’80s, and Messner was noted for her compassion toward the LGBTQ community. Ultimately, Jim’s infidelities caused their pious empire to tumble.
In the film, Messner is played by Jessica Chastain, while Andrew Garfield portrays Jim. Chastain told the magazine she was “blown away” by Tammy and her story, and the female televangelist’s “capacity to love.”
Since Messner was known for her extreme eye makeup and hair, Chastain also spent four hours in the makeup chair every day, getting a makeover with wigs and prosthetics.
“Every moment, I had something on my face,” the Oscar-winning actress explained. “I have a dimple in my chin that she didn’t have, so we would seal that up. Her face was more round than mine, so I would have things on my cheeks. Their expertise just helped me so much with my confidence in playing her,” she said, shouting out her longtime makeup artists Linda Dowds and Stephanie Ingram, as well as Justin Raleigh.
Chastain said it was Messner’s involvement with the LGBTQ community that led her to take on the role: “That’s really why I wanted to make the movie. Because in a time when people were even afraid to say AIDS, we had this female televangelist. And she was a minister too in her own right. She wasn’t just the preacher’s wife, the singer.”
She also cited Messner’s interview with Christian gay minister Steve Pieters as a particularly eye-opening moment: “It’s so beautiful and loving. And it’s such a huge turning point in terms of what people could associate God’s grace with, because I feel like she was filled with grace.”
Messner passed away from colon cancer back in 2007 at the age of 65, but this isn’t the first time her life has received the big-screen treatment. Back in 2000, World of Wonder produced a documentary, also titled The Eyes of Tammy Faye, about Messer. It screened at the Sundance Film Festival and was narrated by RuPaul, who was friends with Messner and even had her as a guest on his original VH1 talk show.
The 2000 doc was directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato from World of Wonder. The upcoming biopic is based on the documentary and will be executive produced by Bailey and Barbato, with Michael Showalter directing.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye premieres September 17 from Searchlight Pictures.