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Jessica Chastain Wins Best Actress for ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’

Her portrayal of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker marks Chastain's first Oscar win and third nomination.

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE, from left: Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker, Cherry Jones, 2021.  © Searchlight Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker, in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”

©Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

After a long-haul awards season that brought her back to the forefront of the race last-minute thanks to a Screen Actors Guild Award win, Jessica Chastain has won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” For this top acting prize, Chastain beat out Olivia Colman for “The Lost Daughter,” Penélope Cruz for “Parallel Mothers,” Nicole Kidman for “Being the Ricardos,” and Kristen Stewart for “Spencer.” This year’s Best Actress race was wide open, with any of the aforementioned women a possibility to take home the Oscar statuette. But Chastain secured key wins along the campaign trail for “Tammy Faye,” which opened all the way back in September after a Toronto International Film Festival premiere, and those precursor awards were key in bringing her across the finish line.

In the film directed by Michael Showalter, Chastain stars as televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, from her humble origins in International Falls, Minnesota, and through the ups and downs and rebounds of her career and marriage to Jim Bakker (played by Andrew Garfield). With a screenplay by Abe Sylvia, the film is based on the 2000 documentary of the same name by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato of World of Wonder.

Throughout the film, Chastain is nearly unrecognizable beneath layers of makeup and prosthetics, portraying Faye over the course of 30 years. And because of that, Chastain clearly recognized the role of her Oscar-nominated makeup team in earning her the many accolades she has received for the film. Around a week before the Oscars, Chastain made headlines for saying she would “absolutely” be present in the Dolby Theatre when the Academy Award for Makeup/Hairstyling is called, as that’s one of the categories cut from the live broadcast and ceremony itself, and instead folded into an eight-category presentation of below-the-line and short film awards taking place in the venue prior.

“I will absolutely be present when the makeup category is being called, and if that means I’m not doing press on the red carpet or ABC or whatever it is, then so be it,” Chastain said in an interview on the Next Best Picture podcast.

She added, “The most important thing for me is to honor the incredible artisans who work in our industry. So much attention is on the actors. We’re like the face, in some ways, because you go to a movie and you see us. A lot of people don’t understand how beyond an actor a performance is. Look at this incredible makeup team. ‘Tammy Faye’ goes through three decades.”

The project has been in the works for nearly a decade. While jet-lagged during a press tour for “Zero Dark Thirty,” which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2013, Chastain watched the documentary and discovered a different Tammy Faye Bakker than the one depicted in the media.

“I was just blown away by this woman and filled with compassion and love,” she told IndieWire’s Anne Thompson during a recent interview. “And I realized that I didn’t know anything about the real Tammy. The only thing I knew was the drama, right? What the media sensationalized, the sketch comedy jokes, the tabloid fodder. The interview she had with Steve Peters was mind-blowing at that time when the U.S. government isn’t even comfortable saying the word AIDS and communities are dying. It makes me emotional talking about it. She brought Steve Peters on her show, an openly gay minister with AIDS, and she told her audience, ‘We as Christians need to love everyone. And I want to put my arms around you.’ And I am convinced Steve Peters and Tammy Faye saved lives with that interview. I had to celebrate her true story for this new generation of people who may not know her.

“There was more information about her mascara than telling Christians in the community that we need to love people and not ostracize those that are dying of AIDS,” she said. “That’s insane to me that we care more about how much makeup a woman is wearing than actually what she’s doing. And that’s the difficult thing, because a character who is larger than life, whose makeup is so wonderfully fabulously expressive, and clothing, and her voice, and her humor, and her camp — the whole penile pump is real, I watched the video, she did it on her show! How do you do all of that and not make it into a joke? How do you really show that a person can love camp and can love excess but still have a heart and be a living breathing human being that feels things? That was a real fine line to walk.”

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