Jessica Chastain flexed her singing chops and tightened her belt — literally — to play late country singer Tammy Wynette.
The Academy Award winner stars opposite Michael Shannon in the Paramount limited series “George & Tammy” based on the tumultuous love story between music duo Wynette and George Jones. Abe Sylvia created the series. Lead star Chastain worked with vocal coach Ron Browning for months to sing like Wynette, calling a live performance in front of hundreds of extras “the scariest thing I’ve ever done.”
Yet Chastain took the physical preparation to play Wynette into her own hands when tracking Wynette’s later-in-life health issues and painkiller addiction.
“I don’t really like to look at scales, but I stopped eating,” Chastain said to Vanity Fair. “I was drinking juices and I kept doing it until I looked sick.”
Wynette died in 1998 at age 55.
Chastain also produces the musical biopic that co-stars Steve Zahn, Kelly McCormack, Katy Mixon, and Walton Goggins. John Hillcoat directs.
Most recently, Chastain underwent another physical transformation courtesy of prosthetics to play real-life figure Tammy Faye Bakker. Chastain won the Academy Award for her turn as the Evangelical TV personality and philanthropist.
“When we did the first test for Tammy, I had a bit of a freakout,” Chastain told IndieWire. “I was nervous, like how do you act through it? You walk into a room and it’s like, everyone was gonna see the makeup because it was so good. How does my energy go beyond the visual, because she was super present? Using the prosthetics, makeup, hair, wigs, and costumes was giving me something to push against.”
Chastain continued, “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. 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 — 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.”
Chastain also sang as Tammy, with her vocal coach Dave Cobb telling her she was “‘too comfortable in this music, and I need it to sound like you’re reaching to the heavens, I need you to really push like she did.'”
Chastain said, “If I ever felt laid back and easy, then that’s not the character, because she was always putting herself out there.”