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How Jessica Chastain Transformed Into Tammy Faye Bakker in New Biopic


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For the creative team who designed the hair and makeup looks of Searchlight Pictures’ new biopic The Eyes of Tammy Faye, there is a fine line between real-life character and caricature. In the movie, Jessica Chastain portrays the legendary televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, who rose from modest beginnings to founding Christian television program The PTL Club, as well as a theme park, with her husband, Jim Bakker.

As producer Rachel Shane explains, “From the very beginning, we wanted to allow the audience to connect with these characters and not be in a world where they are being made fun of.” Known for her over-the-top makeup, tattooed lip and eye liner, perpetual tan, and of course, those iconic lashes, creating Bakker was no easy task.

Transforming the actress into the late evangelical icon — whose credo was “Honey I am going to my grave with my eyelashes and my makeup on” — was a collaborative process that takes a village.

Makeup department head Linda Dowds researched tons of PTL footage and interviews with Larry King Live and Nightline. She even found album covers on eBay to duplicate her extensive makeup. “I was engrossed in all things Tammy, and everything we did was very specific in honoring the images of the time period that became more dramatic over the decades from the 60s to early ’90s,” she says. “Tammy Faye thought she looked good and didn’t understand why people made fun of her makeup. It really made her happy, and when she felt low, she just added more.”

Dowds created “Tammy colors” that resulted in “matchy-matchy” tones to coordinate with her outfits (primarily bubblegum pinks and, as things got darker in her life, richer and deeper tones).  She discovered that Bakker loved drugstore makeup brands and would spend $25 a month at Target and Marshall’s. The Christian trailblazer also tattooed her brows, eyes, and lips with permanent liner and used Maybelline’s Lash Out mascara (now discontinued) for her signature lashes. “Tammy Faye would put mascara on her false eyelashes and would often sleep with them on at night and not wash her face. In the mornings, she would just add new ones!”

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Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker and Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in the film.

Courtesy of Searchlight

Since Bakker was no stranger to wigs, hair department head Stephanie Ingram designed a dozen custom pieces, from her brunette and platinum blonde bouffant and headband combo in the ’60s and early ’70s to her ’80s curly perm and ’90s short blonde look with dark roots. Ingram even sourced Clairol’s popular Frost and Tip for her blonde highlights. Another key staple was a second wig worn underneath the main one that depicted Bakker’s sparse patches of hair (possibly the result of stress and too much Diet Coke).

Ingram (who, along with Dowds, has worked with Chastain on 15 films) reflects, “Color, cut and making the wigs work with Jessica was important as she is very on point and very involved in her character. She is totally hands-on, and it’s nice to have someone like her who knows what she wants. To be exactly the way Tammy Faye was in that time was just how Jessica wanted to be.”

Prosthetics also became an important part of the process as Chastain and Bakker did not share the same facial structure.

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The actress’ look was a process of trial and error as Chastain’s face is more angular than Bakker’s, which was rounder. Shown here is Kelly Golden (center), lead prosthetics applicator and prosthetics artist Justin Raleigh.

Courtesy of Searchlight

Prosthetic makeup designer Justin Raleigh began with 3-D conceptual photoshop designs and a full-body scan that translated into silicone cheeks, nose, and chin pieces, and decreased the actress’ lip line for the three-plus decades. “This was a learning curve for Jessica as she had never worn extensive prosthetics. I tried to accommodate and make it as painless as possible. It was a daunting task pushing for a level of perfection and seamlessness,” he says of the process that took anywhere from one to four hours. Working in tandem with Dowds and Ingram, Raleigh notes, “The beauty element is tricky as its always an illusion. The biggest challenge was how to color her skin without seeing the edges on camera.”

In the end, Shane details, “All of the artistic team saw this as a progression, as it goes from decade to decade. The makeup is much heavier and becomes a mask, and there is more contrast in color as things change for her in a very drastic way.”

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Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in the film. The actress would arrive on set as early as 3:30 a.m., as the process of transforming her took up to four to seven hours depending on the period.

Courtesy of Searchlight

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