The biographical drama The Eyes of Tammy Faye follows Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) and her then-husband Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) from the beginning of their love story to the rise and success of their religious talk show, The PTL Club, and subsequent demise. At their height, the televangelists reached millions of viewers and brought in large sums of money. Then, sexual and financial scandals plagued the couple, which ultimately led to Bakker's imprisonment once he was found guilty on 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy.
Through it all, Tammy Faye kept a joyful spirit—while always wearing her signature look of bold makeup, dark lashes, lined lips and an array of wigs. All credit for transforming Chastain into the optimistic and Lord-loving Tammy Faye goes to prosthetic makeup designer and head of department for special makeup effects Justin Raleigh, head of makeup department Linda Dowds, and head of hair department Stephanie Ingram. The trio is nominated for their first Oscar in Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling.
"There's a reason why these people are experts," Jessica Chastain tells A.frame. "I give them full credit for actually helping me find the character. And I don't know that I could've done it without them. Their attention to detail and their specificity in terms of the character’s emotional state from each moment inform their choices. Nothing makes me happier than when people don’t recognize me in the character I’m playing, and that is hugely thanks to this team.”
Spanning from a young Tammy Faye in Minnesota in 1952 to the ready-for-redemption former leader in the '90s, Raleigh, Dowds and Ingram had one key goal in mind: stay true and respectful to the real Tammy Faye.
"She believed in being a good, decent, kind, and empathetic person," Dowds explains. "I think we all had some responsibility and some desire to really, really show her in a much truer, honest light. And I really felt a responsibility to not cross into anything that did a disservice to her as a human being."
"She had a very larger-than-life look. It's big makeup," she continues. "And what we didn't want to ever do was cross the line into caricature. We'd all seen sort of those late-night sketch shows and how Tammy Faye looked with the mascara streaming down her face. And I never found one image of her like that, ever. So I think that was the most important piece of the equation too, is that we have these real life people. We want to honor them. We want to respect them. We want to tell their story authentically."
Below the team dives deeper into transforming Chastain into the late Tammy Faye.
Justin Raleigh: Jessica was the one that wanted to do prosthetics. She wanted to do this in a transformative way. I think the studio initially was a little reluctant to try and do it because they had had success with several other period projects that didn't really lean into prosthetics as heavily. Early on, we just talked about what the goals were, what the approach was going to be – and talked about Andrew Garfield as well – just so we could kind of control their looks, and their aging progressions, and their weight gains, and all their transitions.
And we knew we would create some early conceptual milestones. Jessica really had some very specific looks that she wanted to hit throughout the eras. And what we had to decipher was how we would approach prosthetics, especially with the time frame that we had – which was about six weeks of prep, roughly, maybe about four weeks – before we had to deliver a camera test. Then, how do we deal with all of the in-between looks? We have three major prosthetic milestones as they age. We had a look that was the early '70s through the early '80s. Then, I looked at transitions and the mid-1980s. And then, another look in the mid-'90s. But, in between, there's countless looks between every single one of those stages for both of them.
How we approach the prosthetics and how she looked anatomically. We tried to never push it over the line; we wanted to keep it as subtle as possible. And we wanted to allow room for Jessica to really be able to push through the prosthetics and be able to convey the beauty that was within Tammy. And I feel like we were able to accomplish that. The prosthetics was just the anatomical milestones that we wanted to create. All the other looks were driven by what Linda and Stephanie were doing with wig and traditional makeup.
Linda Dowds: I've been working with Jessica for quite some time. I think this is our 16th project we're currently on… This project came up on more than one occasion. So, we started research, we started dialogue, we had discussions about all of it. And then, it would disappear for a little bit. And so, it became renewed again and renewed again. Eventually, when we got to the place that we were going with this, there are challenges. One is that we are wanting to transform everyone to look as closely as possible to the real people – which is one element of it. We're doing a period project, so we want to nail all of the period elements of it, in terms of makeup. Prosthetics was another element of it, in terms of putting on regular makeup and being very thoughtfully careful to not interfere with the prosthetics. And then, how do we meld that? How do we meld beauty and prosthetics together in a way that looks authentic?
I love doing this to the skin and when you're putting on a different material onto the face that takes some real collaboration. And I think the lovely thing for us was that we all work so well together, and we had lots of communication and lots of dialogue. And I would say the last pieces that were very iconic, particularly Tammy Faye, she had a very larger-than-life look. It's big makeup, and what we didn't want to ever do was cross the line into caricature. And then, of course, not going over the top. And representing them in the truest way possible. She loved makeup. She loved putting herself together. She was very matchy-matchy and we were able to just really go with that because there was pure joy in the work and in the discovery of who Tammy Faye really was.
Stephanie Ingram: Going through all the different eras, we all had to collaborate and make this happen. There wasn't a large budget, so what ended up happening was I had two custom wigs for Jessica. But, of course, as you see, there's more than two wigs in the film. I think I ended up between 11 and 13 wigs total. What I would do is: I would order them – just a generic wig – and then, I had to cut, color, and then, fit on Jessica's head. And just going through all the time and doing the transformation on her, we did work incredibly well together. It became, not second fiddle, but it became just something that we knew we had to keep our time down. We had to really get everything done in a specific amount of time.
All the changes that she had, that was very fun as well. Because… in one era, there wasn't just one wig; there could have been three or four because we want to show the different times. And the fact that Tammy Faye did wear wigs – because she didn't have a lot of hair. It is beyond words that I actually am talking about this, and it still kind of chokes me up.
The Process From Beginning to End
Justin Raleigh: We had three different major prosthetic milestones but the look changed so many different times through hair and through traditional makeup. But we knew we had pretty short days. We shot continuous days on this to be able to allow more time in the chair and try and get everyone out. Jessica had her young child at the time too. So, she wanted to—beyond being a producer and wearing many, many, many hats on this—get home at a decent time to be with her child, which makes perfect sense. So, we all came together, decided that this was the best approach to work in a continuous day to allow these things to happen. That really drove our process between the three of us and our teams to make sure that we kept the time down and kept the numbers down in the chair.
Stage one, all in, was between two to maybe two-and-a-half hours. So, that's prosthetics – which was about an hour of that, and then, makeup and hair – which is about two hours. And then, a small amount of time for costume. She wasn't wearing a bodysuit or anything like that at that time. That would be the initial time in the chair. And maybe 30 to 40 minutes to get her out at the end of the night. And roughly the same for Andrew. We kind of synched up the process for both of them to work in tandem because they shot so many scenes together.
When you get into stage two, which is mid-'80s—much larger prosthetics. Now we're up closer to two hours on the prosthetic side and probably another hour and a half for costume, bodysuit, makeup and hair. Kind of for both of them. Stage three, when we get into the '90s—extensive work. That was about two and a half hours in prosthetics for each of them. And then, it was another hour or so to get them through the rest of the work. Basically timing it around four to four and a half hours at that latter stage, and three to three and a half for the middle stage.
Advice for Aspiring Artists
Justin Raleigh: The part that I love about this is that—I've been doing this nearly 30 years now—and, every project, even if there are similarities, every project is a new challenge. That never changes. And the room for improvement never changes. I think we're always our worst critics, and we're always pushing ourselves to the max. And that's the advice that I would give to any young artist that's trying to get into this industry: know that what's going to drive you the most is yourself, your own ability to put on the magnifying glass and look at your work, and decide if you need improvement, and where you need to improve.
And if you're telling yourself you don't need to improve, there's a problem just in that—because every project is so demanding and so challenging. And if you're not stepping up to the challenge and you're not willing to take risks – and obviously risks can only be accomplished through years of experience, really, to take smart risks, I would say. But that’s important. And I think we all took considerable risks on this project, especially how over-the-top the characters are. But how do you find a way to take those risks in a somewhat safe way? Be willing to fail. And I think everyone—to push to that level—you have to push yourself to that point, almost to failure. And I think not being afraid of that and just being willing to challenge yourself in that way is incredibly important, and will help drive you in your career.
Linda Dowds: I've also been doing this a very long time, since 1987. When people ask me how I started, I was so fortunate. I had people help me along the way. So, the most important thing to me is that you never get there by yourself. It's an ongoing journey. I learned from everybody and everything. I watch movies all the time, and television. I love the process. I love the work. I don't ever assume I know [everything]. I still have so much to learn. Every day I learn something. You just have to just go into it with passion. And I think that's the other key element I tell everyone: Find the joy in the work.
And maybe it's not the work across the board. Maybe there's something very specific. Maybe you are more geared toward a fashion element in makeup or maybe you want to do character work like I do. It's where I found my passion. Find where the joy is, and go with that. And if it ever becomes not fun, revisit what you're doing, or revisit the environment you're in, or revisit how you might make it more so. And that would be the key thing. We work long hours. We work often very invisibly. And you just have to love the work. That would be my most important thing to anybody. And to share as much as you can. You grow from sharing, you grow from watching other people. And I just remain as open to everything as I possibly can.
Stephanie Ingram: First of all, as a hairstylist, you have to go to school. You go through learning all these [techniques] of roller sets and pin curls and finger waves, and you think, "Oh, I don't need that." But you do need that. Being in the business for just over 30 years out of school, you think you'll never use that again. And, right now, working on Tammy Wynette and George Jones [in the upcoming series George and Tammy, starring Chastain as Wynette and Michael Shannon as Jones], I'm back into doing roller sets. So, it never goes away. You always have to have an open mind and learn from other people. I learned, I guess in the first week or so being on a film set in my early days, you have to not talk – open your ears and open your eyes so you can pick up on all the different things that happen in the hair department. Or how costumes and how makeup—we all work together. It's just [about] having the passion, and I never do anything less than 1,000 percent. If I don't feel it's right, I can't put it out there.
So, I'm constantly very OCD about a lot of things. But I think that's really important because, if you think, ‘Oh, I'll only have to do that,’ then it’s going to be really tough as years go by. You always want to learn. And there's always people around you to learn from. I shared something last week with a couple of the hairstylists. We were talking about how I did certain things on wigs on Tammy Faye, and I shared how I added silk to the top. And how I approached that. Well, four of them came up to me—because they shared it in their trailer – they came up to me and they said, ‘Thank you so much for sharing that.’ I'm like, ‘Hey, there's no need.’ Everybody should share because we all have different hands. We have a different eye, and sharing is part of the love of being in this business.
Linda Dowds: We were working on the George Jones and Tammy Wynette story with Jessica in Wilmington, North Carolina. We were actually getting ready for our first scene, and we were across the hall from Jess' green room in this house we were filming in. When they were getting close to what looked like our announcement, Stephanie came in, and we waited. And [we were] just stunned! But we didn't want to say or do anything until we got to the Best Actress [category] because we wanted to go in with, hopefully, a full complement.
It was amazing. We ran across the hall and we knocked on the green room. We ran in and we went, ’We won, we won, we won!’ And I was crying. And Jess' like, ‘What's wrong? what's wrong?’ She didn't really understand. And we were like, "We made the shortlist!" It was incredibly exciting. Everybody else came in the room. There was lots of jumping up and down. And, even now, it's so surreal. And I just have to remind myself, every moment like, ‘No, this is happening.’ And there's all these different things going on around us. And it's really so incredible and very exciting. I feel very privileged.
Stephanie Ingram: Linda was crying and I was like, in my head, ‘Is this real? Did they just say that The Eyes of Tammy Faye has been nominated?’ Then it hit me. And then, when we went in to tell Jessica … we waited until after they announced the other nominees. There were tears there, but I was in shock! Wow. To be acknowledged and to even be in this particular [category]. Being nominated is beyond a thrill.
Justin Raleigh: I was all prepared to get up and watch the nominations, but, in my crazy schedule, I completely got the times wrong. I just woke up to 1,000,000 texts, and emails, and all kinds of congratulations. From all my friends, and a lot of mentors, and people that I've kind of grown my whole career with, and family as well. Honestly, I don't think any of this really started to truly sink in until maybe the last couple of weeks. It's been very – as Linda said – it's been really surreal.
I think we've all worked our careers for an opportunity like this. And we all know, to get here, everything has to work. The performance from Jessica obviously is key, the quality of the film and how it's being received to the audience is key as well. And then, obviously our work. To have all that come together on a project like this, it's amazing. And it's a very rare opportunity. I'm just grateful for the opportunity, and just happy to be nominated, and a part of this amazing ride.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
—Reporting by Elisa Osegueda
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