How Jessica Chastain prepared for singing as Tammy Faye: 'Bourbon'
The Eyes of Tammy Faye, in which Jessica Chastain portrays the campy televangelist of the '70s and '80s, Tammy Faye Messner, marked multiple firsts for the two-time Oscar nominee. Notably, this was the first time she had to act through heavy prosthetics and the first time she took on a heavy singing role. That second part was a little more anxiety-producing than the first.
Luckily, there was a simple solution for her nerves. "My preparation for singing was bourbon. I'm not even gonna lie," Chastain says on EW's The Awardist podcast. "I was so scared."
The night before pre-recording her vocals with Dave Cobb, the Grammy-winning songwriter and producer who worked on Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga's A Star Is Born, Chastain felt like she was losing her mind. "I'd never done that before, and I was like, 'I need a drink because I'm so freaked out,'" she says.
"It was [for] medicinal purposes," she jokingly adds, "but that's actually what really helped me get beyond it."
Directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick), The Eyes of Tammy Faye chronicles Tammy's early years meeting her future husband Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield), their rise to becoming televangelist stars of The PTL Club, their fall after Jim was convicted on numerous counts of fraud and conspiracy, and Tammy's public redemption in the aftermath.
Tammy was someone who "ministered through song," Chastain says. "On that first note, she's calling up to Jesus. She's at an 11 from the moment she starts singing the song, and she just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and louder. For a shy, reserved person, it's a nightmare. But I had to do it."
Chastain thinks of herself as the kind of actor who puts herself in "an uncomfortable place" because it forces you to "tread new water" and "navigate something you've never done before." After The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Chastain is now doing a full-fledged musical, a genre, she admits, that made her the most uncomfortable as a performer.
She now takes the lead of country singer Tammy Wynette opposite Michael Shannon's George Jones in the George and Tammy TV series currently filming in North Carolina.
"We have 31 songs we're singing," Chastain says. "We did six weeks of rehearsals in New York. Then I went to Nashville and did 10 days straight working with [music producer] T Bone Burnett."
No word yet on how much bourbon was required to calm her nerves for that.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is now playing in theaters.
Listen to the full interview on EW's The Awardist podcast below or available wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe for new episodes every Monday. Our new season covers the road to the 2022 Academy Awards with in-depth analysis and interviews with Benedict Cumberbatch, Kenneth Branagh, Mike Mills, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ruth Negga, and more Oscar hopefuls.