How do you make a movie about colorful televangelist and gay icon Tammy Faye Bakker without veering into caricature? That was the challenge for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” costume designer Mitchell Travers and star and producer Jessica Chastain, who were united in their vision for the look of the film. “We never wanted it to become a parody. We came at it with love in our hearts for Tammy,” Travers says.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Tammy Faye and her husband Jim Bakker, played by Andrew Garfield, ascended to national fame and wealth as TV preachers who built their own theme park, Heritage USA. Tammy Faye made an impression with her flamboyant outfits and exaggerated makeup that earned her the nickname “the queen of the eyelashes.”
More from Variety
Chastain, who often spent seven hours in the makeup chair to achieve the signature lashes and extreme look, collaborated closely with Travers to strike that balance of, as he puts it, “How can we support the work that needs to be done and tell the story that needs to be told? When is it OK for the clothes to get in the way, or when do they need to disappear?”
Since the Michael Showalter film, which opens Sept. 17 in theaters, charts Tammy Faye’s story from the ’50s to the ’90s, Travers had to take into consideration how Tammy Faye changed through weight loss, weight gain and becoming a mother. “We had to get the body [shape] right first, and then dress the body,” Travers says.
In re-creating the vivid red outfit Tammy Faye wore for the 1987 “Nightline” interview where she and her husband discussed the sexual allegations that had come out against him and the financial accusations against both of them, Travers says it was important to exaggerate her shoulders. “Part of our storytelling was that I wanted the audience to understand the weight of the clip-on earrings on her ears, and the weight of the shoulder pads,” he explains. “I felt that was a moment where we needed to tip the scales into the pressures of being Tammy Faye.”
Taking the title literally, Travers’ approach throughout was to see things from Tammy Faye’s viewpoint. He studied her books, documentaries and interviews. “I wanted to understand her and the way she saw herself.”
In an early scene when the couple is just beginning to find success, Travers put her in a prim green wool jumper with a pink satin blouse. The unlikely color pairing represents “the first time she feels she’s somebody,” Travers explains. Others would consider it an odd mix, but not her. To Travers, it was a charming look.
“That combination is the recipe for success when you’re trying to find Tammy,” he says.