This weekend, the Arkansas Cinema Society's annual Filmland festival took to MacArthur Park and, outrunning the rain, to Ron Robinson Theater to host workshops and showcase local filmmakers, as well as share some of Hollywood's most-anticipated movies.
Headlining the festival was Saturday night's "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" starring and produced by Jessica Chastain, who attended the screening and took part in a Q&A with fellow filmmaker and ACS founder Jeff Nichols.
Before she hit the big screen, Chastain sat down with Soirée to set the record straight about Tammy Faye, how the media got it wrong and how love changes everything.
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First and foremost, how long do you think "Disco Jesus" will be stuck in your head?
JC: Forever. All I want is a dance mix. Can someone please create the club "Disco Jesus?" That's what we need.
Before we go full Tammy Faye, you're currently doing press for "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" and "Scenes From a Marriage."
JC: Very different characters.
Very. You tackle some heavy themes in both, just one while wearing sequins. What has it been like to bounce back and forth between those headspaces during interviews, and has it made you think any differently about these projects?
JC: One interesting thing I've noticed that excites me is that, so, Tammy Faye was vilified by the media because of her makeup. There's a lot about her being larger than life. Up until now, women have been cultivated to be docile and quiet and good girls and all of these things, and she was the opposite. She took up space, and the media and the public really kind of went after her for it.
The thing I've noticed is that with [my character Mira] in "Scenes From a Marriage," the audience is really having a hard time with the things she does. It's interesting because ours is based on an original, but the roles are reversed. It's interesting to see a female character have the same wants and desires and complexities as a male character, and whether we as an audience see women as human as men. That's an interesting thing to discover.
What a novel idea. I know before this interview you got to meet briefly with the young girl filmmakers whose short film is being featured tonight. What does it mean to you to see girls coming out in droves for these kinds of programs?
JC: It's really exciting. One thing I did say to them at the end, kind of similarly to what I was just saying to you, in some sense women tend to be the least likely to ask for promotions or ask for a wage increase or to take on some things because we self-doubt a lot. I told these girls it's really important in our industry to take up as much space as you can. Jeff talked about a power vacuum, that if you don't lead and if you don't take up space, someone else is going to step into that space.
It's really an exciting time right now because I think we need to encourage women to be as aggressive and as loud and as opinionated and as creative as possible, and not afraid of making a mistake. For me, the biggest mistakes I thought I ever made were the best things I could've ever done. Celebrate those mistakes. We really need to step out of the shadows.
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Culturally, we're in the middle of all these stories coming out, a real reckoning and re-examination of how people over the years — many of them women — have been portrayed by the media, and how that's the only side people ever knew. You can't go online without seeing something about Britney Spears or Princess Diana or even Tammy Faye. Why do you think we're at a place in society right now where we want to tackle that topic, and what do you think it means for us going forward?
JC: I think it just means the media has treated women unfairly up until now. I mean, we've been commodified. The only thing I really knew about Tammy Faye before I saw the documentaries was all the critiques in the world about how she presented herself in terms of her makeup, the timbre of her voice, how loud she was. There's a great podcast, I don't know if you know it, it's called "You're Wrong About."
Yes! It's so good!
I was floored by, again, all their Diana coverage.
JC: Right? So good! Well, they also have one on Tammy Faye. I listened to it after we made the film because I didn't know the podcast before. I was very nervous, but it completely matches up to our film.
I keep getting people saying to me, "But like, she knew, right?" A lot of people and journalists ask me, "What do you think she knew?" It's like, well, clearly you think she's guilty, but I ask them what they think she's guilty of. I really want to know, because I researched her for seven years, and the U.S. government never tried or convicted her of anything, so clearly you have a bias against this, and maybe we should talk about that. The podcast "You're Wrong About" really talks about that a lot, which is super interesting to me.
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So then, after seven years, what does one do to prepare to become Tammy Faye?
JC: It really is like an out-of-body experience. I knew for seven years I was going to play her, but I didn't know when it was going to happen. I read everything. She wrote four books, I read those. She recorded over 20 albums, I listened to those. I watched everything I could find on [The PTL Club]. The documentary filmmakers gave me all these hundreds of hours of unused footage that they didn't put in documentaries. It was really immersive.
I also worked with an accent coach because she's from International Falls, Minnesota, but also her voice is higher than mine. And singing? I've never done that in a movie. There was so much out of my comfort zone. It had to be an all-in immersion. There was no way to play her otherwise.
Playing Tammy Faye and being in this wormhole of her life for so many years, what are you going to miss most about her, and what will you take with you?
JC: I really loved her optimism. I really loved her consistency in her authenticity. it's almost like she was addicted to making people feel loved. It was like an obsessive thing inside of her. I think that probably came from her childhood, feeling unworthy and left out because she was the product of a divorce in a Pentecostal community, which is a big no no.
But no matter what, she would give everything she could to make someone feel important and special and loved. It's very rare to find people like that. I never got to meet her, sadly, but I do feel like I met her through all my research, and that's what I'll miss the most.
That was definitely her core message, that everyone deserves to be loved. I feel like that's a pretty good blanket statement, but do those words hit any differently for you personally throughout all of this?
JC: I was just shocked and impressed — and really it was the reason I wanted to make the movie — that in 1985 she brought Steve Pieters onto her show, who's an oenly gay minister with AIDS. She educated her millions of Christian viewers on what it means to be Christian, that you love through anything and that's the way with Jesus.
This is a time when homophobia was all over the country. Jerry Falwell was saying homosexuality was a cancer killing America, while the Reagan administration didn't even want to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic that was actually killing communities. The fact that this woman goes on TV and teaches about love, that made me feel most connected to her.
Lastly, because the backbone of our publication is philanthropy and nonprofits, do you have any groups you wish more people knew about or that you'd like to shout out?
JC: To Write Love on Her Arms is a great one. There's a new one, I just started donating to them, that helps women in Afghanistan … I can't remember the name off the top of my head, and I want to get it right because it's so important, but I recently shared about it on my social media.