There are moments during Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye that I didn’t recognize Jessica Chastain or Andrew Garfield. It takes immense talent to make huge celebrities disappear into someone else entirely, but The Eyes of Tammy Faye had makeup department head Linda Dowds, hair department head Stephanie Ingram, and prosthetics designer Justin Raleigh at their disposal. Their work has earned them a BAFTA Award and a Critics Choice Award, but they managed to bring back Tammy Faye Bakker to give her another chance to tell her story.
When the first image of Chastain and Garfield dropped online, everyone freaked out. The shape of the actors’ faces were totally different. Chastain’s jaw poked out at her cheeks, and Garfield’s slim face was disguised under puffy round makeup. All three artists were thrilled by the response.
“I’ve been doing this since 1987, and I’ve never had an experience quite like this,” Dowds admitted. “On this film, I am quite overwhelmed by it. I loved that everyone had such an appreciation for the work. You want to do the best work you can, and the fact that people are so openly appreciating it is amazing. We also have a long partnership with Jessica [Chastain], and we are currently working on our sixteenth project with one another. The fact that we can all be in this together in this celebratory moment is so thrilling.”
“After thirty-two years of working and doing jobs, this is the biggest encouragement ever, “Ingram added. “It’s more than me patting myself on the back. It’s people realizing that what we created is an incredible film who was around, and we brought her to life again. Linda, Justin [Raleigh], and I brought it together. It’s so surreal.”
“It’s always scary. Tammy is a known person. I was confident with what we put together as a group,” Raleigh said. “There’s always going to be naysayers, but I tried to look at the overall reaction from it. What we put together was successful. It compliments her performance without taking you out of her performance.”
When you think of Tammy Faye Bakker, you think of colors that reflect the ’80s since she was on television at that time. Since Tammy’s face was her canvas, Dowds had a lot of archival footage to reference. It was thrilling for Dowds (and the entire team) to have a main character who love the art of makeup so much. Tammy Faye didn’t apply the same colors every day.
“What was key to this was we really strove for authenticity,” Dowds said. “I was on eBay grabbing old magazines, old images, and old albums. I watched the documentary that RuPaul narrated as well as the interviews on Nightline and Larry King [Live]. There is also so much PTL footage. She tells us so much about herself, and she spoke about her makeup and her looks. It was important to break down three major prosthetic looks, and from within that framework, Stephanie and I could work on the beauty aspect of it. In the Bible college days, when she was fresh-faced, it would be rare for anyone like her to be wearing makeup like that. When we got into CBN and PTL, she was very matchy-matchy. She loved pinks and violet, and she stopped at Target and swap meets and drugstores. I did all the drugstore brands and did the things she did. When I could, I used the original products, and we had them on her makeup station. Just so she could have those moments to be closer to Tammy. Her tones changed as she got older. Her lips were plums and purples. The key thing was to, wherever possible, we get as close as we could, especially when we had footage to look at.
One of my favorite looks from the entire film is when Tammy Faye and Jim go to a pool party, and they meet Jerry Falwell. He is an idol to them, and Tammy Faye sticks out in the sea of devoted wives. This is the first scene where we see Tammy Faye has dyed her hair blonde, and she wears her hair in a bouffant style. Maybe the hair is one of the reasons why Tammy Faye is able to stick up to Jim?
“Changing her from a brunette to a blonde opened her up almost,” Ingram said. “She already had the strength, but it’s almost like it helped her. She could stand her ground against the boys, and, at that time, a woman wasn’t allowed to do that. We wanted it to be very fresh, and that was an iconic ’60s look–the high crown and the flip out. And you couldn’t forget those hairbands.”
How do you talk about Tammy Faye without mentioning her eyelashes? Even critics of Tammy Faye are aware of her famous eye accessories. There is that infamous t-shirt that says, “I ran into Tammy Faye” with smeared makeup. We all agreed how cruel that was, but Tammy Faye rallied on because she loved how much makeup she wore.
“We wanted to try different things as well, but Tammy told us what she used, “Dowds explained. “We did explore things, but where we ended up was exactly how Tammy said. They are called individuals, but they are clustered together. She used a duo adhesive, and she would sleep with them on. She would replenish them in the morning if they fell off. Tammy said, ‘Who said you can’t put mascara on top of lashes?’ It’s a funny statement, but it’s true. Who says you can’t do that? She said you don’t have to be dowdy to be a Christian. She embraced the whole look. One of the things you reference, there is a large generation who look at her as the late night comedy image with the mascara running down her face. Honestly, in all our research, I never found that image. Jessica said the same thing. I think that was key for us. It’s a big look–there’s no denying that. We never wanted to cross the line into caricature. We honored the way that she wore her makeup.”
While we can tell that Jessica Chastain doesn’t look like Jessica Chastain anymore, I was curious if there were any prosthetic tricks that are so hidden that we can’t see them? I saw a picture of artists applying a prosthetic above Chastain’s upper lip, and Raleigh talked about a strategically placed tape that changed the shape of Chastain’s nose.
“The lip change is something that some people don’t know,” he said. “People recognize that the cheeks are different because Tammy Faye has a different face shape, and they have noticed that we changed her chin. Jessica has a dimple, and we obliterated that with a prosthetic as well. A subtler element that is in there all the way through the ‘90s is a piece of invisible piece of tape on her nose. It pulls it up to raise the visibility into her nostrils. Looking straight on to Tammy Faye, she had a lot more visibility up there, and Jessica’s nose is a different shape. We didn’t want to put a plumper in her nose, because her voice is so important, especially because of all the singing. What we ended up doing was a putting a piece of transparent, medical tape under her nose, and it’s cut so it’s a straight nose. We can pull her nose up, so the entire bridge has that tape and it’s stippled out and painted. That’s in ninety percent of the movie. In the middle stage, Tammy has gained some weight after the Jennifer Hahn debacle, so Jessica is wearing a full neck too.”
Towards the end of her life, Tammy Faye is living alone, and she doesn’t have the glamour of PTL makeup artists to apply face. Gone are the soft pinks and blues in her makeup, and her hair has gone to a darker, crimson shade. Is Tammy Faye hiding from the world? Dowds and Ingram spoke of the spectacular feeling of Tammy Faye’s final performance.
“It’s such a triumphant moment for her, and it’s a very poignant moment,” Dowds said. “That is the largest look that we did. it was kind of the pinnacle of the journey that she was on. She was so ostracized for so long. It was a beautiful way to end the film, because you thought of her as a survivor. Tammy was very strong, and the makeup was all those deep, rich tones. It’s a very grounded moment in who she is.”
“It was one of the interesting part of it was we saw her as a brunette and then she got really joyous and fun with the scene with Falwell, “Ingram added. “You see her change throughout. It stays as a blonde, but it changes length. Her hair gets very dark when she gets older when we showed her at the mirror before the finale. She showed us her hair when she took the fall off on camera, and we can see how sparse it is. She wanted to show everyone that she lost everything. In the finale, though, she wanted the strong colors. The very last scene was very put together and very large but brought her together to stand on her own two feet.”
Raleigh explained how, in Tammy Faye’s later years, Chastain is wearing the most prosthetics. Now that she has aged a number of years, the prosthetics have to show age and how her face shape as changed.
“In the ‘90s shots, post-PTL, that is where Jessica is wearing the most,” Raleigh surmises. “I’d say three quarters of her face are covered. She has full cheeks, the chin piece, the upper lip piece, and stretch and stipple. For those who don’t know, that technique involves stretching the skin, stipple latex onto the skin, dry it, and then release the skin. It creates its own, natural wrinkle. She has stretch and stipple around her eyes and on her forehead. We get rid of the nose tape at that point since she’s older, and we wanted to see how she aged a little bit. She has a full neck in the back at that point as well. Jessica is encased in prosthetics at that point. That’s the longest makeup of all the looks.”
While Chastain has been the face of the film (and picked up a deserved Screen Actors Guild Award and Critics Choice Award), Garfield is also wearing a large amount of prosthetics. Garfield’s boyish face is hidden behind jolly cheeks, and the trademark coif we’ve seen all season is covered up by a bald pate.
“Andrew is covered in prosthetics in every single scene. There’s not really a scene in the movie where he isn’t wearing something. At his youngest stage, he’s still wearing cheek pieces. Because Jim had a fuller face and he also had a fuller width to his nasolabial fold, the prosthetics could slide off the side of your nose. So we always built that into every look. As he progresses, he gains weight as well. In the final stage, he’s quite covered. He has a full neck, full cheeks, a chin piece in addition to a full bald pate as well to thin out his hair. He has stretch and stipple on his forehead and hands. He’s covered.”
We always hear when an actor has to sit hour after hour in the makeup chair, but the relationship between the actor and the makeup artists have to be established to create a true harmony. When I asked Raleigh what advice he would have for actors ready to sit down for their first prosthetic-heavy film, I’m sure Dowds and Ingram would echo his sentiments.
“The first part is understanding what you are getting into,” Raleigh said. “They have to understand the gravity of what they are committing to, because even if we create a short makeup, there’s a whole process. We don’t explain it to you and then you go off and do it yourself. You have to succumb to that process. That’s the first hurdle. After that, it becomes rather systematic. Another key is realizing you will never have an exact likeness. No matter what we add, you have to understand that it will never make you look exa tly like the person. You have to find the perfect amalgamation of them. What areas of the face are similar enough that you don’t have to change them and what are the areas that you have to change? Finally, you have to find the balance that the artist and actor can agree upon. They have to be comfortable with you. Once you get through those three aspects, the rest of the process is very straightforward, and it allows the actor to absorb themselves into the character.”
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is streaming now on HBO Max.