Tammy Faye Director Michael Showalter Sees America’s Televangelist Obsession as a Mixture of These Two Things

The Eyes of Tammy Faye director Michael Showalter believes America’s longstanding fascination with televangelists and charismatic leaders has to do with the nation’s Christian roots mixed with unbridled capitalism.

“It’s a very American thing. America is rooted in these early Christian spiritual principles and values, plus this capitalist, rugged, individual thing,” he says. “And the televangelists are preaching this notion that God wants you to have it all: ‘The American Dream is out there, and you can have it. And God wants you to have it.’

“It’s more than the white-picket fence and the dog — it’s more than that,” he continues. “You can have the boat and the swimming pool. Your wildest dreams can come true. And God wants that for you. It’s this weird American way in which Christianity mixes with capitalist ambition.”

Pioneering televangelists Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye rode this “God wants you to have it all” prosperity gospel  in the ’70s and ’80s with their wildly popular TV program The PTL Club.

Showalter remembers watching The PTL Club as a teenager in the ’80s. To him, the show was a “curiosity,” something he found “a bit ridiculous but also entertaining.”

In 1988, Jim Bakker (played by Andrew Garfield) was indicted on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison, but ultimately served about five. (ABC News goes into the reasons why here.) Tammy Faye was not charged.

“The scandal was big news for a really long time. Everyone took pleasure in watching them be brought down. Tammy Faye was a big laughingstock. We all made fun of the way she looked and the way she talked and her high voice and her makeup and her garish outfits,” says Showalter.

Michael Showalter The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield star as Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, from director Michael Showalter

When searching for scripts, Showalter says he looks for a main character who “is not obviously heroic or is challenged in some way.”

“I find that a good challenge is to take seemingly unlikable characters and to find the humanity in them and to look at them in a way that looks past the superficial way we might see that person,” he says.

Tammy Faye fit that description perfectly.

While her then-husband Jim Bakker was committing massive fraud behind closed doors, Faye embraced people on her daily program who had been shunned by more conservative Christians, like Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell (played by Vincent D’Onofrio). In one sequence in the film, she speaks via live feed with gay pastor Steve Pieters, who had been diagnosed as HIV positive. Faye’s compassion is striking in the context of the era, when many fundamentalist Christian leaders turned their backs on people with HIV/AIDS.

the eyes of tammy faye michael showalter

Tammy Faye’s live interview with pastor Steve Pieters (Randy Havens) in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, directed by Michael Showalter, was based on a real moment on her Christian TV program. 

Hidden behind fake eyelashes, tattooed eyeliner and colorful eyeshadow, Jessica Chastain lends layers to her Faye portrayal. She even sings, just as the real Tammy Faye did.

“We were using Nashville studio musicians, some of whom had actually recorded songs with Tammy Faye and had done music for the Bakkers on PTL,” Showalter says. “Rather than using hip cool current musicians trying to mimic that, we actually use the actual studio musicians who were of that time period.”

Showalter says he tried to maintains a zen-like disposition through the challenges of the film, which included studio recordings, portraying characters based on real people, and recreating decades of 700 Club and PTL Club sets.

“I often equate my experience of directing as getting in the ocean and letting the waves hit you. If you fight the waves, you get beat up more. You have to let the waves just hit you. There’s so many elements in this movie. My approach was to just to let all of it be what it wanted to be and then just go with it.”

Centering the film on Faye’s perspective also helped guide the editing process.

“In post-production, with all of the jumping back and forth between time periods, there was a lot of experimentation into finding the right balance. In the current version, you start in the ’90s, and you end in the ’90s. But in the original draft, you’re constantly returning to the ’90s as a kind of framing device. And now it’s much more of a bookended thing.”

“It was about telling the story of telling Tammy and trying to zero in on that thread,” he continues. “There’s a lot of other balls in the air. There’s Jim, and there’s the other characters, and there’s all sorts of other points of view that are flowing through it. It was about figuring out how to really focus in on Tammy’s point of view.”

Also read: Paul Schrader Says Shooting The Card Counter Digitally Helped Him Retain Final Cut

Up next for Showalter is a television series with Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd. Rudd starred in Showalter’s breakout, Wet Hot American Summer, in 2001.

Showalter calls Ferrell’s role in the series “quite dramatic.” He says actors best known for comedy and drama tend to approach their work the same way.

“There’s an essence there with someone like Will, where he just is funny even when he’s not meaning to be — that just is,” he says. “But they’re all very serious about it. And it’s the same approach: What performance do you want to give and let me help with that? How can I lean in? How can I encourage that further?

“The biggest choices are in casting that person and trying to work with an actor that isn’t going to rest on their laurels, that isn’t going to just do what they know how to do and not try to examine if there’s more they can explore.”

The Eyes of Tammy Faye, directed by Michael Showalter, is now in theaters. 

Main image, above: Jessica Chastain is Tammy Faye in The Eyes of Tammy Faye from director Michael Showalter. 

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The Crown Rules the Emmys + Scenes From a Virtual Reality Film Festival

Takeaways from the Emmys, and scenes from a film festival in virtual reality. Also magic. All in today’s Movie News Rundown.

What Happened This Weekend Besides the Emmys? Our friends at StudioFest held a wildly ambitious VR film festival, using Oculus Quest 2 headsets that enabled guests to enjoy the shared illusion that they were watching the films in a lavish theater, then mixing it up in majestically appointed rooms with stunning views of pretend cities. The films weren’t VR — the screenings and hangouts were. It was mind-blowing. Congratulations to the winner, Courtney Hope Thérond, who now gets to make a film with StudioFest. Here are a couple scenes of how it looked once you put on your headset:


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StudioFest: You can learn more about everything they do from their series Demystified, presented by MovieMaker.

The Crown Rules The Emmys: Congratulations to the brilliant and completely engrossing The Crown, which won best drama at the 73rd Emmy Awards last night. Josh O’Connor (who plays Prince Charles), Gillian Anderson (Margaret Thatcher) and Tobias Menzies (Prince Philip) also won Emmys for their roles. The Crown is one of the most sweepingly cinematic shows in the history of television, which feels notable after a year in which the in-theater theatrical experience largely disappeared. The Netflix series won seven Emmys in all for this season, which was its fourth.

Ted Lasso, Too: The buoyant Apple TV+ show won for best comedy, Jason Sudeikis won for best actor in a comedy, and his castmates Brett Goldstein and Hannah Waddingham won in their supporting categories. There are a couple of themes emerging here: Streaming services doing very well, and shows set in the UK doing very well. Ted Lasso won four Emmys in all.

Can We Skip All This and Just See the Full List of Emmy Winners? Yep.

The Queen… Also Rules: Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, the Anya Taylor-Joy chess drama from Scott Frank, won for best limited series. Remember that point in the pandemic when you couldn’t buy chess boards?

Wow, Who Didn’t Win? Variety considers the most-snubbed show to be WandaVision, which won nothing despite 23 nominations.

Also: The Hollywood Reporter summed it up with the headline, #EmmysSoWhite: White Actors Sweep the 2021 Emmy Awards. It’s kind of hard to believe this has happened again at another awards ceremony… but I suppose it’s more likely when the big winner of the night is a show about British royalty, who are not known for their diversity.

Anything Else? In March 2020, when SXSW had just been cancelled and the world was starting to feel rather grim, I talked with filmmaker Alexis Manya Spraic about her terrific SXSW doc M for Magic, about L.A.’s intoxicatingly wonderful Magic Castle, where people dress  up to watch magicians charm their way through performances both grand and personal. It seemed like exactly the kind of crowded, up-close performance venue that could be doomed by COVID. And so it was with a huge sense of relief, gratitude and joy that I joined Team MovieMaker last night for a trip to the Magic Castle, and found that it was still going very strong, and that sometimes dire situations do get better. I left with the sense that magic still exists in the world, or at least in an old mansion on a small hilltop in Los Angeles.

Main image: Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in The Crown, roller skating through Buckingham Palace.


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