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‘Tammy Faye’ star Jessica Chastain is no mere ‘it’ girl

She was not that kid. You know, the one who puts on endless shows and dazzles with her song-and-dance combos. Jessica Chastain grew up in Northern California with a single mother. She did not want to be seen. In fact, she made sure her mother kept that mass of red hair as short as possible. “I didn’t fit in. I didn’t look like everyone else. I was this 9-year-old girl who was teased at school because she had short red hair.

“I felt invisible, when deep down I really wanted someone to just pay attention to me,” says the actress, who is now a two-time Oscar nominee for “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Help.”

You can’t help but notice Chastain this fall, with two award-worthy movies and a new HBO miniseries.

Chastain, 44, is earning early Oscar buzz for her new film, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” opening this weekend in theaters. She produced it and plays Tammy Faye Bakker to Andrew Garfield’s Jim Bakker in an intimate look into the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of the televangelist.

The film is among several current projects for Chastain, including the new HBO series “Scenes From a Marriage.” It examines love, hatred, desire, monogamy, marriage and beyond for an American couple played by Chastain and Oscar Isaac. There’s also “The Forgiven,” which pairs Chastain with Ralph Fiennes in the story of a weekend in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco and the aftereffects of a random accident.

Next up is playing Tammy Wynette in a TV biopic called “George and Tammy,” due out next year.

Some in the industry are calling it a Jessica Chastain year. Do you like to be “it?”

Every single time anyone said “it” girl early in my career, I thought, “Ohhhhhh no!” That was because you have such a short life. That’s your death sentence as an actress.

You’ve had an overwhelming season when you first started.

I had this at the beginning of my career around when “The Help” and “Take Shelter” and “The Tree of Life” came out. A lot of my early films came out at the same time. And at the time, I felt a lot of anxiety. I was suddenly getting so much attention so soon. I was working very hard, but I didn’t expect it to come out all at once. All of a sudden, my life changed. There was no small, gradual entry into this business for me. But how wonderful to work.

You’ve said “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” was your passion project for a decade.

I did produce and develop it for over a decade. It was part of the way I’ve had the opportunity to grow my career into different aspects of this industry. Producing was a huge part of my growth because Tammy Faye meant so much to me.

From Monica to Britney to Tammy Faye, 2021 is the year we’re doing a re-examination of a lot of pop figures. What do you think is the biggest misconception of Tammy Faye?

Well, there are two huge misconceptions about her. She was never tried and convicted of any crime. Her husband was, but she was not. In society, throughout history for hundreds of years, women for some reason have been guilty of their husband’s crimes. Tammy Faye was labeled. A big problem was also so many people were interested in how she presented herself to the world. They judged her makeup; her mascara was such this huge thing about her. They didn’t consider what she was really doing.

How hellish was the makeup transformation?

It was just a very long time in the makeup. You had to sit there and be still for a very long period of time. But it was great to have that time to just sit and listen to Tammy Faye’s voice and watch old interviews.

Which was what?

In a time when all evangelicals were these white Christian men, she went on TV saying we need to wrap our arms around AIDS patients. And she said that we as mommies and daddies need to love our children when they come out as gay. She really rocked the world, and we never gave her the credit for doing it.

What was the appeal of HBO’s “Scenes From a Marriage,” a remake of Bergman’s 1974 film?

It was such a challenge to explore gender in a relationship in today’s time just like the original explored what it meant in that time. It really lends itself to be incredibly modern. We made it in 2020. Our female character is the breadwinner of the family, which reflects a lot of households. The dynamic of what that means is important for this couple and very, very interesting. This was also the first job I’ve done which combines all the mediums. It’s a TV series and it feels like theater because it was written like a two-person play.

What was it like working with Oscar Isaac?

Oscar and I worked hard doing those 25-minute takes. We rehearsed it but also allowed for accidents. I didn’t know what he would do. In many ways, it was like surfing. You show up and you’re just in the zone. And then you catch the wave.

Was there one movie that made quarantine better for you?

I watched “Moonstruck” like four times. That movie is soooo good. And Cher is amazing. It’s a great film that always makes me smile. It’s on my repeat.

What is your idea of an ideal Sunday if you don’t have to work?

I really love to cook at our house in the country, which is where we spent most of the pandemic. Sundays are for some vegan banana pancakes. The rest of the day is a long walk outside — and just being.

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