Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Cherry Jones Reveals What It Was Like Working With Jessica Chastain On The Eyes Of Tammy Faye - Exclusive Interview

Cherry Jones has had a prolific acting career, having starred in such films as "Erin Brockovich" and "The Perfect Storm" and on series like "24," "Transparent," and "The Handmaid's Tale." Now she's taken on a new role, portraying the stern mother in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," which comes out in theaters on Sept. 17.

Starring Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" is a vibrant biopic based on the 2000 documentary of the same name that follows the flamboyant rise and fall of controversial televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Starting with Tammy Faye's humble beginnings as the sheltered, secret only child of her mother's failed first marriage to a Pentecostal preacher, then depicting her passionate but hasty courtship with Jim, the film lays out how the religious power couple built their multimillion-dollar empire — and how it all came crashing down in a web of lies and deceit.

Jones, who plays Tammy Faye's tough-love mother Rachel, recently spoke to Looper about "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," revealing what it was really like working with Chastain and Garfield — and what she really thinks of Jim Bakker.

Jessica Chastain makes a 'cartoonish' Tammy Faye feel 'grounded in reality'

As Tammy Faye's onscreen mother, you're a tough cookie. Was it ever challenging to be so straitlaced and stony-faced around such a goofy, bubbly character like Tammy Faye?

Well, it was, because I was trying to figure out exactly what the tone of the film was, which is what I think Jessica [Chastain] did so brilliantly. She's just incredible at it, because she grounds it so that no matter how goofy and crazy and almost cartoonish it can be at times, she absolutely grounds it in a reality. Now, as written, her mama was a little more of an archetype and for a reason, because it wasn't about Tammy Faye and her mother. And I think her mother was not as severe as I played her. Although they did have a very difficult relationship, they loved each other very much, and with all my severity, I hope that comes through — that there was a great deal of love there. But they were just from two different planets, those two women. They couldn't have been more dissimilar.

Through most of the film, your character seems disapproving of Tammy Faye's life. Do you think she saw Tammy as a villain or a victim?

I can't say she thought of her as a villain. I mean, if those are my only two choices, I would say she was a victim of her love and her openness and her faith in Jim Bakker, which was a disastrous place to put your faith. Yeah. If those are my only two choices, I would say she saw her as a victim blinded by this love and this belief in this rapscallion. I mean, the guy's still a rapscallion. He's even worse now. He's still on the air, Jim Bakker. You know that. Have you seen him? He's still doing it.

And what's so fascinating is he's gone from preaching love and joy and prosperity to all, and God wants us to be happy. Being a con artist of his age, he knows how to morph. And now what he's selling are survivalist paint buckets full of dehydrated chicken soup for the end of the world, because the end is coming, and God is punishing all the sinners. He was selling something that [supposedly] cured you of COVID. I mean, he's the devil, that guy. He's just wretched. He's a wretched, wretched person.

So then what about playing Tammy Faye's mother appealed to you, and how did it challenge you as an actor?

Well, I just think Jessica is so extraordinary, and when I got the call to play Jessica's mother I was so flattered and thrilled. And I'm of the age where I watched them [the Bakkers]. We all watched them occasionally just for a laugh, just because it was so outrageous. And so it was a great deal of fun diving back into all of that and watching some of those. Taking myself back to 1983, '84, '85. And also I'd never played anyone from International Falls, Minnesota. That was appealing to me. But honestly, just to work with Jessica and Andrew Garfield and get to play this sort of archetype of a woman was very appealing. And I knew it was going to shoot in North Carolina in the fall, and that's a beautiful place to be.

Jessica Chastain was nervous and 'absolutely trembling' while filming The Eyes of Tammy Faye

What was it like working so closely with Jessica? Any funny or memorable moments with her from the set that you can share?

Yes, as a matter of fact. I'm still kind of terrified of doing film, because I feel like I still don't have a clue what I'm doing. Jessica, on the other hand, has starred in how many films at this point and is a major motion picture movie star. And when we did their first scene ... the first scene they shot was the two of them [Jim and Tammy] coming and knocking on my door to say that they'd married. And then they come in, and Tammy Faye is just telling us how wonderful he is.

When we finally got through with that scene, she said, "Could you see my lips shaking? Because the rest of me was!" I said, "What are you talking about?" She said, "The first scenes are always the hardest." And she said, "I was just absolutely trembling." Because she'd been preparing for that role for months and months and maybe even longer, and the day had finally arrived to actually be Tammy Faye on camera. She said she was just shaking like a leaf. I never saw it, but I want to go back and look at that scene again, and just see if I can find any little tremor. I know I won't be able to. She's so good.

And Andrew is also great in it. And I don't know if this has been talked about or even should be talked about, but you know they wear prosthetics throughout the entire film? And you can't tell. I mean, it's really great work, but Andrew and Jessica are so lean and angular and, of course, Jim and Tammy were anything but. They were so chipmunk-faced. And so that they're doing what they're doing with the little bit of prosthetics on is even more extraordinary to me.

Now, in your career you tend to take progressive roles — like playing a female president on "24" — and roles that have some sort of social commentary — like "The Handmaid's Tale." And "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" is definitely rife with social commentary. Why is it important for you to take roles that push the envelope?

It's just what interests me the most. There's no theater like world political theater. I've just always been fascinated by current events and world history, so it seems that if you're going to spend your time performing, it certainly behooves us to try to do as much that makes people think about the here and the now and ask themselves hard questions. So if you can present work that makes people think, it's more rewarding than just an after-dinner-mint kind of performance.

Is there a dream role or a genre of work that has eluded you so far that you hope comes your way in the future?

Oh, I like that. A genre of work? No one's ever put that in there when asking me about my dream role. Do you know what? I depend on the kindness of directors. I've never had goals or things that I want to do that I haven't gotten to do. I just haven't. I'm like a rolling stone. I go where whoever calls next, as long as it interests me and I feel like it has some social worth.

"The Eyes of Tammy Faye" will be open in theaters on Friday, Sept. 17.