Fordham Hosts Screening of ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’

Jessica Chastain, Vincent D’Onofrio and Director Michael Showalter discuss the legacy of the televangelist



The cast of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” engaged in a panel discussion, following the movie screening, where they reflected on the life of Tammy Faye and the values she supported.


Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture hosted a screening of the new film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” followed by a discussion panel with the cast at the AMC Lincoln Center on Sept. 15, two days before the public release of the film on Sept. 17.

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” tells the story of famed televangelist Tammy Faye and her rise and fall from glory alongside her husband, Jim Bakker. The movie focuses on Tammy Faye’s marital and career struggles — as well as her opioid addiction — which contrasts her bright and bubbly public persona.

“We were excited to host this screening and discussion with the cast and director because a film like ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye”’ is almost the perfect nexus of religion and culture,” said David Gibson, director of Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture and moderator of the panel. “The story of these televangelists and the ‘prosperity gospel’ is central to the history of American Christianity.”

“I thought she was a clown.” Jessica Chastain, actress who plays the role of Tammy Faye

“It was interesting to hear firsthand from the people who made the film how they thought the narrative around these public figures deserved to be changed,” Eleana Olsen, Fordham College at Lincoln Center ’23, said. 

Jessica Chastain, who plays the role of Tammy Faye, commented during the panel that she was inspired to produce the movie after seeing the original documentary “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” released in 2010. 

“I thought she was a clown,” Chastain said. “The documentary showed behind the gossip … and showed the true woman that she was.”

Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr. in the film, echoed Chastain’s sentiments about Tammy Faye’s clouded legacy. He highlighted all aspects of her career, the good and bad.

“This script goes right down the middle. It doesn’t try to push you in any direction,” D’Onofrio said. “It shows (televangelists) for who they were, and it’s very fair… I think we’ve confused Tammy Faye with Jimmy Bakker and that bothers me a lot.”

Although supporting LGBTQ+ rights has always been a taboo within Christianity, Tammy Faye was outspoken in her care and love for the queer community. In 1985, Tammy Faye interviewed Stephen Pieters, a gay preacher who had been diagnosed with AIDS, on her Christian television channel. Chastain talked to Pieters herself while working on the film and noted several times that this was an aspect of Tammy Faye’s career that fascinated and shocked her.

“I realized, I don’t think she was hiding who she was, I think she was trying to express who she was. Jessica Chastain

“She tried to connect with everyone who felt unloved… it was everything to her to make everyone feel worthy and loved,” Chastain said.

Director Michael Showalter also commented on the warmth Tammy Faye exudes. He discussed growing up in the ’70s and ’80s during the rise of televangelists. “I have a warm feeling about it … there was a desire to recreate this time period,” Showalter said.

Tammy Faye was well known for her extravagant makeup. During filming, Chastain spent four hours in the makeup chair transforming into Tammy Faye. Throughout the filming process, Chastain said she changed her mind about Tammy Faye hiding behind her makeup, instead realizing that she used her makeup to celebrate her beauty.

“I realized, I don’t think she was hiding who she was, I think she was trying to express who she was,” Chastain said. “[Tammy Faye] said … ’I feel pretty this way’ … Why would God be against something that makes you feel so good?”

Chastain explained that she looks up to Tammy Faye and her outreach for those who were most unwanted by society. Chastain believes that her name has been clouded by the legacy of Bakker and tabloid gossip.

“I wanted to right a wrong that I felt our society had done by clouding a legacy that really should be celebrated.”