By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Jessica Chastain won the Academy Award for best lead actress on Sunday for her mascara-laden lead role as the on-air preaching partner and wife of Christian televangelist Jim Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” “, which recounts the rise and fall of the couple.
The Oscar win for Chastain, 45, virtually unrecognizable in heavy makeup as Tammy Faye Bakker, followed a Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance and capped the third Academy Award nomination of her career.
She won the Oscar over a field of rival nominees that consisted of Olivia Colman for “The Lost Daughter,” Penelope Cruz for “Parallel Mothers,” Nicole Kidman for “Being the Ricardos” and Kristen Stewart for “Spencer.”
Chastain was previously nominated for an Oscar for her 2012 portrayal of a CIA analyst in the hunt for Osama bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty” and her 2011 supporting role as a Southern socialite in the racial drama the 1960s “The Help”.
Chastain’s latest film traced the real-life story of evangelical power couple Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, who built their PTL Club television ministry into a worldwide Christian broadcast network during the 1970s and 1980s.
But his lucrative empire collapsed in a series of highly publicized sex and financial scandals in 1987, ending with the conviction and jailing of Jim Bakker on multiple fraud charges and the couple’s divorce.
Tammy Faye later married and took on the last name of developer Roe Messner while rebuilding her reputation through a documentary and reality show before her death from cancer in 2007.
Although the film garnered mixed reviews, critics credited Chastain with the nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of a figure much satirized in his day for his extravagant makeup and clothing styles and an emotional television persona that bordered on the histrionic.
Taking the stage to accept her Oscar on Sunday, Chastain spoke with admiration of the real-life character she played, saying, “At times like this, I think of Tammy and am inspired by her radical acts of love.”
Chastain said she spent several hours a day on set, in the makeup chair, applying facial prosthetics and recreating the famous thick eyelashes that shed mascara when Bakker cried on camera.
Taking on Bakker’s rapid-fire speech and youthful voice with a Midwestern accent, Chastain also made her big-screen singing debut in the film, performing a series of Bakker’s gospel tunes.
Co-starring actor Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker, the film focuses on Tammy Faye’s point of view, highlighting her defiance of conservative evangelical leaders by preaching acceptance of LGBT people and people with HIV at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
A native of Sacramento, California, Chastain graduated from the Juilliard School and worked in television and live theater before making her film debut in 2008 as a sexually abused teenager in “Jolene,” inspired by the Dolly Parton song of the same title.
He went on to co-star in such films as Terrence Malick’s ethereal 2011 drama “The Tree of Life” opposite Brad Pitt and the sci-fi hits “Interstellar” with Matthew McConaughey and “The Martian” with Matt Damon in 2014 and 2015.
She is married to fashion executive Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, with whom she has two children.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Sandra Maler and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)