For The Eyes of Tammy Faye, makeup designer Linda Dowds was tasked with replicating the bold style of Tammy Faye Bakker. The real Tammy Faye was known for her extreme use of makeup, including tattooing lip and eyeliner on face.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye follows the rise and fall of the televangelist Bakker family, with a focus on Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain). The film shows the evolution from a young Tammy Faye into the Tammy Faye that everyone knew when the PTL scandal happened.
Dowds says that one of the most common images that people think of when they hear Tammy Faye, with heavily running makeup, is actually a fallacy. With that in mind, it was important for Dowds to stay true to reality.
DEADLINE: What was so special about her eyes?
LINDA DOWDS: I think we hadn’t seen anybody be on television with quite that much makeup. And she wore black lashes on top of lashes. Her makeup was got fairly extreme. She tattooed the liner around her eyes. She tattooed liner around her lips and her brows. Because she was such an emotional person, I think that’s what we remember is the actual makeup and how intensely she’d done her eyes. The interesting part was that in all my research, watching all of the old P-T-L stuff, or even the Christian Broadcast Network, which she didn’t put on so much makeup for, there was never anything where you saw her with makeup running down her face. That was something that became a part of late-night comedy sketches. And I think that’s also why people gravitate towards that because that’s how she was shown in those comedy sketches with mascara running down her face from those heavily mascaraed and tattooed eyes.
DEADLINE: With that in mind, how did you toe the line between the real Tammy Faye and this caricature of her that became so well known?
DOWDS: It was honestly the thing that I focused on the most. And I actually think that we all did, whether it was the prosthetics or costume or hair, we knew that because she was so larger than life because the makeup was so bold and so strong, we knew that we had to do it in her way. But we were always aware, not to cross the line into caricature and that was the really key thing. And so that was always in the back of my mind. I always worked very hard and would take a look and go, “okay have I stayed true to Tammy and have we crossed over?” And there are some days where I’d be looking and I’d either push a little bit more or sometimes I’d think, “Hey, have I pushed a little too far?” and I would take a real, objective look. But when you see it all together, collectively, that was kind of our goal. It was to honor her and not make fun.
And that was exactly the most difficult thing I think for me was to never cross that line into caricature. And I think if we had done that, and I hope people feel that we didn’t, not only would it have been a betrayal of her, but it also would take us out of the movie because, up until that point where she goes into this full on heavier look, I think that we wanted everything to have a flow and be believable and not take the audience out of it. And I think that was also part of the thought process in not crossing that line.