Production designer Laura Fox, who transformed the Four Seasons Maui into an uneasy pineapple-bedecked paradise for HBO’s “The White Lotus,” faced some similar challenges when creating the world of Tammy Faye Bakker for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”
Neither director Michael Showalter, nor producer-actress Jessica Chastain, who plays the title character, wanted to make fun of the flamboyant televangelist, yet parts of her life were undeniably over-the-top, such as her creepy doll collection. Fox says “research, research, research” was the key, although very few detailed descriptions of her surroundings existed, which allowed her to have creative license in building key sets such as the Bakker house and their studio. “It was about weaving ideas together and how to make them rich knowing they really had no exposure to taste or a decorator,” she says.
Fox shared sketches and insight into how she built the world of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker and embraced their decadence.
Building Tammy’s World
There were no pictures of their main house, but I found their studio was still standing in South Carolina, so I went and immediately scouted it and that is where I got a lot of the clues. I found out her dressing room was floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Jim’s dressing room was down a labyrinth of halls and it was like this wooden war room, but also with a huge mirrored area. So the vanity, that separation of those things started to come into my mind.
I also interviewed people there, and everybody knows Tammy, everybody still loves Tammy. I also found this weird interview where she said she had two life-size dolls at her kitchen table, so I started to get these weird bits and pieces and that’s where it began.
The Bakker House
Tammy’s Bedroom and Her Portraits
I didn’t have hours for Jessica as Tammy to pose, so I grabbed the best pictures from the makeup tests and had a graphic designer create them. We blew those pictures up, applied a paint treatment over them and framed them. I didn’t see them as art collectors, so we placed those around the house
We found a house, but it was really hard to find the right house because this was set in the ‘80s, so when we did find one, we emptied it.
I decided to put the bed in the middle of the room because she was always in it, and let’s not have audiences stare at a wall. We had a fantastic DP, Michael Gioulakis, who was not afraid of mirrors. I added two walls of mirrors, plus the white shag carpet and a lot of gold. There was the gold fabric wallpaper because I was thinking about ‘What makes you look and feel rich?’ And I added the pink velvet bed because it was so girly.
For the dolls that you start to see, I spent almost every weekend at a thrift store. I found a place called Wanda’s, it was this old grocery store filled with dolls galore, and it was this magical place. She had old tree skirts for tiny Christmas trees, but it was an endless place. Almost everything was from Wanda’s. I texted Mitchell Travers, the costume designer, and told him to go there. He also got stuff from there.
But the idea of the design was Jessica as Tammy would be the shining star, the focal point and everything else would fade away.
The Living Room
With the plants, I used fake plants from that era because fake plants nowadays aren’t the same. The house we had was a little smaller than I would have liked but it had huge windows with that beautiful view of the lake. We had a drinks tray because she was constantly eating sweets and drinking Diet Coke. I wanted to create that background of soft cream and golds for her to shine. The couches were white velvet, there was a lot of softness. Later on, I painted all of the green plants gold because it was suggestive of this evolution. I added more gold and lamps because they lived in the same house forever and just added as they got richer.
When they do their iconic confessional on TV, I was holding a picture to match that as closely as possible because it was infamous.
The 700 Club Studios
I loved recreating the studio with the puppet show. It was tricky because when they got kicked out, all the tapes were destroyed and you couldn’t find that show, there was little reference.
The big set was an amalgamation of all of their sets. Her dressing room had lots of shoes, so we put in 200 pairs and 20 wigs, again there was white carpet which was the signature that I gave them. The crew were so respectful of the set. I’d walk in and see a pile of shoes and that white carpet held up great.