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Oscar Nominees Linda Dowds and Stephanie Ingram on How They Turned Jessica Chastain Into Tammy Faye Bakker


The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Image via Searchlight Pictures

When Below the Line was scheduled to interview Jessica Chastain’s makeup artist Linda Dowds and hairstylist Stephanie Ingram, who have been working with the Oscar-nominated actress for years, we had no idea the conversation would take place mere minutes after they won a BAFTA Award for Best Makeup along with prosthetics coordinator Justin Raleigh for their work on The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

Dowds and Ingram were both elated and in near-disbelief when we spoke on the phone, during which time they noted how much the BAFTA win meant to them after years of working in the industry without any such recognition. Having won the award for Best Makeup at the Critics Choice Awards on Sunday night as well, the two are considered the favorites to win the Oscar in less than two weeks.

Of course, nothing is ever assured when it comes to the Oscars, so you cannot completely discount Tammy Faye‘s fellow makeup and hairstyling nominees such as Dune, House of Gucci, or Cruella, though the fifth nominee, Coming 2 America, seems like a longshot.

Dowds and Ingram spoke to Below the Line about who they helped transform Chastain into Tammy Faye Bakker, who came to be known for her striking makeup and hairstyles, putting extra pressure on the Eyes team. They also discuss their long partnership with Chastain, what it was like working with her co-star Andrew Garfield, and why their Oscar nomination is so meaningful to them. Enjoy…

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Image via Searchlight Pictures

Below the Line: Congratulations on your win at the BAFTAs, Linda and Stephanie! How does it feel?

Linda Dowds: Thank you, don’t get me started, I’m just trying to stop crying. This is very emotional. The next two weeks are going to be a lot of fun.

Stephanie Ingram: I can’t stop shaking. I feel [the] excitement. Never in my career of 32 years have I been acknowledged. To be acknowledged at this caliber is … [breaks up].

Dowds: It’s a real privilege. We’ve worked a long time, and we work hard, you do your work. To have this kind of acknowledgment is overwhelming. I feel very blessed.

BTL: So take me back to the beginning — how did you first get involved in this project?

Dowds: We are on our 16th project with Jessica. We were working with her on the prior film when she first broached the subject of The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Then the project went away and came back a couple of times. It sort of made us more excited eventually. It was such a great film to do makeup, hair, and costume. To do period is exciting, and to couple it with a real-life person who was so larger than life was even better. It was also helpful that we could start talking a little bit earlier and start percolating [ideas].

BTL: How did you approach this project, given that it’s about a real person, and how did you set out to emulate the look of someone who is so well known?

Ingram: There are so many different elements and so many different eras that we covered in the film, that it became a matter of watching a lot of videos. Also doing a lot of research. Linda does a lot of research and brought a lot of stuff to light for me. But also, adding Jessica’s collaboration to this—she knew how she wanted to look for each period, I just had to bring it to life. The idea was to acknowledge Tammy Faye through the eras. Then it was communication between the three of us, which was critical to this process.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Image via Searchlight Pictures

BTL: Explain the responsibilities as you divided them, and how you managed to turn Andrew and Jessica into the Bakkers.

Dowds: Originally we were both doing Andrew Garfield and Jessica. But it was so much work involved, in the prosthetics side, and the makeup. So we did do the research for both of them and we designed the looks for both of them. But as we began testing it became apparent that each of them needed their own thing. What became apparent from my side of things was that even in his younger years Andrew was going to need a lot of prosthetics. I had so little face left to work with that it made more sense for Justin’s prosthetics team to handle him all, to just finish the makeup on the prosthetics. Because the material you use on prosthetics is totally different than for real skin, so Justin’s team took over Andrew.

Ingram: We were already testing and doing some filming with Jessica, as we were getting Andrew’s look created. It became apparent as Linda said that I was only born with two hands and that doing his look would not be a good idea, there would be no time. He had several different wigs as well. The production brought in someone else, a consultant Bryce and Connelly to do his wigs. That allowed us to focus on Jessica, who had between 11-13 wigs in the film, and I was also creating Cherry [Jones] wigs for the earlier days.

BTL: Stephanie, tell us about the process for creating Tammy Faye’s wigs here.  What were they made of?

Ingram: Most times when I’m working with Jessica, as in this case, the work is created in communication. I take the ideas, I go to wherever I’m living, and I have the base color in my head, and we have talked about whether we want to change colors or styles. I create it where I live, and I bring it in. Almost 95% of the work is done off of Jessica’s head. She likes me to just put it on her and finesse it.

She had two costume wigs that were built for her and I changed the root color and did some frosting tip on the shorter one because that is what Tammy Faye did. The finale scene in the movie, where she is on stage, is synthetic—and that is the only synthetic one. The rest is human hair.

BTL: We’ve talked about Andrew’s prosthetics, but did Jessica wear any?

Dowds: Justin did them for her, and yes there were some. There were three basic stages as we cover three and a half decades of story. The boys would lay the foundation on her face of the initial look for each period. There was the younger in the early 70s in Bible college, then we move into what we called the middle look of the late 70s and in the 80s, and then the last look, which had the most prosthetics, when she’s older.

What we did was we had multiple looks on top of those three looks. Tammy was very matchy, and so we always had a close collaboration with the costume designer, to make sure it matched. We had a lot of collaboration with hair color, makeup color, costume color, and even nail color. But, yes, neither actor was without at least one prosthetic throughout the film.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Image via Searchlight Pictures

BTL: This is a movie that is almost about makeup — the movie even starts with her talking about her makeup. So how did you get the makeup to a) look so real and b) stay on? And tell me about Tammy Faye’s tattooed eyebrows, which are certainly a choice.

Dowds: The challenge is that you want to be as honest in the portrayal as you can. We did a lot of research. We got a lot of references from the Christian Broadcast Network, and even from old album covers on eBay. When you’re looking at that element it is important to get the periods right and to have respect for the person you’re helping portray. That is the first element. The second is that the melding of beauty and prosthetics is not easy. Prosthetics requires a lot of materials, but the materials you need for beauty are different. We changed the order at times and found ways to make it smoother for Jessica, to cut down her time on the chair, while also getting a beauty look on the prosthetics. Otherwise, they look flat. I like skin to be dewy.

With the tattoo element in the eyebrows, I had a waterproof pencil and a stencil, and that got laid on directly to the prosthetic. And then I was able to tattoo a waterproof pencil all around her eyes. For her lips, she had a deep plummy color tattoo again through a waterproof pencil. This gave us a solid, heavy unbroken line as if it was tattooed, but without moving. No giveaway of smudging or anything like that.

The final element is that because it is a larger-than-life look, you want to be careful not to cross the line into caricature. For this we did it as a collective with the others, to make sure we worked in sync not to go over the top. Beauty was important to Tammy and she cared a lot about what she wore and how she looked.

BTL: Were the nails she had also part of your work? I’m betraying my ignorance!

Dowds: Yes they were and it’s not ignorance. So much that we do is overall not always understood and what has been fun about this process is explaining this to people. The learning of the process if great for all of us.

With the nails I had those press-on ones, I had multiple sets painted in every color. Depending on what we were doing that day, I would have a little trey we would bring in. Those things fly off at the worst possible movement. If it did, I had some pre-taped and put the little puppy back on and be on our way.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Image via Searchlight Pictures

BTL: So, you talked about the chair time, but how long did she have to spend undergoing that process each day?

Dowds: The opening look in the opening scene was about 2 to 2.5, including with costumes in prosthetics. The second look was about 2.5, maybe 3. It’s when we got to the final stage, that was our largest look, a little more finicky, we got that one down to 4.5.

BTL: What was your favorite part about working on this project and what was the most challenging?

Ingram: The 80s look when we see her in the recording booth. When we saw that it was like “oh my that’s a lot of hair.” Human wigs actually don’t have a lot of hair so I merged two wigs together and used perm rods to give it that volume and style. She loved it and wanted to wear it the rest of the film — of course, she couldn’t! And also right before the end of the film and she’s in a dressing room and she takes the wig off her hair, and we see her short brown hair and understand that’s why Tammy used to wear so many wigs.

I created that small short brown hair for Jessica and the first one did not work. We went back to the creative process and put lace on the inside so you could see the illusion of how little hair she had. Overall, they can all be challenging because only two of the 13 were made for Jessica.

Dowds: For me, the hard part was that the materials I wanted to use I could not always because of the prosthetics. Challenge number two was not wanting to go to a caricature. Finding that line without crossing it was super important and a challenge. I will say that my favorite stage was the middle ground when she’s doing all the pinks and purples and blues with the blond wig. I loved that because it was a happy time so much of that period for Tammy. She was doing what she loved so it was one of the happier elements in the film.

BTL: Thank you again, and best of luck with the rest of the season!

Both: Thank you for talking to us!

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is now streaming on HBO Max.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Image via Searchlight Pictures
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