Jessica Chastain on 'George and Tammy' and the biggest challenge of playing Tammy Wynett
She also discusses why her SAG Award nomination is so special and her desire to teach at Juilliard.
Served as a complete piece, the six-part Showtime original limited series George and Tammy explores the triumph, tragedy, and impossibility of country music superstar couple Tammy Winnett (Jessica Chastain) and George Jones (Michael Shannon). Denied Love, and the two main actors that come from it. Dubbed "The First Lady of Country Music," Wynnette was a loving mother determined to succeed and keep going no matter what life threw her way, while Chastain, who is also the project's executive producer, And the singer who instilled "Stand By Your Man" has such a pure humanity and a beautiful soul that it can't help but tug at your heartstrings.
In this one-on-one interview with Collider, Oscar winner Chastain talks about why her SAG Award nomination is so special, the biggest challenge of playing Tammy Wynette, and why you have to be accountable to other artists around you and not get too Get lost in your character, the importance of her collaboration with Shannon, and what her perspective adds to the telling of this story. She also talked about why she hasn't directed yet, and how she hopes to teach at Juilliard.
Collider: First of all, congratulations on being nominated for the SAG Awards Because it is well deserved. This is the class of great performance in great projects. As an actor, what's it like going through an awards show with other actors, especially one where the cast chooses the nominees and winners? Does that make the SAG Awards a special experience?
JESSICA CHASTAIN: Honestly, it means a lot to me. Last year, at the SAG Awards, I was so excited. I got into this business because I love actors so much, I love seeing their work, I love working with them. These are the happiest times of my life, apart from being with my family. So, to have their approval, it means a lot, because no one knows better than the rest of the cast what a performance needs or needs. They understand the sacrifices made, the technical side of certain things, especially getting out of your comfort zone, like all singing. Actors are the ones who really understand because they do it every day. Whether they're auditioning or trying to find a job, they're always putting themselves in situations of uncertainty and the uninformed. So when you are recognized Your peer group means more to me. I know I'm not supposed to rank anything, but being recognized by my peers means a lot to me.
What was the biggest ask of you playing Tammy Wynette? It feels a bit like you can focus on playing a character, in moments with George or when she's a mom, but when you're singing her songs, you really can't avoid thinking about the fact that you're playing Tammy Wynette. Were those more challenging moments, or were they different types of challenges along the way?
CHASTAIN: That was definitely the most challenging moment. A decision was made early on that we were going to sing. I've done it before, but I've never really sung live in front of hundreds of people and it scares me. Every day I would show up, there would be people in the audience, in theater where I was going to perform, and they would be gracious and inspiring to me. They know how nervous I am, they cheer me on, in a sense. I just feel like this community is very supportive of me because they know what I'm doing is really scary and tough and difficult. That was definitely the hardest. Nobody sounds like Tammy Wynette. Whether or not you're the most famous country singer working today, you don't sound like Tammy Wynette on "Stand By Your Man." She is a unique talent with a unique voice. The thing I had to deal with was, "Well, the only thing I know how to do is tell a story. I'm an actor and my job is to tell a story." I approached music as a team. How am I different at the end of the scene or at the end of the song than at the beginning? What is an emotional journey? What am I expressing? Even though it happens to be about music, that's what I focus on. It's about how to tell a story through music.
You seem to really throw yourself into the role you play. Over the years, we've heard actors of all kinds talk about losing themselves in roles. Most recently, Austin Butler Already talked to Elvis. Have you ever gotten lost in any role you've ever done? Depending on the strength of the material, is this something that only happens on certain days or certain scenes, or do you feel like you have a pretty healthy approach to it and keep working?
CHASTAIN: You have to be responsible to other artists around you, which means you can't get lost in certain things. If I do a violent scene with Mike Shannon, you don't get lost in it. You have to take care of your colleagues. Be responsible. Yes, I give 100% to the role I play. At the end of [George & Tammy], I stopped eating to try to show how weak she was, and I lost a lot of weight in episode six. I give a lot to the characters I play, but I never neglect my scene mates, or the people around me. I don't want to be selfish about my process and put other people at risk. If I play a junkie, We have a lot of scenes like that in George & Tammy, and I'm doing it because I don't want to put other people in danger. To me, it's very, very dangerous when you get to the point where "I don't know who I am anymore." First off, I've never heard anyone say that, and I don't know if it's actually true because the reality is that there's a camera in front of you, so it's selective vision. But the reality is that our job is to devote every cell of our body to the music we are playing, and to make great sacrifices. It takes a toll on you both emotionally and physically. But you're also there to protect the person you play and protect those around you.
Looks like you and Michael Shannon have really formed a really nice partnership on this. I think it helps that you already have a friendship, from before, when you do something like this. During filming, were there moments when he was with you, where being around you felt really important, really necessary?
CHASTAIN: Something to sing about. he When it comes to that, it's everything to me. I've never really gotten along with anyone before. When you look at those videos of George and Tammy singing together, whether they're married or not, everything that happens on stage with them is so beautiful, so powerful, so moving, and collaborators like Mike, I absolutely trusted him and then learned how to mix our voices so it became a unique sound and a unique sound but because it had a harmony and more than one person created this unique sound it Almost spiritualized. I don't know how to describe it, it just felt really special and not the norm for what I was going to do.
You've done a fantastic job as an actor, and it's been a lot of fun watching your chosen projects now as a producer. Have you considered adding a director to your talent list? Is this an inevitable next step at some point?
CHASTAIN: At one point, I was thinking, "I might want to direct something", and then I dropped a project that I wanted to direct. this is A few years ago, but I gave up because they wouldn't allow me to hire a female producer. I realized, "Well, I don't want to work in that environment," so I decided not to. Since then, I have no idea. I wonder if I'm more interested in teaching one day. I would love to teach at Juilliard. I really like working with other actors, and the idea that when you're with someone, you see them open up in a way that they've never done before, and it's almost a surprise to them, what to show So vulnerable and vulnerable and beautiful, and you help them feel safe enough to share that is like a great gift to me. That's what I'm passionate about right now.
It's very interesting to see the items you choose. Even George & Tammy, if you weren't in it, I don't think I know if the series would have had its perspective.
CHASTAIN: Well, thanks for saying that. It has many iterations. one more iteration Separated from the series' creator, Abe Sylvia. I think he's done a fantastic job. But once I read something, I immediately thought, "I can't be a part of that," and I'm very clear to everyone involved in what I think is wrong, as far as playing female characters, it seems through that lens. It was important to me to be involved at some point in the development, because until now, for many, many years, women were not allowed into the rooms where the stories were being created, and sometimes those stories had been created without women at all. It's this echo chamber that, because they don't understand, doesn't really have perspective, so it's valuable to me. In George & Tammy, it was very important to me to show Tammy as a mom. From everything I've read about her, and conversations with her children, motherhood is a huge part of who she is. When you say, "Oh, I want to tell this story about music and drugs, and it's epic love," you don't really think of that. you don't think what will happen to her Dealing with the kids during the first breakfast date, or whatever, I'd really like to dig into. It was also very important to my production partner Kelly [Carmichael]. With so many women doing multiple things, it has been considered for years that taking a child for a ride is not a sexy thing to do. But I'm sorry, I've found a whole person with many facets to their lives that's very sexy and very fascinating.
You want to remind people of their humanity. Yes, Tammy Wynette is a superstar and an icon, but watching her as a mom reminds you that there's someone out there, too.
Chastain: Of course. It reminds you that when she showed up in Nashville in the 1960s, she was a divorced woman with three kids determined to make a name for herself. I've been in Nashville since I've been doing this project and I've talked to successful women who work in the music industry and in country music and they say it's still hard for them so I can't even imagine it in 1960s.
All episodes of George & Tammy are available on Showtime Anytime.