The Production Designer of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” on the ’80s Trends Making a Comeback (and One That Isn’t)
Wall-to-wall shag carpets, a jungle of fake plants, gold-drenched trimmings: these are a few of the extreme design elements that defined the ’80s. It was over the top, it was eccentric, and — while it will never be as intense as it was 40 years ago — the new film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” shows that certain elements of the decade might be sticking around a bit longer.
Starring Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Bakker) and Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker, the film takes viewers as far back as the ’50s and up to the ’90s, but there’s a certain focus on ’80s interior design that you can’t miss. Laura Fox, who’s worked on “The White Lotus” and “500 Days of Summer,” is the production designer behind the nostalgia-inducing sets, and in a conversation with Apartment Therapy, came to the conclusion through her design research that yes, maybe the ’80s are here to stay.
Not only is it clear through some of the design details that are seen in today’s home — gold accents, fake plants, mirrors galore — but also the selection found in popular home stores like HomeGoods, where Fox shopped for furry and plush decor for the film. (Fun fact: Tammy Faye was a huge fan of T.J. Maxx, so the team decided to shop where she used to shop.)
Beyond the depiction of the ’80s, Fox brought multiple decades to life throughout the movie that guided viewers through the rise and fall of the Bakkers’ empire. And while giving the scoop to AT, she also revealed the secret to dressing your own home in a former decade without it looking too overdone, among other things.
Apartment Therapy: What made you interested in doing the set design for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye?”
Laura Fox: I was a huge fan of the documentary, so when I heard about it, I was totally interested. Then I met with Michael [Showalter] the director, and we just hit it off. It seemed like a super exciting project that tells her story because it was such a weird rise and fall. She’s such an extreme character, a little more multi-faceted than people know. Plus, who doesn’t want to spend time in the ’80s?
AT: How did you execute distinct designs from every decade? What was that process like?
LM: I always [think], what are the characters doing? What is appropriate to the era? But also, what is timeless and doesn’t scream at me, you just stepped into an ’80s movie? That’s sort of my approach. Her childhood home was a farmhouse from the ’40s, that was very straightforward. I wanted an earthier color palette until we got into the world of Jim and Tammy. It’s not only a journey of the eras, it’s a journey of their success and their financial growth. She was a fanatic T.J. Maxx shopper. So you’re trying to figure out what someone without any expose to art and architecture might do with all this newfound wealth, and yet, we didn’t want them to look tacky or make fun of them in any way. We just wanted to share that rise to excess.
AT: Did you buy any of the set items at T.J. Maxx?
LF: She was a clothes shopper [at T.J. Maxx]. She would go there to shop and look for a discount. We did do some HomeGoods shopping — furry pillows, all that kind of plushy stuff that was super ’80s, too. For their house, the whole thing started with the shag carpet. One, it’s period appropriate, and two, what is more decadent and more a show of wealth than not being afraid of wall-to-wall white shag carpet? It kind of grew from there.
AT: How did you let Tammy’s personality shine in the interiors?
LF: I found out that their final studio was still standing. I went down and scouted it, her dressing room was there, and it had been literally floor to ceiling mirrors. And that was it. I was like, I’m off! Mirrors here, mirrors there. And even [Jim’s] dressing room, which had a big memory war room component, was full of mirrors. Like huge, 10-foot mirrors. Their vanity… that was really a great inspiration. It’s fun when you can have that style not only reflect that era but also the character.
AT: Do you seeing anything from the ’80s making a comeback now?
LM: Fake plants. When I was making that film, every weekend was trips to thrift stores to find vintage fake plants because the new ones aren’t the same, and I was surprised at how many fake plants big household goods places, like HomeGoods, were selling. People just don’t want to be bothered with dirt anymore. Those ’70s and ’80s TV shows like “Murder, She Wrote” or “Columbo,” it’s like a jungle of fake plants in every set, and so I feel like that just was very new in those days, and now it’s coming back. I don’t think shag carpets are coming back, though.
AT: What are some tips for bringing a different decade to life at home?
KM: I love photography. When you look at photography books as opposed to architectural or decor books, you see things in their natural habitat. You’re looking at people living in spaces as opposed to the design elements, and I think that inspires people to come up with more authentic ways to do things because they’re lived in. I always like that in addition to glamorous magazines, and of course old movies are a great source of inspiration because stuff looks great. And if you think of things as timeless, it really helps make anything work.
AT: Are there any big challenges you faced when designing the film?
KM: There were no references of where they lived because their house burnt down, so you kind of have to make it up and use what you know about them. I know they had excess wealth, so how do I show that without making a big ugly set with too much junk in it? I had some scrappy little pictures, I had a weird quote that Tammy had said she had two life-sized dolls at her dining room table. That’s the little girl in her that probably never grew up. You have to keep getting these little clues and try to figure it out.
AT: Did you have a personal favorite design moment?
KM: I loved making their first show, the puppet set. There was so much youth and innocence in their characters when they were doing that. I thought that was a real joy to deliver.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is now in theaters.