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Pat Healy and Kelly McCormack on Working With Jessica Chastain

Jan 2, 2023


The Showtime series George & Tammy explores the complicated relationship of country music power couple George Jones (Oscar nominee Michael Shannon) and Tammy Wynette (Academy Award-winner Jessica Chastain), whose love story was troubled while their music was iconic. The “First Lady of Country Music” with the hugely successful song “Stand by Your Man” was a loving mother who was determined to keep going, no matter what life threw at her, and the once-in-a-lifetime voice known for “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” widely considered to be the greatest country song of all time, were always in sync on stage, even when their personal demons tore them apart.

During this interview with Collider, Pat Healy (who plays Don Chapel, Tammy’s songwriter husband, at the time she first meets George) talked about who Don Chapel was, what made him so insecure, understanding his pain, and the standout scene he shot with Chastain and Shannon, while Kelly McCormack (who plays Sheila Richey, the wife of producer/songwriter George Richey and confident of Wynette) talked about the fun and the challenge in finding Sheila, the tragedy of her life, why it felt like she was in drag while she was in character, and the memorable scene she had to do on her birthday.

Collider: Kelly, first I wanna tell you how much I loved your work in A League of their Own. What a great season of TV that was.

KELLY McCORMACK: Thank you.

Image via Showtime

What was it like to take this woman on? She seems like such a lovely, fun person, at least when we first meet her, and she goes through such an ordeal of her own. What was it like to play those happier moments, especially in the time you got to spend with Jessica [Chastain] and Katy Mixon?

McCORMACK: I was shooting A League of their Own when I booked this, so I knew I was gonna go from gnarly tomboy shortstop, spitting and smoking, to a sweet, feminine, kind creature. Sheila Hall was a woman who actually lived. She ran a radio station. She worked for a publishing company before she met Tammy. When I spoke to everyone who knew her, like Peanutt Montgomery, Charlene, Jan, Nan, and everyone who I could get my hands on, to talk to about her, they all said the same thing. They were like, “Sheila was struggling with a lot.”

She was dealing with extreme domestic abuse, but she was always smiling and always ready. Everything she wore matched, like her nails matched her shoes, which matched her hair. In her bag, she was always ready with snacks and things. I wanted to honor this woman who was a bright light, and who worked in the orbit of the Nashville system and brought a lot to the people around her. She was ground up in the system and spat out. We lost her tragically, and no one knows who this person is. She solved everything with sweetness and with kindness and a smile. That is a deeply feminine quality. It’s something that we make fun of.

We know the song “Stand by Your Man.” Feminists have railed against the song because you shouldn’t encourage women to deal with domestic abuse and just stand by it. But there is this incredible power that women have to stabilize the people around them in society at large through internalizing and through diplomacy, and using love, empathy, affection, and compassion to solve problems rather than fire and brimstone. So, playing a woman who lived and who died felt like a huge responsibility. Even though she’s in the background, of her own accord, I really wanted to bring that shimmery, sparkly light to her. She’s someone who was really fun and really wonderful to be around, but was masking so much heartache underneath. It was fun, and it was a challenge.

For me, it was like being in drag, with the hair and makeup, and all that stuff. It’s not my thing. It was really fun to work with the hair and makeup team. We took it really seriously. Sheila’s nails had to match her headband. This story is her swan song. This led to her undoing. It was really important that those domestic feminine messages were read. Even if they don’t take up that much screen time, they’re felt. “Stand By Your Man” was being sung to women like Sheila Hall.

HEALY: I can’t follow that. I should just leave.

Image via Showtime

Pat, it feels like your character was the opposite. While Sheila wanted to stay in the background, Don Chapel wanted more attention and recognition. What did you find most interesting to explore with him? When you dug underneath the surface of it, how did you view him?

HEALY: There was obviously a deep insecurity there. I don’t like to think that a person just lashes out and does horrible things because they’re a bad person, or they’re defined by certain actions. He had a sister, Jean, that became a bit of a star, and then he discovered Tammy, who I think would’ve become a star whether he had met her or not. She just had that thing. But then, he used Tammy to get into George’s orbit and watched them fall in love. He was watching them become all the things that he wanted to be. He didn’t wanna be in the background. And now, he’s a footnote in the history of this great legacy of music. He was a pretty good songwriter. He was not a good singer, from what I could gather.

I didn’t wanna think that he was just pathetic or mean. What does that do to a person? As an actor who struggled for a long time, I’ve watched a lot of my friends, and people that I quite frankly think I’m better than, become successful. I never let it get me bitter. I would’ve quit before I got bitter about it. But I think there’s some bitterness there, so insecurities are understandable. Don Chapel wore a wig, so that tells you a lot. It wasn’t a good wig either. That tells you a lot about his insecurity. He was trying his best. He was using these unorthodox methods and dangling his wife out there like bait.

He had to have been incredibly insecure, getting together and watching Tammy skyrocket to fame in a way that must have just been absolutely devastating. That doesn’t excuse some of the horrible things that he did, at all. But for me, to get in somebody’s skin like that, I have to understand the motivations and why. I understand that pain and that sensitivity because I have it, myself. I try not to lash out at other people, but I tend to take it out on myself a lot, when I probably shouldn’t do that either.

Image via Showtime

Because of the relationships that both of your characters have with Tammy, was there a favorite moment that you had from this shoot working with Jessica Chastain?

McCORMACK: The best moment for me, it was my birthday and my first day on set. I didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday because it was like too weird to be like, “Hi, you don’t know me, but it’s my birthday.” We had to carry Michael Shannon up the stairs, myself and Jessica. Michael Shannon is six-foot something of rock hard talent. He was playing stone-cold drunk, and he was not gonna do us any favors by helping us lift him. We were carrying him, and he fell on Jessica a little bit, and then she just hulked him. She deadlifted him from the ground.

Seeing Jessica Chastain, on my first day and on my birthday, deadlift Michael Shannon from the ground, being so tiny, she just used all this crazy strength. It was so funny, and me and Katy Mixon were just dying laughing. We had so much fun. We’re playing women who would get together, play poker, and smoke and drink. Nashville was run by women in blonde wigs, playing card games and drinking whiskey and stuff. It was a huge bonding experience. Carrying Michael Shannon off the stairs was incredibly difficult, and Jessica just beast-moded it up and turned into the Hulk. And then, there was my final scene with her. She’s just a masterful actor, and she’s so generous. Working with her and feeling the heartbreak of it was an embarrassment of riches. This cast, with Pat, Steve Zahn, David Wilson Barnes, Michael Shannon, and Jessica, I don’t even know why I’m here. A lot of the time I just felt like the Canadian who doesn’t know anything about country music, but here I am.

HEALY: For me, it was a wonderful scene where Don finally gets “The Grass Grows Over Me” recorded by George. He’s watching him and there’s the elation of, “He’s recording my song. There’s my wife. He’s clearly singing it to her, and they’re in love. Oh, my God.” What a monkey’s paw moment. That’s like, “Dang!” There’s no dialogue there. There’s just the singing, the music, and the beautiful way it was shot. It was written like that on the page by (showrunner) Abe [Sylvia], and it was beautifully played by everyone. The show has lots of those moments of watching a character not speak and just letting it breathe, which is unusual for television. That was magic for me.

George & Tammy airs on Sunday nights on Showtime, and is available on-demand and streaming.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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