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Stars of 'Fall From Grace' Go Beyond Caricature in Portrayal of the Bakkers

April 23, 1990|JOAN HANAUER | United Press International

NEW YORK — The names Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker conjure up visions of a weeping preacher and fake eyelashes like antlers, but a new made-for-television movie about them manages to move beyond the caricatures.

Bernadette Peters stars as Tammy Faye and Kevin Spacey as Jim Bakker in "Fall From Grace," to air on NBC Sunday.

The story doesn't delve back to when Jim and Tammy Faye met in Bible school or whatever their ancient history might be.

It gets right to the point--December, 1980. The Bakkers' rocky marriage is undergoing a trial separation. While Tammy Faye is living in Palmdale, Calif., the camera trains on Jim and Jessica Hahn in a hotel room in Clearwater Beach, Fla.

The TV movie ends with Jim and Tammy meeting newsmen outside their Palm Springs home to say goodby to the PTL, which Falwell took over at the beginning of the scandal and has refused to return to them.

Both Bernadette Peters and Kevin Spacey said in separate interviews that they had doubts about taking part in the show because of the caricature, "Saturday Night Live" aspect of their characters.

"I thought, gee, everyone seems to laugh at Jim and Tammy Faye," Peters said. "Then I read the script and I thought, here's a chance to show the private side, what's underneath the character that everyone saw all the time."

She said she watched videotapes and taped interviews with Tammy Faye to get a fix on her.

"I didn't want to play her as a caricature; I didn't want you to laugh at her," she said, and gave her own summation of Tammy Faye:

"She was covering up a lot of sadness. Everytime she'd smile, the ends of her mouth seemed to go down. I felt it was kind of a woman's story, about a woman trapped inside her life and relationship, on a huge scale, in front of everybody.

"She was hoping to have this wonderful life with this man. She loved God, she had very strong religious feelings for God. She expected to have this wonderful life, but he's gotten crazed with the power of it all."

Spacey, primarily a stage actor best known on television for his portrayal of mad crime boss Mel Profitt on "Wiseguy," said of the role of Jim Bakker:

"I'm always surprised when people call and offer me a job but in this case I was extraordinarily reluctant to do it at first.

"I felt to a large degree Bakker had become in so many people's eyes such an object of ridicule and such a caricature. How does an actor get beyond that and portray him as a real person?"

He said the director and writers assured him that they were not looking for a caricature.

"I began to see a role to tackle here that was far more complex and far more interesting than I had at first thought it would be," he said. "It ended up turning out to be a really terrific and challenging experience."

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