Midland’s Mark Wystrach Had to Suffer a Little for ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ Movie Role
Mark Wystrach's most celebrated movie role to date didn't come without a little sacrifice and anxiety. The Midland lead singer tells Taste of Country that he tried to cancel his audition for the Gary Paxton part in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and things only got worse from there.
With some (more than gentle) coaxing from his manager, Wystrach trudged from his New York City hotel to the audition, one night after Midland performed on The Tonight Show. He was exhausted from three years of touring with his band, but particularly spent due to the extra anxiety of performing on national television. Still, he recalled his formal training as an actor in Los Angeles and prepared to deliver his first line in the audition.
"The entire walls and roof start shaking and a jackhammer goes off on the floor above us," Wystrach recalls. "In mid-sentence — I’m spitting out the first word and here comes a jackhammer."
This lasted for 15 minutes, and by the end, he was preparing words for the guy who convinced him to go in the first place. It got better from there, but not easier. Wystrach found out he landed the role of Bakker's paramour while on tour with Tim McGraw in Australia, but the movie was set to film a week after the 2019 CMA Awards — a busy time for all country stars.
Add to that Wystrach's very pregnant wife. Ty Haney would deliver a baby girl in late November of that year, but the delivery was fraught. Later he'd admit she almost died from a fetal to maternal hemorrhage.
The light at the end of this tunnel came last Friday (Sept. 17) when The Eyes of Tammy Faye hit theaters, starring Jessica Chastain as the title character. Her performance in particular has received rave reviews from critics. Wystrach got to know the Academy Award-nominated actor well while on set. A sex scene between the two of them that the singer describes as "funny and technical" — but says you have to see to believe — found him on the learning end of her craft. Elsewhere, the roles were reversed when his character had to teach hers how to sing.
The late Gary Paxton is a "shadowy" figure, Wystrach says. Production credits on "Monster Mash" and "Alley Oop" were his most well-known accomplishments until the late 1980s, when he and Bakker developed a romance that her husband Jim Bakker would not have approved up.
Those under 40 may not recall how the Bakkers dominated news headlines when accusations were made that they were funneling money intended for their Christian ministry to their own bank accounts. Jim Bakker would spend time in jail on various fraud and conspiracy charges. Tammy Faye filed for divorce while he was in jail.
“My opinion, I would say, worsened of Jim Bakker," Wystrach, 41, says. "I probably didn’t really care that much. It’s lessened of him. I do think that Tammy Faye Bakker was deeply misunderstood. I think she was manipulated by Jim Bakker and I think she was implicated by Jim and he kind of brought her down with him.”
Growing up in rural Arizona, Wystrach is old enough to recall this time, when the Bakker's were all over his four-channel television set. He dove headfirst into the scandal to prepare for his role as Paxton, beginning with The Eyes of Tammy Faye documentary from 2000 that inspired the film. He applauds Chastain, and the whole cast and crew. In fact, a once disenfranchised actor may be ready for more roles now that he's had a positive experience. For him, film is the pinnacle of song and storytelling, two concepts engrained into his personality at a young age, when he'd follow his parents to the the honky-tonk they owned in Sonoita, or when he was left home to watch movies.
“I think Midland’s music does that, and I love going out of this world and going into someone else’s world and learning the moral," he says.
It took success as a part of Midland to rekindle interest in himself as an actor, so for now, his focus is on the music. The band just released "Sunrise Tells the Story" as a single from their The Last Resort EP. They'll also begin the Last Resort Tour in Phoenix, next month and continue until almost Christmas Day.