The most important thing is the nose. That’s the secret to singing classic country music, or at least getting to the core of the singing style brought to life on “George & Tammy,” according to lead actors Michael Shannon. and Jessica Chastain.
They caught up with the actors while they were making the rounds recently to discuss George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s performance in the six-episode limited series, which airs Sunday night on both Showtime and Paramount+. (It will be a Showtime exclusive for a later episode.) They talked about working with voice coaches and music producers to find the literal voices of Jones and Wynette, and also thinking about the psychology of turning George and Tammy’s life around. into an immutable duo. for life, whether they were technically together or not.
The terrible guides focus less on hard personalities than on getting to the soul why Wynette and Jones made one of the greatest couples in music: Shannon captures Jones’ essential impetuosity well, as well as his volatility and (at the right hours) which is good. heart, and Chastain is more than ready to express the ambition, sweetness, and quiet, fierce strength of a peasant wife who gave it all. “George & Tammy” airs at 9 ET/PT on both networks.
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In that you worked with a vocal coach on this, or with T Bone Burnett, was there anything transformative that they said or did to help you find a way to sing these roles?
Chestnut: I came to this position in 2010 or 2011. And I sat down with T Bone maybe six years ago and I sang “Stand by Your Man” and I was like, “I want to know.. .” I was like, “Is this ridiculous?” And he’s like, “No, no, okay. It’s going to work. We have to work, but it’s going to work.” T Bone introduced Mike and I to a man named Ron Browning. and Ron is a genius – he’s a vocal coach from Nashville who works with Alison Krauss and all these amazing people. From there we worked with Ron and T Bone until just before we started recording, to the pre-recording. And then (there was) Raechel Moore, who is a famous producer, with music on this. I’m excited that he’s having this moment, because he’s been working with T Bone for years and he hasn’t had this kind of opportunity. As soon as we got on set, she and Ron would do it all day. We did all the songs live, and it was very scary, but I felt that I was in very good hands. I’m excited to celebrate, because in the same way that it was hard for Tammy in 1960s Nashville, it’s still hard for women in country music in Nashville. So if Raechel has this spotlight on our work, I think that’s a great thing.
Michael, is there anything that stands out about your work with people who helped you find a way to sing through this?
Shannon: “There’s a reason God put your nose in the middle of your face.”
Chestnut: [Risas.] Ron Browning.
Shannon: That’s what Ron Browning used to say all the time. Because he wanted us to use our nasal tubes, and put our voices in our noses, which is not a thing… I don’t think, Jessica, when you were at Juilliard, anybody was talking about a nasal tube in singing class. She was definitely not familiar with the nasal proboscis. I always thought you were supposed to put it on the back of your teeth… You’d always think, “Well, I’ve got this big high note I’ve got to play – I better take a big breath” And Ron would say , “Definitely don’t breathe. And really, push your stomach out.” The head to take a deep breath. There’s no way it’s going to work – and so it does. So it’s little tricks like that.
It is interesting. You mentioned the nose earlier, and there is one aspect when you hear George Jones and it is a little “nasal,” which is often a term that people use disparagingly. But he is considered the greatest country singer of all time, so there is nothing disrespectful to him.
Shannon: Well, and it’s not just George. I mean, a lot of country singers – it’s a country style of singing, I think.
Chestnut: The honor.
Shannon: Yes, it’s the honk – but it’s also a great resonator. You can actually sing much quieter and be heard just as effectively, instead of trying to take it, you know? I’d sing this song full of passion or longing, or loss or suffering, and he’d say, “That’s me and you’re sitting in a bar and you’re telling me a story, and that’s all you need is a story just tell me.” story. And do it like you’re bored, like you’ve told this story hundreds of times.” And I would contradict what you were thinking, you know, “Oh, I’m supposed to have this great, dramatic moment happen.” And he said: “No, let him do otherwise.”
Jessica, you did very well as Tammy Faye Bakker (in her Oscar-winning role in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”), and here you’re dealing with someone who has perhaps more spirit than natural vocal gifts. Here, it is about someone who is really known as a good singer. Were you able to release everything you did with Tammy Faye to work immediately? Or did you notice that part of this last paper stuck with you, after a while?
Chestnut: Oh no, I had no objections to this. It’s interesting because I worked with Dave Cobb on Tammy Faye, and it probably happened the way it was supposed to, because I was so shy. Dave was great at trying to open me up, and he kept up the keys of what I sang, even louder than Tammy Faye did sometimes, because I wanted it to sound like it was beyond my reach, so Tammy . She always reached for the sky. And maybe I was so uncomfortable and so out of my comfort zone in that situation as a springboard.
Tammy Wynette had much more variety and dynamics in her voice. But also the way she sounded on “Stand by Your Man”… Her voice on “Stand by Your Man” is amazing, but she felt very self-conscious. She said, she felt like a squealing pig. And I think it’s because it comes from such a deep place within her. It’s like the girl who was electrocuted, who received electric shock therapy. It’s that kind of noise that comes out of it. It makes it so powerful. … I always had that moment right before the end of the song where I was like, “Okay, I don’t know if I’m going to make it, this take. And it made me feel better think it was Tammy She would make little gestures with her hands behind her back so the band would know if she was going to hit the notes or not. It’s a scary song.
It is clear that there is no hero and villain in this story. There are many code dependencies, both good and possibly bad. Few movies or series dramatize what happens after a breakup, if people at least stay friends. It could be said that it was partly with them on a professional level, because they were known as a duo and still are. But beyond that, was it true love? How did you feel about being able to take a story that could be somewhat predictable about the rise and fall of a relationship and then be able to bring it into all these different ambiguous areas?
Shannon: Well, from what I can tell, it seemed to be true to life – and, as you say, it’s not as simple as these (dramatized) things. Because that’s how life is. It seemed more true to life that way. It is difficult to say with absolute certainty what happened between these two. And the hardest thing to judge is the times when they were really alone and there wasn’t a huge chaotic conflict, they were just together. And what brought them together in the first place and kept them together… even though they were divorced, they were very important to each other throughout their lives. I think one of the strongest things about the story is that it’s not cut and dry, what love or what form it’s supposed to take or how long it’s supposed to last or how it’s supposed to be done. It really shows how mercurial and enigmatic love can be.
Chestnut: As for me… Mike and I have watched many of his performances on YouTube. It’s amazing to watch them on YouTube, and when they played when they got married and when they played when they were divorced, and there was always something very magical. They knew they were on stage, but it was like they were the only two in the world, and there was a very special energy. That’s what I really wanted to show in this series.