It’s all about the nose. That’s the secret to singing classic country music, or at least getting into the singer’s style, brought back to life in “George and Tammy,” say actors Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, who play the title roles.
Difference They caught up with the cast as they made the rounds to discuss playing George Jones and Tammy Wynette in the six-episode series, which premieres Sunday night on both Showtime and Paramount+. (It will be a special feature for future episodes.) They discuss how they worked with vocal coaches and music producers to find the spoken voices of Jones and Wynette, as well as consider the psychology of George and Tammy’s life to the point it did. A constant, lifelong duet, the two were technically together or not.
Why Wynette and Jones are a great on-again, off-again couple for a musical—Shannon is less about strict impersonation of the formidable leading man and woman than Jones’s essential levity and flexibility and (which Shannon captures well) soul. (at the right time) good heart, and Chastain is as well equipped to convey the ambition, sweetness, and quietly strong strength of a country wife as she gets. “George & Tammy” premieres at 9 ET/PT on the two networks.
As far as working with a vocal coach or T-Bone Burnett for that matter, was there anything they said or did that helped you find a way to sing these roles?
Chastain: I came to this job in 2010 or 2011. And I sat down with T-Bone maybe six years ago and sang the song “Stand by Your Man,” and I said, “I just wanna know…” “Is this funny?” I said. And he’s like, “No, no, that’s fine. It works. We have work to do, but it works. T Bon introduced Mike and I to a man named Ron Browning. And Ron is a genius – he’s a vocal coach out of Nashville with Alison Krauss and all these amazing people. From there, we worked with Ron and T-Bone as far as pre-recording before we started shooting. And then[it was]Rachel Moore, who’s a major figure, and a music producer at that. I’m excited for her to get this opportunity, because she’s worked with T-Bone for years and never had an opportunity like this. Once we got on set it was her and Ron every day. We did the whole song live, and it was pretty scary, but I felt like I was in really good hands. I’m so happy to honor her, because just like it was hard for Tammy in Nashville in the 1960s, it’s still hard for women in country music in Nashville. And so I think it’s great that Rachel is putting that kind of focus on our work.
Michael, is there anything specific about you that helped you find a way to sing this way, working with people?
Shannon: “There’s a reason God put your nose between your face.”
Chastain: [Laughs.] Ron Browning.
Shannon: That’s what Ron Browning always says. Because he was trying to get us to use nasal horns and get our voices to go through our noses, which is nothing… I don’t think, Jessica, when you were at Juilliard, there was no one talking about the nasal horns. Room. I definitely didn’t know the nose horn. I always thought that you should just put it on the back of your teeth… You always think, “Well, I’ve got this big note that I have to hit—I’d better take a big breath. And Ron says, “Never breathe. And in fact, push your stomach. of Opposite About taking a deep breath. There’s no way it’s going to work – and then it does. So these are the little tricks.
That’s interesting. You mentioned the nose earlier, and there it is. You listen to George Jones and it’s a little bit “on the nose,” which is a word people often use derogatorily. But he is considered to be the greatest country singer of his time, so there is nothing derogatory about him.
Shannon: Well, and not only George. I mean a lot of country singers – I think it’s a country style of singing.
Chastain: The scream.
Shannon: Yes, it’s the sound – but also a great echo. Actually, you can sing more quietly and it just feels more effective, as opposed to trying to build up, you know? I would just sing this song full of passion or longing or loss or pain, and he would sing like me and tell me a story while sitting in a bar, and that’s it. it is. You only tell me one story. And act like you’ve told this story a hundred times as soon as you’re bored. And it kind of conflicts with what you’re thinking: “Oh, I’ve got to make this wonderful, wonderful moment happen.” And he was like, “No, do the opposite.”
Jessica, you were great as Tammy Faye Baker (in the Oscar-winning “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”), and there you are dealing with someone who has more spirit than natural talent as a vocalist. Here, you are dealing with someone who is technically a good singer. Were you able to immediately spill what Tammy Faye did to make it? Or have you ever found the last role spinning a little?
Chastain: Oh, no, I had no cross for this. I’m very happy because I worked with Dave Cobb on Tammy Faye and maybe that’s because I was very shy. Dave was amazing at just getting me to open up, and he kept picking up the keys that I was singing, sometimes even more than Tammy Faye would, because he wanted me to feel like it was beyond me, because that’s what Tammy is. She was always reaching for the heavens. And maybe being so uncomfortable and stepping out of my comfort zone in that situation helped me as a stepping stone.
Tammy Wynette had many more nuances and dynamics in her voice. But also, she hated And the way she yelled, “Stand by your man.” … “Stand by your man.” Her voice was amazing, but she felt like she was thinking of herself. To her, it sounded like a pig’s squeal. And I think it’s because it comes from a very deep place inside of her. It’s like electrocuting the girl who got the electric shock therapy. It’s a kind of noise coming out of her. It makes it very powerful. … “Well, I don’t know if I’ll do it, take this. We’ll keep going.” And it made me feel better to think Tammy had that too. The band had little hand signals behind her to let her know if she 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 codes, possibly good and bad. There are very few movies or series that show the drama that happens after a breakup if people are still at least friends. You can say it’s on a professional level with them, because they are known as a duo and continue to be. But other than that, was it just meant to be true love? What was it like to be able to take a story that was in some ways predictable about the rise and fall of a relationship and take it to all these different ambiguous places?
Shannon: Well, as far as I could tell, it looked pretty much true to life – and as you say, these (dramatized) things tend to be not quite as cleanly steep. Because it’s more about what life is like. It seemed more true to life this way. It is difficult to say with certainty what happened between these two men. And the hardest thing to judge are the times when they were truly alone and there was no big chaotic conflict, but they were just together. And what brought them together in the first place and what made them one… even though they were divorced, they were very important to each other all their lives. So, I think that’s one of the strongest things in the story, really, is how it’s not cut and dry, really – about what love is or what form it should take or how long it should last or how it should be. do it. Indeed, it shows just how much Mercury and mystery love can be.
Chastain: yes. For me… Mike and I watch a lot of their performances on YouTube. YouTube is amazing watching them, and playing married and divorced, and it’s always been a magical thing. They knew they were on stage, but they were like the only two people in the world, and there was a very special energy there. That’s what I felt I really wanted to show in this series.