Andrew Garfield spreads the word of God as televangelist Jim Bakker in the new movie The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
The Oscar nominee, 38, however, stresses that Jim and his wife Tammy Faye's interpretation of the Bible might've been somewhat deceptive. As the film documents, Jim's success with PTL ended in a sex and financial scandal that landed the preacher in prison for eight years.
"There was obviously some misguidedness in terms of this idea of the prosperity doctrine that Jim and Tammy espoused and profligated and spread like wildfire," Garfield tells PEOPLE. "There's a problematic thing that happens when capitalism and Christianity or any kind of spirituality become intertwined. That's going to be some real complication there."
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The actor believes his character "had this deep woundedness of a need for God's approval."
"He started to equate God's approval with his interpretation of the word 'prosperity,'" Garfield says. "And so he felt like if money was coming in, if pledges were being made, if he was building more and more and more, then that was a sign of God's love and God's approval."
Jim, now 81, and Tammy Faye's empire eventually came crumbling down in 1987, when news broke that Jim had sex outside of his marriage seven years earlier with church secretary Jessica Hahn, who accused him of rape. PTL paid her a six-figure sum to stay quiet about the scandal.
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"They created a theme park for Christians. They created housing for unwed mothers and single mothers who had been abused by their spouses. They created housing for severely disabled children," he recounts. "They were good Christians in so many ways. It's an amazing feat that they managed to create together."
The Bakkers married shortly after meeting in Bible college in Minneapolis and their relationship grew in front of the cameras. "You mix business with life and suddenly it gets much more complicated. And then there's infidelity and lies," Garfield says. "But it's not different from any other relationship, as far as I understand. Maybe with more eyeballs on it, so more pressure."
Tammy Faye, who died from cancer in 2007, divorced Jim in 1992 while he was in prison.
Jim's time behind bars helped him come to the realization that "he misinterpreted the word prosperity," Garfield says. "He started to realize through study in prison with a study group that prosperity — it does come up a lot — but actually the etymologically what it actually means is spiritual prosperity. Nothing to do with material wealth, nothing to do with money, nothing to do with living on the high life. He misinterpreted that word 30 years ago, which led to all of this chaos."
After being released from jail in 1994, Jim returned to televangelism with his second wife Lori. Jim found himself embattled with the law once more earlier this year when a Missouri judge ordered his Morningside Church Productions Inc. to pay $156,000 in restitution to viewers who bought a health supplement called Silver Solution that Jim claimed cured COVID-19.
"We're all looking at the world through our very own peculiar pair of spectacles, and we are making choices and creating relationships and going after things based on a particular way of seeing the world. Not any one person is having the same experience," Garfield says. "And the same thing goes for Jim. Jim had a very, very particular idea, and I think he realized that he had missed the mark in some ways."
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is now playing in theaters.
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