She’s been everything from a Bakker’s wife to a Surreal Life housemate, but the one thing Tammy Faye Messner refuses to be is unhappy. (And for a woman who has been spoofed since she first rocked the airwaves with her holy-roller high jinks, that’s saying a lot.) While braving her toughest battle — colon cancer that spread to a lung — Messner filmed Tammy Faye: Death Defying, a poignant, highly personal documentary with which she is now touring film festivals.
TVGuide.com: What inspired you to make this film?
Messner: I wanted to help people. Whether it’s AIDS or cancer, having a disease like this is a scary thing and I thought people needed to see what goes on. I wanted to take the fear away.
TVGuide.com: You had a hefty number of fears yourself, right?
Messner: Sure I did! I was very afraid of chemotherapy. And of course the part of my faith that says God doesn’t need medicine to heal you was having a fight with the part that says God made medicine, so the two can work together.
TVGuide.com: It must have been very hard to watch this part of your life over again…
Messner: It has been. [At one screening] there were tears in my eyes some of the time, and some of the time I was laughing my head off, being so grateful that it was over. My emotions were unbelievable.
TVGuide.com: One thing that viewers are sure to admire is how sweet your husband is through it all.
Messner: I don’t know if I could have made it if it weren’t for Roe, because he was such a powerhouse. It always helps to have people around who believe in you and know that you can do it.
TVGuide.com: As well as your dogs, right?
Messner: Oh yeah. [Giggles] I had my two puppies, my praying husband, my praying children and my praying friends. So I knew that I was going to make it.
TVGuide.com: In the film, you wonder how people who may not believe in "a higher power" endure something like cancer.
Messner: I don’t know how they do it, because they have to make it on pure guts; I don’t have that without God. He gives me optimism.
TVGuide.com: As you tour with the movie, is this your chance to “spread the word”?
Messner: I want to be an advocate for people going through [cancer], to show them that they can face what they need to face and get on with life.
TVGuide.com: Not to mention your Surreal life. Could you imagine your life getting any stranger than being in that house?
Messner: It was quite a leap of faith! But I just talked to all the kids from the house. Everybody’s doing great.
TVGuide.com: You keep in touch with Ron Jeremy?
TVGuide.com: Seriously, what do you and Ron Jeremy talk about?
Messner: [Laughs] Oh, mostly about my health. He’s a nice man, I have great admiration for him.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of admiration, The Eyes of Tammy Faye was a smash on the gay-film fest circuit. Did you do ever think you’d have such a diverse fan base?
Messner: Something really interesting happened with that film. I got a letter from a young man who was about 16 years old and about to commit suicide. He said that he walked in to rent [another] movie but didn't have enough money. The lady at the store said, "That’s not the movie you need. You need to see this movie" — and she gave him a copy of The Eyes of Tammy Faye. He told me it literally saved his life. That meant an awful lot to me.
TVGuide.com: Sounds like you have a lot of great moments.
Messner: I have fun with life. People need to learn to be able to laugh at adversity rather than cry over it.
TVGuide.com: Plus that way you don’t get the mascara running…
Messner: Oh, my mascara doesn’t run. [Laughs] It’s waterproof!
TVGuide.com: So what’s next for you?
Messner: I was hoping to go back to my roots on Christian television. I don’t know how, but I know that God can make anything happen.
TVGuide.com: Praise the Lord!
Messner: That’s right. Praise the Lord for that, honey!
Not long before Death Defying's premiere (and since this Q&A), Messner learned that her lung cancer has resurfaced; even so, she plans to continue her tour. "I'm not worried, I'm not afraid," she tells the Associated Press. "By the third time you have cancer, you begin to think about your mortality."