New Again: Pamela Anderson
Pamela Anderson is back to stirring up controversy, but not for the reasons one might expect. The former Baywatch star recently penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal urging readers to take a pledge: abstain from pornography. She teamed up with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to write the piece, and it takes into account their “respective positions of rabbi-counselor and former Playboy model and actress.” The article certainly came as a surprise, but who’s to say that the woman who (unwillingly) spearheaded the celebrity sex-tape genre can’t be at the forefront of public displays of modesty?
In light of Anderson’s recent reinvention, we’ve reprinted her November 1998 Interview cover story. It was a simpler time, when “Pamela” was synonymous with sex and her celebrity was reaching iconic status. The interview finds the actress remarkably self-aware as she discusses her troubled relationship with the media, even more troubled relationship with ex-husband Tommy Lee, and her then recent turn as executive producer for now cult-classic bodyguard series V.I.P. —Frank Chlumsky
Wham! Bam! It’s Pam
Starring Pamela Anderson, and featuring slamming and jamming five-time world surfing champion, Kelly Slater
By Hal Rubenstein
Pamela Anderson the actress seems almost superfluous to her truer calling: phenomenon. She is a celebrity storm so enormous that everything she does, from the moment she gets out of (or into) bed, seems to zoom around the world before she’s even had time to adjust her makeup.
I know you won’t believe me, but she’s really a little bit of a thing. The kind of girl your mother would call cute as a button. In fact, when Pamela Anderson curls up on the couch in her motor home, on location for her new TV series V.I.P., she barely fills up one cushion. How could anyone this pert and adorable (OK, OK, there’s some awesome cleavage, too) cause a rampage in Cannes, a logjam on the Internet, and a mad dash to the back of the video store? How could her smallest private moments become so hugely public that everything she does seems to draw an audience?
Amazing what a few layouts in a magazine, marriage to a spoiled rock star, and a purloined tape can do. But if you’re expecting someone from the Brigitte Nielsen School for the Notorious, forget it. Pamela is no grandstanding, gold-digging, Cindy Adams-worshiping, Spandex-sporting virago who regards getting her name in print as essential to her existence as weekly nail wrappings.
From the afternoon she was discovered by a beer company—when her pretty face was inadvertently splashed across a stadium JumboTron—through her Playboy pictorials and her stints as Ms. Tool Time and the beach babe whom half of America was willing to drown for and the leather cinched-till-it-pinched bitch named Barb Wire, Pamela Anderson has led an existence to rival Candide’s. It is to her credit that, after everything that’s turned her into a semiregular on Entertainment Tonight, she still has the naïveté of Voltaire’s young hero.
Unfortunately, her naïveté is also the source of much of the confusion that often surrounds her. Anderson finds solace in her two children by Tommy Lee, Dylan and Brandon, with occasional visits from Gidget’s dream date, surfer Kelly Slater. And she’s excited about her new show. She’s excited about a fresh start. It makes her eyes twinkle as if she’s starring in a Doris Day remake. It just goes to show you: Even if everyone’s seen proof that you’ve lost your virginity, you don’t have to lose your innocence.
HAL RUBENSTEIN: When I told people I was interviewing Pamela Anderson, they all said, “Wow! We love her. She’s so cool.”
PAMELA ANDERSON: “… but she’s always in trouble!” It’s so funny when I hear stories like this, though. Because you don’t realize people know who you are. After all these covers, all these interviews, it becomes kind of surreal. But I’m beginning to believe that it’s only the journalists who are saying bad things, especially the ones who make up stuff when they can’t talk to you directly. It’s no fun if you’re nice. But I’ve never met anyone who said anything bad to me in person.
RUBENSTEIN: Right before the release of your 1996 movie, Barb Wire, I remember seeing a picture of you with no makeup. And I went, “Wow, she’s pretty.”
RUBENSTEIN: Then I watched Barb Wire and it was like…
ANDERSON: AGGGHHH!!!! [laughs]
RUBENSTEIN: “Why is she doing this?”
ANDERSON: It wasn’t supposed to turn out like it did. When I saw the comic book the movie’s based on, I thought, oh, my God, she’s on a motorcycle in leather, crazy, with big hair, glamorous. This is hysterical. It’s totally me. It was going to be a dark comedy, real cartoony. Then, before going into production, I went to Cannes to promote it, got all this attention, and Polygram, the movie’s backer, went, “Maybe this is bigger than we thought.” They began changing it, trying to make it much more commercial. More action, less humor, a different director. They changed the script six million times. I wound up going against my instincts, so it was really difficult for me. I wanted to keep it tongue-in-cheek, but it didn’t work out that way. All the irony was gone. Still, there’s this little cult of different people who love that movie. I mean, I know a lot of drag queens who dress up like Barb Wire.
RUBENSTEIN: If Barb Wire didn’t turn out as you’d hoped, are you more amused when you watch old episodes of Baywatch?
ANDERSON: No. I’ve never seen an episode of Baywatch.
RUBENSTEIN: You’ve never seen the show?
ANDERSON: No. I can’t watch myself on television.
RUBENSTEIN: [laughs] Why not?
ANDERSON: Believe it or not, neither could Tommy. I would never let him watch an episode. I watched part of one once, and I almost fainted. I never felt really confident in what I was doing in the past. I don’t regret it. It was a positive experience for me, and it did me a lot of good. I mean, a lot of good! But, c’mon, what was I supposed to do? Go home and have Baywatch parties and have my friends come over and watch me on television? Yet on the new show, I watch the dailies every day.
RUBENSTEIN: I’ve heard you are executive producing V.I.P. but you didn’t want to make that fact public because you figured everybody would laugh.
RUBENSTEIN: Well, I won’t, so tell me. [laughs]
ANDERSON: I had a choice to do a network sitcom or something for syndication. But because of what happened on the movie, I wanted to be a part of the creative process. I helped assemble this show and have been involved in everything from hiring production designers and art directors to casting people. I have strong opinions about what I want to play and what I think TV is missing. I loved shows like I Dream of Jeannie and Gilligan’s Island—silly stuff, really light and entertaining. V.I.P is all bright colors and daylight, and full of lots of crazy clothes. In a way, it’s like the Spice Girls Bodyguard Agency. Except everyone else is being very serious about what they do and then they throw me in the middle of it wearing something ridiculous.
RUBENSTEIN: So it’s a complete reversal of the image that developed with the combination of your marriage to Tommy Lee and your look in Barb Wire, which got kind of dark, didn’t it?
ANDERSON: I know. And that’s not me at all. I’ve always been very positive, the eternal optimist. My brother—who runs my website, has been my best friend my whole life, and knows me better than anyone—always asks, “God, Pam, are you ever going to say a bad word about anybody?” And every once in a while, like a when a tabloid claims I’m a heroin addict and he knows I’m antidrugs, my brother’ll call and go, “What’s going on?” It’s kind of like getting caught in an amazing machine. But you have to laugh. Who would have thought it would have all gotten so huge in such a short amount of time. I mean, It’s not like I’ve done a lot. I don’t think I’ve been really successful at anything.
RUBENSTEIN: Baywatch was successful.
ANDERSON: But I’ve only done that, Home Improvement, Barb Wire, now this. That’s it. It’s really not much. But I guess every now and then the media take one person or group and spin it out of control. Except I thought the novelty would wear off by now.
RUBENSTEIN: And has it?
ANDERSON: It’s as if everywhere I turn, there’s the paparazzi. I ask, “Wait, what’s the big deal? I’m only going to the grocery store.” But there they are.
RUBENSTEIN: Do you accept it as part of your life now or does it hurt you?
ANDERSON: I’ve gone through phases. When I was nine months pregnant, I remember just going for a walk with the paparazzi running after me, and eventually wrestling with a photographer. And I’m like, “What am I doing?” They catch you so off-guard sometimes. I’m returning from taking my kids to the beach—which I love to do—and there’s a jeep backing up at high speed, almost hitting other children, to get a picture of me and them. There has to be a line. I understand that they have a job, and certain journalists and photographers behave professionally. But some don’t think of your safety. They run red lights, go down one-way streets, drive you off the road. It’s so bizarre.
RUBENSTEIN: What do the kids think? Do they know what’s happening to Mom?
ANDERSON: No. They see me on TV sometimes, and go, “That’s Mommy!” But actually, any blonde on television is “Mommy.”
RUBENSTEIN: When you were a kid, what was your impression of Hollywood? Did you want to be a movie star?
ANDERSON: No, I didn’t really know too much about it. I just thought actors had actor kids and they all lived together in something like a commune. I never thought of it as a profession or anything I could ever do.
RUBENSTEIN: When did it hit you that this was an opportunity?
ANDERSON: When I did Playboy, moved to L.A., and started meeting people just like me who were involved in the business.
RUBENSTEIN: What was your first response when Playboy asked you to pose?
ANDERSON: I was watching a girlfriend in a fashion show when they first came up to me, and I said, “No. Are you crazy?” Then, when they asked me again, this time to pose for a cover, I thought, “Well, a cover isn’t nude. Maybe I can do that.” Plus, a cover meant fame. But my boyfriend at the time was furious. He said, “You’re not going to do that! You’re not doing anything!” So out of spite, I did it. [laughs] I mean, whatever. It was fun.
RUBENSTEIN: When somebody says you can’t do something, do you always go the other way?
ANDERSON: Not always. But everyone’s life is their own journey, and for someone to impose on you that way is just… I don’t like that.
RUBENSTEIN: Do you feel that working in Hollywood offers you less or more independence than you had before?
ANDERSON: Oh, more. I’m a professional, a single mom, and I’m very independent. I make good money, so I can look after myself, my children. I don’t need anybody.
RUBENSTEIN: You really feel you need no one?
ANDERSON: Well, my mind is changing. Slowly. [laughs]
RUBENSTEIN: Is this due to your privacy being so invaded these last few years?
ANDERSON: Yeah. Look, what I’ve gone through has only made me stronger. Anything you survive does. And I’ve learned a lot of lessons about patience and separating myself from all the garbage. One of them is that you have to believe that everything is a blessing, even if it’s one in disguise. You can get through it if you trust that it’s all for a reason.
RUBENSTEIN: Do you really think all that unwanted attention was a blessing?
ANDERSON: I don’t know what that blessing is yet, but… Yeah, I feel fortunate.
RUBENSTEIN: In what way?
ANDERSON: Because of it, I can be where I am, enjoying doing what I do.
RUBENSTEIN: Doing a TV show, or for that matter, making a movie, is far less glamorous than anybody thinks it is. You start at six in the morning and finish at God knows what time of night. Your days are spent with the crew, who are hardly glamorous. And then the project opens, and all of a sudden it’s evening gowns and spotlights. How silly is this?
ANDERSON: It’s dress-up. You know, child’s play. It’s amazing that we can make a living at having fun. I look around sometimes and say, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I mean, I know there are a lot of actors who take this very seriously.
RUBENSTEIN: Have you ever studied acting?
ANDERSON: No. I need to, though. [laughs]
RUBENSTEIN: Why do you think you need to?
ANDERSON: Because it’s a craft, and everyone should work at their craft. Especially now that I’ve started to enjoy the whole process of being an actress. At first, I was just going and going, working and working. Learning on the job, winging it. Luckily, I have a good memory. I look at my lines once and I know them. But I didn’t even know what I was getting into. I wasn’t thinking, I’m going to get famous. But then, when you’re there, you’re like, “Wow, this is serious!” And it is serious.
RUBENSTEIN: Have you ever felt endangered or threatened?
ANDERSON: I’ve been stalked. But I have good security. And it doesn’t stop me from doing things on my own.
RUBENSTEIN: Now that you’re single.
ANDERSON: Actually, I love it. I have two children now instead of three. It’s actually easier.
RUBENSTEIN: Why is that?
ANDERSON: Because I don’t have anybody else vying for attention.
RUBENSTEIN: So Tommy doesn’t know how to give it up to be a Dad?
ANDERSON: I think he really wanted to be a good dad, and he really loved the concept of having children. and he does love them, but I think he was a little put off by how much attention I gave the children and how much less attention he wound up getting. I think he went through postpartum.
RUBENSTEIN: As soon as you have kids the world revolves around them.
ANDERSON: But Tommy and I started out having a very intense, fun, crazy relationship because we were two kids. We were madly in love. It wasn’t like drugs or alcohol or anything like that. We were both just really passionate about life. But then, when I had my children, the same passion I had about everything else in my life and the man in my life, I had for my children. It overwhelms me how much love I have for Brandon and Dylan. Watching them, caring for them, learning from them. I mean, Brandon is wise beyond his years.
RUBENSTEIN: And Tommy couldn’t take the competition? Are things better now?
ANDERSON: No. It’s not going well at all. So we’ll see. I only wish he could understand what happened, but when he brings up the past, when he talks about us, I think, who are you talking about?
RUBENSTEIN: Is he still denying the way he treated you?
ANDERSON: A lot of denial. I thought it was heading in a different way, but it’s not.
RUBENSTEIN: Have you spoken to him since he got out of jail for abusing you?
ANDERSON: No. I’ve talked to his therapist. Tommy’s not talking to me right now.
RUBENSTEIN: Is he working at it?
ANDERSON: I really don’t know where his head is at. He’s actually in a very scary place as far as I’m concerned. It’s not good. Who knows what’s going to happen? I left him a message saying, “I’m really happy for you, I’m happy that you’ve learned so much, done so much, read so much. Everything can only be better. And I know you don’t want to talk to me right now, you don’t want to work on our friendship, and that you feel bad. But I support you and I love you, and always will.” But he can’t understand my loving him from a distance. He says, “You’re either married to me or I hate you. If you’re going to divorce me, I don’t want to ever talk to you again.” With Tommy, it’s always all or noting. Any time anyone is out of his life, he finds every negative, tries with everything in his power to hate that person. He’s never said one nice thing about his ex-wife [Heather Locklear]. I know the pattern. I see it. And that’s his protection.
RUBENSTEIN: But she never disparages him. Or you.
ANDERSON: No. I’ve never met her. But she seems like a really nice girl. And she’s moved on with her life; she’s very happy, I’m sure.
RUBENSTEIN: I don’t know how serious your relationship is with Kelly Slater. But considering how the media hounded you and Tommy, are you afraid of the same thing happening all over again?
ANDERSON: It definitely puts on a lot of pressure. And he’s the last person in the world I’d ever want to hurt or get harmed in any way because of the pressures of my life. I love the way he lives his. I have a lot of respect for him. Right now, there’s really nothing to say about our relationship. It’s not like with Tommy, because a lot of people had an image of him that was incorrect, whereas I think Kelly kind of stands on his own. He doesn’t need a defense from me.
RUBENSTEIN: But your worlds are so different.
ANDERSON: Not really. Not in my personal life.
RUBENSTEIN: But is he aware how things can spin out of control?
ANDERSON: Well, he’s known me for a while. He didn’t talk to me while I was married, but…
RUBENSTEIN: Why not?
ANDERSON: Oh, I didn’t have any male friends when I was married!
RUBENSTEIN: Tommy Lee was that jealous?
ANDERSON: Put it this way: We were with each other 24-7, and that was it. I told Kelly, “I’m really sorry about how it went; I just feel really bad that I didn’t talk to you.” And he says it’s OK, that he always knew what I was kind of up to. And I told him, “Now I don’t want to leave you again,” and he said I never did. I’m not ready for a relationship with anybody right now. I’m not ready to move on. But we’re really good friends, we love each other, and he’s just been so supportive of me. He knows how I am, who I am, and all the hype doesn’t faze him.
RUBENSTEIN: So he doesn’t believe everything he reads in the papers?
ANDERSON: No, but my grandma does. She gets every single one of those tabloids. She also has one of those police scanners, you know, because she has to know all the gossip in our little town on Vancouver Island. She knows everything about everybody. She called my Dad and said I went to a wedding on the Queen Mary and I ate the entire buffet. So my Dad phoned me and asked, “Pamela, is this true?” Of course, I told him I’ve never been to the Queen Mary, I didn’t go to a wedding there, and I didn’t eat any buffet. And he went, “I still don’t think it’s appropriate behavior.” He didn’t believe me. He’s like so many other people. If it’s written, it’s true. And by the time the retraction comes, who sees it? So you have to have a sense of humor about things.
RUBENSTEIN: Is fame worth all this?
ANDERSON: I don’t think of it that way. Day-by-day, my life just is what it is. My best girlfriend for seventeen years works for the Department of Motor Vehicles back home in Victoria [British Columbia], and there’re good things and bad things about her job, too. It’s all relative. It’s all drama, you know. More people know my business than hers, but still, life can be just as painful for her.
RUBENSTEIN: But you didn’t choose to work at the DMV.
ANDERSON: But I didn’t plan this either. I was going to do this until it kind of stopped. I didn’t realize it was going to go on so long.
RUBENSTEIN: It’s not uncommon for many actors who gain recognition quickly to start feeling unworthy, insecure. Do you ever wake up in a cold sweat?
ANDERSON: I haven’t let it freak me out. The press is so surreal to me because they created a monster. But I have my own life at home with my kids that’s very simple. And I have fun. I definitely have fun. Because I don’t let my public and private lives run into each other.
RUBENSTEIN: What do you want from V.I.P.? An Emmy? Movies?
ANDERSON: Who knows? When it comes to my career, or whatever it is, I have no control. No control over anything. I mean, this show is going to come out, the reviews are going to be horrible, they’re going to just rip it apart.
RUBENSTEIN: You think so?
ANDERSON: Oh, yeah, of course. because it’s not Masterpiece Theatre.
RUBENSTEIN: Well, for that matter, Baywatch got slugged when it started, too.
ANDERSON: And it’s still getting slugged. And it’s still a huge hit.
RUBENSTEIN: Like Xena and Hercules.
ANDERSON: Exactly. They’re hysterical. Because they’re just goofy entertainment and that’s enough. It’s like making fun of being in a television show. We’ve put together a really ambitious action show, crammed with drama and glamour and tongue-in-cheek humor—and me thrown in the middle of it in hot pants and high heels, jumping off buildings with bombs going off behind me.
RUBENSTEIN: OK. But a moment ago you said you wanted to learn your craft. Do you think anyone will ever accept you as an actress if you’re wearing hot pants and high heels?
ANDERSON: I am an actress when I’m wearing hot pants and high heels. [laughs] OK? This is how I make my living. And I think it’s funny, and I think it’s fun. Whether people like it or not, I’m having a blast!
THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NOVEMBER 1998 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.