[February 17 2016]
Pamela Anderson, my childhood embodiment of the feminine ideal, is a big fan of Mid-century Modern architecture. On a dewy morning in the Hollywood Hills, I meet her on the patio of a home designed by Kemper Nomland and Kemper Nomland Jr. She quickly identifies it as a Case Study house. This property is where Luke Gilford, the director responsible for Anderson’s newest short film Connected, put his finishing touches on the collaboration of his dreams: a filmic experiment in revealing and redefining the merits of the first sex symbol to ever get a rise out of him. Only upon meeting Anderson in person, in the morning, before hair and make-up and the beginnings of what will become a gorgeous femme fatale photoshoot with Gilford, do I realize how specific of a symbol she’s publicly functioned as. Her image is the entire world’s visual reference for the wild, holistic glamour of Los Angeles, where celebrity intersects the beach.
This is so much the case that many of us forget the quintessential California girl is from a Canadian wharftown. And as an animal and environmental rights activist, Anderson has done her best to transcend the trappings that came along with sex being her main claim to fame by finding her own opportunities to speak to the public about topics beyond her boobs and her boyfriends.
In Connected, Anderson is more than a sex symbol and more than a campaigning activist. As her character Jackie, a role developed just for her, she’s an actor and most importantly, a flawed, vulnerable human striving to feel better.
Tierney Finster – How did it feel to begin a project with Luke, knowing he had already spent a lot of his life up until that point watching you from afar?
Pamela Anderson – I didn’t really think about that. I’ve never thought about that. But when you think about sex symbols, even if the assumption is that we’re all surface, that way of being actually comes from such a relatable space. We stick in people’s minds. It’s not a superficial thing at all.
Tierney Finster – Luke and the writer he worked with, David Largman Murray, scripted Jackie with you in mind. What was that experience like?
Pamela Anderson – We worked hard on the character and went to very vulnerable places together. I was excited about this project because it’s about aging, which can be a big, scary subject in Hollywood, especially if you believe people only like you superficially. But there’s so much more to people than our physicality, especially as we age. I knew because of Luke’s work, his whole alien sci-fi thing, that no matter how ugly this was, it was going to be beautiful.
Tierney Finster – Has the excitement of your performance stuck with you?
Pamela Anderson – Yes, I want to do more of it. It’s like an addiction and I’m just scratching the surface. Performing this way felt very real and like such a relief. Like, ‘I can do this.’ ‘I can be this way.’ I can go down the deep, dark well I’ve only been scratching the surface of and my character doesn’t need to be all glitz and glamour. She can be a real person.
Tierney Finster – How does that approach to acting differ than the attitude you had at the beginning of your career?
Pamela Anderson – I did put some thought into what I was doing on Baywatch. Back then, I wanted to do something good and learn how to be an actor. But I was just on the beach with my dogs like I would have been anyway; that was me. Before this, I hadn’t really been in a film. There was Barbed Wire, sure, but I had just got married. My husband was punching everybody on the set and running his Testarossa into my makeup trailer. I didn’t even know where I started.
Tierney Finster – Versus where the character began?
Pamela Anderson – Yeah, it was just a lot eyeliner and spin kicks and hoping everything would be fine.
Tierney Finster – So you wouldn’t say you were actually acting much back then?
Pamela Anderson – No, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to really be an actress. I was on TV, and then I had kids, and then I married rock stars. It was really hard to get my focus for many years because my kids were number one, and then I had these crazy men in my life. But now my kids are 18 and 19.
Tierney Finster – Are you happy with where you’ve gotten professionally?
Pamela Anderson – Hollywood had its way with me and I don’t regret it…I’ve been told I’m unmanageable because don’t compromise my priorities. A lot of managers and agents only want you to make money and I always fought a lot of that. It drove people crazy. They would tell me ‘You could have this! And that!’ and I would just say, ‘I have exactly what I want.’ I didn’t want to put my name on everything and have a bunch of brands. But now, I don’t have a big team around me and I’m experimenting. All of today’s celebrities are so heavily branded. It’s like a disease!
Tierney Finster – What about the camera – do you love being in front of it?
Pamela Anderson – I think I might. You know, I do. I like to perform. I like to be on stage. There’s such a shyness to me, but I’ve always felt comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people and being in front of cameras. Even in the most intimate relationships we have, there are roles and we build walls and barriers. But for me, if there’s a camera in the mix, that shyness goes out the window. With Playboy, I had a really interesting relationship with the camera. I could see past the camera and past the photographer and I go into my own world, where I would play characters and and feel really comfortable. Really myself. In those experiences, I felt like I could give myself 100% and I trusted that.
Tierney Finster – Connected very much explores the idea of personal identity, in the sense that Jackie is desperate to do anything that might “evaporate” the idea of herself as she knows it. Over the years, have you always had a certain idea of who you think you are? Have you always conceptualized yourself in a certain way?
Pamela Anderson – When I was five, I wanted to be dead. I’m lucky I’m still here. As a very young girl, I was very much into my fantasy life and I still am. But around five years old is when I sat and thought to myself: ‘I could check out now or finish a little more than 12 more years of school.’ I realized then that life was short anyway, so I might as well give it a whirl. Still, I never wanted to be an actress. I never wanted to move to Hollywood. I never wanted to leave my small town. But my grandfather used to always tell me: ‘You’re not an extension of your parents or your small town, you’re a brand new light given to the world to do whatever you want with.’ There was never any goal; I just always thought ‘I’ll see what happens.’
Tierney Finster – Your grandfather sounds really cool.
Pamela Anderson – My grandfather was really into mythology and fairy tales. He gave me a fantasy brain and created a sense of mysticism I found a lot of comfort in. That’s the whole candles and incense thing that made its way to my character on Baywatch too. My grandfather was a Freemason who would dance on top of trees 100-feet high. People would call him crazy. So yeah, I’ve always been interested in fairy tales, mythology, the beach, and nature.
Tierney Finster – LA is a like a fairytale near the ocean, a pretty good place to explore all of those things.
Pamela Anderson – Yeah…When Playboy flew me out here, it was my first plane ride. I had denied a few of their offers and finally accepted. My mom told me I should do it. I landed in LA on gay pride day and had never been in a hotel before. The Playboy Mansion called inviting me to Fight Night and I was like ‘No, I’m not going to fight anybody.’ I was so naïve about a lot of things. But from that point on, the Playboy mansion became my university. I met the best actors, the best artists, and some of the best activists. I learned about everything in the world at the Playboy Mansion.
Tierney Finster – Your name and image are very synonymous with Malibu, the apex of West Coast wellness culture, where people like me aspire to get our acai bowls and pray to our crystals and utilize our ClassPass subscriptions in order to feel okay. But Connected is all about a woman experimenting with new extremes in order to get well. Do you relate to that?
Pamela Anderson – Where I live in Malibu, there’s this dichotomy. People aren’t superficial but they are. They’re doing everything they can, from SoulCycle to supplements to the hyperbaric chambers they swear by to oxygen tanks.
Tierney Finster – Do you think wellness comes in ebbs and flows? Like, sometimes you’re doing all that and feeling great and then one day you realize you’ve somehow let it all go again?
Pamela Anderson – Ebbs and flows is the right way to put it. Sometimes I’ll think, ‘Why am I in this space again? I know I was happy, so what happened?’ And it always comes down to what books I’m reading, what movies I’m watching, and what conversations I’m having. It comes down to whether or not I’m talking to people who interest me. I’ve tried all these different things, but being my authentic self is what makes me the happiest. And so does freedom: not letting people around me who project onto me what they think I am. Right now, I feel pretty happy. I’m working at a good level right now.
Tierney Finster – We’re vibrating high right now.
Pamela Anderson – Yes, we’re vibrating high right now at this beautiful house, when we could be anywhere. For me, this kind of happiness is also about taking risks without fear of being judged for them. Just participating in what you want to do, whether that’s making art or parenting. People will always have an opinion, so it’s best to escape into your own little moments.
Tierney Finster – Is it true you slipped away from reality while filming Connected?
Pamela Anderson – The film took Luke and I a long time to make, which was a blessing. It allowed us time to get to know each other, and in a way, the movie became a documentary about of our exploration of closeness. We couldn’t have achieved such raw moments in front of a crew if we didn’t have time to practice that. And yes, during shooting, I didn’t go home. I put my phone in a safe. My kids are grown up now, so I knew they were okay. I slept nearby where we were shooting and remained in a certain mental space. I listened to Enigma, the same band I gave birth to my sons to, and got into a place of memory. I thought about what my life was like 20 years ago and everything that’s happened since then. A lot of what happened after that time has disappeared. And that’s what my character in Connected deals with, losing things as she gets older and returning to herself.
Tierney Finster – How do you think celebrity has changed since the early ‘90s, when you were still beginning your career? Some of the things you did back then don’t seem so provocative anymore.
Pamela Anderson – Tommy and I never meant to make a sex tape; we were just shooting each other naked and being silly. But we created a monster… Today, the girl-next-door is really gone, because everyone is in their bathroom taking pictures down their shirts and up their skirts. It seems like we are in a very desensitized time. There’s not a lot of vulnerability left in Hollywood.
Connected can be viewed here.
Text Tierney Finster and photo Niko Karamyan