The term “broke the internet” is hyperbolic and kind of played out at this point. But Lily James and Sebastian Stan came pretty close to doing exactly that when the first images of them in character as Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee were released in the new series Pam & Tommy.
The transformation of James, the British actress best known for more courtly characters in Cinderella and Downton Abbey, into the definitive ‘90s “blonde bombshell” Anderson was particularly uncanny.
“It was pretty shocking.”
Those are the words of James herself during a recent interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above), recalling her own reaction to seeing her transformation for the first time.
“I mean, it was an amazing thing to be able to feel such a big transformation [on the outside] because usually it’s so internal,” she explains. “So to sort of see evidence and to really feel like a different person, it was very freeing, and a massive, massive relief because I was so nervous that I was just gonna look absolutely nothing like her… The makeup and hair team were extraordinary.”
Pam & Tommy traces the stranger-than-fiction story of how a sex tape made by the Baywatch star and her newlywed Motley Crew-drumming husband was stolen by an angry home construction worker (Seth Rogen) and leaked to the masses in 1988 during the earliest years of the World Wide Web. Nick Offerman and Taylor Schilling costar.
Given the thrust of the story, the series — which depicts an animalistic attraction between the celebs in love as they fall madly, quickly love — comes with a heavy dose of sex scenes, and includes an already infamous sequence is which Tommy has a conversation with his own talking penis (voiced, naturally, by ubiquitous comedic actor Jason Mantzoukas).
“I had my lawyer call me up and say, ‘Congratulations, you are now the client that holds the most nudity waivers that we have,” said Stan (Marvel’s Winter Soldier), who also just drew raves for the sordid romantic thriller Fresh at Sundance. “I was like, I don’t even know if that’s something [to] be proud of.”
Stan says the sex scenes were carefully crafted and deliberated over with director Craig Gillespie, who previously directed the actor in another irreverent, darkly comedic true-crime thrilller, 2017’s Tonya Harding thriller I, Tonya.
“I think trust is the right word, right? I just think if you do not have the trust and the communication there, I just don’t think any scenes like that would be possible… We were very supported and I think with Craig, we’d go in there and we’d take everything that we were shooting and all of us sort of [discuss], ‘Are we comfortable… Do we need to do this shot? Do we have to have this? And if so, then what are we saying with it? You know, nothing felt salacious or grabby.”
The actors may have to contend with hard feelings from their subjects, though. In a since-deleted Facebook post, Anderson’s friend Courtney Love who blasted the project as “f****** outrageous” and “vile” while saying it will further cause Anderson trauma over the embarrassment of the sex tape. According to a recent profile in Variety, Anderson chose “not to engage” with James or the producers when they tried contacting her; Stan had better luck with Lee, though won’t say much beyond that the musician was “touched and appreciative” that he reached out.
The series has drawn early kudos, however, for its redemptive portrayal of Anderson, its post-#MeToo point of view exposing how unfairly the actress was treated by the public, the press, those in both her personal and professional lives — everyone is culpable in this tale.
“The sort of bigger story around what happened to them feels very timely and an essential thing to look at,” James says. “It’s looking at it through our lens now and seeing how she was treated and how women continue to be treated and have been through our history. It’s important to look at that, and look at our own culpability. I hope that this show explores that and reframes what happened, and makes us all think.”
Pam & Tommy is currently streaming on Hulu.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Jimmie Rhee
Watch the trailer: