Just before the release of the must-watch show Pam & Tommy, starring Lily James and Sebastian Stan as Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee during their sex tape scandal (premiering Feb. 2 on Disney+ in Canada and Hulu in the U.S.), director and executive producer Craig Gillespie is responding to questions about how he hopes the couple will react to the series.
“I don't want to project anything onto them, it’s their personal journey, however they want to process it, I respect that,” Gillespie told Yahoo Canada. “I wouldn't have ventured into the show if I didn't feel like it was changing the narrative and showing the really heinous act that destroyed lives, and is still something that people don't understand.”
“It's something that society and the media, and our consumption of it, are complicit in and it was an opportunity to create that dialogue and talk about that, and see it from a different perspective. So that was the hope, and to do it in the most empathetic way possible for them.”
What is 'Pam & Tommy' about?
Set in the 1990s, and giving you all the nostalgia you could ever want, Pam & Tommy takes you through the true story of how a personal, private tape between Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee became a publicly shared clip. The series is based on a 2014 Rolling Stone article, written by Amanda Chicago Lewis, generally regarded as the conclusive story on what led to what is largely deemed the first viral video.
The video was stolen by a disgruntled worker, Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogan), who was working on Anderson and Lee’s home renovation. With the help of Milton “Uncle Miltie” Ingley (Nick Offerman), an adult film actor and producer, VHS copies of Anderson and Lee’s private moment were sent out publicly for $60.
In the early days of the internet, neither Anderson nor Lee could really imagine the tape being shared online. But when it got in the hands of the Internet Entertainment Group, the power of the internet became very real.
A story by Variety confirmed that Pam & Tommy producers and Lily James reached out to Anderson, who did not want to "engage" in the series, but Sebastian Stan did have a private conversation with Lee.
Audience will see that 'we were wrong'
While there were initial concerns about this series re-traumatizing the couple, particularly Pamela Anderson, Pam & Tommy does focus on the lack of privacy, misogyny and exploitation of Anderson in particular. You see Anderson as the hero of the story, a woman who is standing up for herself even when the public, and even her husband, dismiss and objectify her, calling out the inequality between men and women.
“People are going to think you’re cool,” Lily James says as Anderson in the series, in a scene after the sex tape goes public on VHS tapes, “I’m going to get looked at like a slut by the whole world.”
“It’s not like they’re seeing anything they haven’t seen before,” Sebastian Stan, as Tommy Lee, says in response.
Gillespie praised showrunner and writer Robert Siegel, and writer D.V. DeVincentis, for their thorough research into Anderson and Lee for the story. The director also identified parallels to his Academy Award-winning movie I, Tonya, in terms of the audience coming into the story with existing “judgements.”
“I think as an audience, we're going to come in with these preconceived notions and judgments and be shown that we're wrong, and that we were complicit in the way that we just consumed this information without any perspective,” Gillespie said. “It’s fascinating to look at through today's lens because we do question stuff,...and there's a platform now to speak out, which really, they didn't have access to back then.”
“I definitely am attracted to strong female characters and I think when they refuse to stand down, and they're given a voice, I think there's a lot to work with within that, with an actor, that I find very exciting."
Why we're still obsessed with Pam and Tommy
The moment the first image of Lily James and Sebastian Stan as Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee hit the internet, the public went wild, ironically, reminiscent of when Anderson and Lee’s sex tape landed on the web in the 1990s. The transformations are quite astonishing physically, but also when you watch the series, even James and Stan’s voices and mannerism are so specific to these individuals, you almost forget it's not actually Anderson and Lee.
But this also reflects our continued obsession for the celebrity ex-couple.
“They were an iconic couple from that period," Gillespie explained "I also think back then, there wasn't as much of an information channel, it was a very narrow funnel and they were at the top of that information funnel."
"They were a large part of our culture for a long time.”
As we look to celebrity culture today, when the internet is a very well established way of disseminating information and oftentimes, allowing us to keep an even closer eye on our favourite stars, technology may have evolved but exploitation and concerns around privacy are still very real. So maybe we still have a lot to learn from Anderson and Lee's situation, more than 20 years later.