SPOILER ALERT: This piece contains spoilers for “The Master Beta,” Episode 4 of “Pam & Tommy,” now streaming on Hulu.
For Lake Bell, working on “Pam & Tommy” in the middle of a pandemic was a dream. “This was the job that gave me creative sustenance in a time where we were all locked down,” says the director and actor, who directed Episodes 4 and 7 of the Hulu show.
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More than that, she was moved by the traumatic experience that Pamela Anderson went through, and the way that “Pam & Tommy” respected that. Lily James and Sebastian Stan portray the “Baywatch” star and Tommy Lee, respectively, as they quickly fall in love, get married and make a private video tape that is stolen out of their home. It quickly goes viral — before that was even part of anyone’s vocabulary.
“To have some unknown entity called the worldwide web to suck up your own personal property and broadcast it to the entire world, I mean, it’s beyond salt in the wound,” says Bell of what happened in 1995.
Despite how appalling the situation was that “Pam & Tommy” illustrates, James felt a sense of ease on set — especially working with Bell on two important episodes. “It was about really trusting the creative team involved,” James told Variety in our cover story. “I felt there were women involved that I trusted. It just made me want to work even harder to try and portray [Pamela Anderson] not only authentically, but to do her the justice she deserves, I admire so much. It’s a delicate thing, isn’t it, playing someone.”
In a conversation with Variety, Bell opened about bonding with James and using her personal experience as part of the process.
How excited are you for the world to see these episodes?
It was such a fun ride. It felt like this incredible respite of monotony in my pandemic. This was the job that gave me creative sustenance in a time where we were all locked down and yes, it took a toll on on the human connection, obviously, as we all have experienced in every industry. But certainly in this a kind of intimate, sparring and comedic and emotional conversation that is to make any kind of TV or film, I think we’re all just a little eager.
What was your working relationship like with Lily James?
We have become very close because of this, for a multitude of reasons. I’ve loved her for so many years. I wanted to make another project with her years ago. So the fact that we finally got to be together on this, it was really meaningful and I think that we both came from a place of wanting to creatively connect. Then I think, as women and as humans, we had a lot to say. There was definitely overlap in experience. That became kind of a sort of an undercurrent of our work together.
This show is about so many things, but at the core, it really addresses the exploitation of women in the industry. Was that why you were drawn to it?
100% — I feel very protective, almost, of this story. Pamela was being represented in a way that made me feel comfortable to participate, because I felt like it gave her voice in a time where at the time of the incident, there was no voice given. We have to be open and understand that yes, this is the narrative and it is a dramatization of a real event and occurrence and a massively traumatizing experience in this person’s life. I think, for any lady working on it who has been in the public eye in some capacity, that was in the forefront of our mind — in, not only just how we represent this person, but how we are making commentary overtly and about the social and cultural kind of damage that had been done.
This is a real, living, breathing, multi-dimensional woman whose life was forever altered because of theft. And to boot, she was accused of releasing it herself. The audacity of this story, it makes you short of breath, because as a woman, you already feel so out of control within an industry that pushes and prods and pokes you from every direction whether you like it or not. Then to have some unknown entity called the worldwide web to suck up your own personal property and broadcast it to the entire world — I mean, it’s beyond salt in the wound. Part of it too that was so interesting was the larger conversation it caused about technology. Yes, it’s about exploitation, but also how we unleash the beast for good, and then it turns out to be for gross and macabre and perverse exploitation.
In the fourth episode, Pam says to Tommy, “People are gonna think you’re cool for this, they’ll be high-fiving you in the street. Me, I’m gonna get looked at like a slut by the whole world.” That’s a powerful line, and it seemed like the tone shifted a bit in the series after that. Was that the point?
Yes. Four is when there is a tonal shift, and I knew that I had that responsibility to alley-oop the rest of this emotional journey. We can see that in the beautiful writing. Lily and I prepared a lot and talked about that scene particularly that you referenced — these moments where Pam gets to really advocate for herself and crystallize why it’s different for a man than it is a woman. That, in plain view, is changing. You hear it through the mouth of this woman who, in the first three episodes, you’ve become enamored by because of her beauty, her freedom, her expression, her body and her levity. Then you see this sweet person, who is very much human and understands the currency of what culture has asked of her, get grossly taken advantage of in a way that just gets so unwieldy.
This was the beginning of that and thank God, she becomes — rightfully so — ferocious, and has a voice. I’m really interested in people finding their voice.
New episodes of “Pam & Tommy” drop on Hulu every Wednesday. This interview has been edited and condensed.
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