Pamela Anderson Had a Great Rule for 'Pamela: A Love Story' Director: 'Show Me Nothing'

Pamela Anderson Had a Great Rule for ‘Pamela: A Love Story’ Director: ‘Show Me Nothing’

Most everyone knows the name Pamela Anderson, but viewers of Ryan White’s Netflix document Pamela: a love story can have a new understanding of the human behind the person. White – whose acclaimed work ranges in subject from robots trapped on foreign planets with Goodnight Oppy to the murder and sexual abuse scandals within the church in The Keepers — captures a different version of Anderson than the sex symbol image she’s known for, using hours of never-before-seen footage from home videotapes and excerpts from Anderson’s detailed journals. During the filming of the documentary, the Hulu series Pam & Tommy — which chronicles Anderson’s affair with her ex-husband, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee – was released, to her surprise and dismay. She then booked her first Broadway role in Chicago as Roxie Hart, and White’s camera captures her every step of that journey. The following is a conversation between the documentary subject and the director about their filmmaking process.

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How did you first become aware of each other?

RYAN WHITE Two and a half years ago I had lunch with Brandon, Pamela’s son. The idea had been launched by me on a documentary about Pamela (before). Honestly, I said, “No thanks,” which I do to almost every celebrity documentary because I hate ending up in the position where you’re sitting with a celebrity and you’re saying, “I’m going to pass,” and you seem to be weighing the someone’s life. My entry level was very ground zero. I didn’t even know Pamela was Canadian. I was a teenager in the 90s. Pamela was one of the most famous people in the world when I was coming of age, but I didn’t know much about her background Everything Brandon was telling me, that she was back on this island where she grew up, was really intriguing. I remember the exact line that (Brandon) said: “I think you guys are going to be really funny.” The next day, we lit a Zoom and it probably lasted two hours. I left thinking, ‘If she wants to do this, I definitely want to do this with her.’ Everything about her blew up all my preconceived notions of who Pamela Anderson was, the cultural icon and the most large than life.

PAMELA ANDERSON Brandon said, “Mom, I’m so sick of people not knowing who you are; you should really do a documentary,” and I was like, “Nope. Forget it. I’m in the woods. I’m just licking my wounds. I am happy with my dogs. (Brandon) knew I always wanted to write my memoirs, and I was like, “I’m really curious about writing my book, but then I want to put it in a safe and when I die, you can put it out.” He was like, “No, we’re doing it now.” He was talking to several directors. He brought a couple, and then he introduced me to Ryan, and I said, “I love Ryan, I’ll do whatever he wants.” I don’t know how he convinced me to do it. But between him and Brandon, I was like, “I feel safe.” We live together really well. I had only one request – do not show me anything. It has to be out in the world before I even see it.

Pamela Anderson with her son Brandon in Pamela: A Love Story.

Pamela Anderson with her son Brandon Pamela: a love story.

Courtesy of Netflix

What were your goals in this, and did the film come out much different than you expected?

ANDERSON I haven’t really seen it yet. I can’t sit down. Netflix held a screening for me and (my other son) Dylan because he hadn’t seen it either. And we sat there, and I just remember the whole time I was covering Dylan’s eyes. Then another time, I tried to sit in my bed in a hotel room, and I started watching it and I was just sobbing. As a relief. I really didn’t have any endgame. I just wanted to see what happened. When I saw some of Ryan’s work and saw his narration, I was really impressed. It felt right. It was really scary. But I like scary.

WHITE The things Pamela is saying right now are very rare in any documentary, but especially for a celebrity. This was what attracted me so much about Pamela: that the end of the game meant nothing to her. She didn’t have a team of people on call, it was just her. I’m old enough in my career to know that I can never have an ending in my movies. If the movie you set out to make is the one you end up with in the final cut, I think you’ve done something wrong. I thought there was this beautiful three-act structured story arc of this island girl who lived this crazy life and then came back to the island, and of course it all blew up while we were shooting the movie. We didn’t know that the Hulu series was coming out or that Pamela was going to have a role on Broadway. I just had to be okay with that completely unpredictable ride. This is what I love about my job. This makes me funny. I hate the term “subject” because they are real people. But when you have someone whose life you’re following, and they don’t care much about the end product, it’s a dream documentary subject.

I’m curious to know more about the actual process of making this film and how it ends up with yours Chicago performance.

ANDERSON When I got Broadway, I just thought, “I have to do this for my soul.” I still don’t know what I’m capable of. I live like this every day. Am I a painter? Am I a writer? I do not know. I get shivers just thinking about it. Those leaps of faith – and learning to believe in yourself despite what people have said about you, what people think about you. I thought, “I have nothing to lose.” But getting on stage and seeing my kids, in the front row… when I finally came out, for there to be this standing ovation, and seeing my kids looking at me so proudly, I was in this alternate universe because I’ve never seen with my kids, because I’ve always had this crazy life. I just think you have to be fearless and have courage. (Producer Barry Weissler) called me (to offer me the part), and I was watching the Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse (Fosse/Verdon), and it was at the point where he was trying to get Fosse to do it Chicago. I was so happy Ryan was there to film it in real time. Sometimes it was annoying. But then I would calm down. If I’m going to do that, I have to look my best. I’m glad it’s over. It was like open heart surgery in public. I don’t feel different. I feel the same. But I feel like people are almost rooting for you. I’m not used to that feeling — even when I walked off the stage on Broadway, and walked out, and there were all these people out there saying, “We did it!” I said, “We did it?!” Tears, flowers… I thought, “Damn, I’ve really lived my whole life to get to this moment. I did it. I survived.

Anderson made her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in Chicago as seen in the Netflix documentary directed by Ryan White.

Anderson made her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in Chicago as seen in the Netflix documentary directed by Ryan White.

Courtesy of Netflix

WHITE The thing about Pamela that is so unique, and I’ve seen a lot of people respond in the film, is this vulnerability that she’s showing right now, and allowing that vulnerability on camera is incredibly rare. You never asked me to leave the room. She was letting me (film) the first day of voice lessons, the first day of dance lessons. Pamela has been like that throughout the whole process. Documentary 101, and I don’t believe it, but when you’re in film school, you learn to be objective, fly into the wall, not influence your narrative as a film crew. It was impossible with Pamela from the moment we arrived and she’s jumping off the tapes. The memories would come back. The mere fact that we were making the movie and putting her through this process was causing a hurricane that was changing the trajectory of her life. So we just had to embrace that chaos.

How was the response for each of you?

ANDERSON It was really good, I think, because it wasn’t created to be anything other than what it is. No one wants to mix things up: living life twice is one time too many. It really reminded me of all this childhood stuff, where I really wanted to embrace that little girl in me again, and so with Broadway, I put a picture of myself at 5 years old; I taped it in my dressing room and got out of the way. This time I wasn’t going to spoil it for him. It was such an exciting thing. But it was so important. I took this year to be alone. I always say that the ability to be alone is the ability to love. I feel like I’m venturing out into the world as a whole person now. And I feel like when people look at me, they look at me a little differently. He’s not that judgmental. It could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t.

WHITE I made a lot of documents, some popular ones. I’ve never experienced this kind of reaction to a documentary. There’s a real relatability factor to Pamela that I think almost no celebrity has. People feel connected to her and want her to be successful. It seems to you that we, the public, judge Pamela less now. This woman is no longer a punchline. You are someone to appreciate, respect and listen to.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in a May standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here to register now.