Netflix documentary director Pamela Anderson hopes the film will “eliminate the caricature” and people will “see the human being.”
Before Pamela, A love story Out Jan. 31, director Ryan White talks with Yahoo Entertainment about telling the story of the famous blonde bombshell whose life has enthralled decades since her prime Playboy cover and slow motion sprint on the beach Baywatch.
White was brought into the project by Anderson’s eldest son Brandon Thomas Lee, who produces the document, which uses Anderson’s personal video archive and journals. Being born in 1981, White says growing up, “Pamela was like the most famous person in the world to me. She’s like my Kardashian,” but he admitted he didn’t “think much about [her] over the last 20 years.” And while the Serene And Ask Dr. Ruth The director thought her story would make a compelling documentary, feared she would be “a larger-than-life personality” with “a huge machine of people around her”, which would not suit his stripped-down filmmaking style.
White agreed to a Zoom meeting with Anderson, and after talking for two to three hours, found her “so different than anything I expected. And our conversation was different than what I expected. Her personality she was different. Her sense of humor was different. I felt like it was when you know you have a great doctor. I’m so shocked right now who this real woman is – versus the public figure or the public creation that we’ve done. If you could bottle this conversation and translate it into cinematic films, people will be really surprised and love to meet her, the real one.”
When it came to making the film, “Pamela said from the very beginning… ‘Nothing is off limits. There are no rules. Ask me anything,'” recalls White, adding, “Pamela is by nature much worse because I think that burned her a lot in her life and career.”
The story was supposed to be about Anderson’s new life. Like her after having a notoriously wild and crazy run in Hollywood she moved back to her her hometown of Ladysmith, British Columbia in 2020, she married a construction worker and lived happily every time. During filming, however, her marriage to her fourth (legal) husband broke down, leaving the woman—depicted throughout the film as someone hoping only for one last true love—vulnerable. Then, she announced Hulu Pam & Tommy, a biographical look at the infamous stolen home video belonging to Anderson and first husband Tommy Lee, which was edited into a sex tape and sold without the couple’s okay. Anderson never took advantage of the tape, turning down a $5 million offer for the rights in the ’90s, and while the Mötley Crüe drummer was essentially applauded for it, Anderson was mocked on late night TV. She said it impacted not only her career, but also her marriage to Tommy and later the lives of her children. The show, starring Lily James and Sebastian Stan, was like kicking her while she was down.
“He didn’t know about the Hulu show when we started making the doc,” White says. When word got out that she was dating, followed by the trailer and then the actual series release, “Those were the moments where I could tell Pamela that she just wanted to leave.” She not from her cameras of hers, but from “the world” as she was “retraumatized” by the theft while she “knew the whole country was talking” – her again. While she never asked White to stop filming, there were moments — like when a friend innocently texted her with the trailer, thinking she was somehow involved with the show — “that she would quit” or it would be become “nausea”.
Adds White, “It was really hard watching her go through. I give her a lot of credit for letting me continue filming during that scene because it was really hard.”
It wasn’t easy to rewatch all of her old videos (of which there were “hundreds and hundreds”), either, including her weddings to Tommy, Kid Rock, and Rick Salomon. At one point in the film, she and Brandon are looking at old footage of her and she shares with him her knowledge that after her mad love with Tommy, she has never really loved anyone else. She said she brings with it the failure of that relationship with her son’s fathers, now 55 and four times divorced. Amidst the emotional scene, she and Brandon took a break from filming to go for a walk.
“Making this documentary with her brought up all these emotions,” says White. “I think it was almost therapy for her.”
White has never considered interviewing any of her ex-husbands on the project, including Tommy, who she’s on friendly terms with these days. (He married Brittany Furlan in 2019.)
“From the beginning, my conversation with Pamela has been, ‘If I’m going to do this with you, I want to be with you a lot. I want this to be incredibly personal and raw and intimate. I basically want your life and your world through your eyes,'” she says. “And my vision for that was no talking heads in the movie, including ex husbands. We got lucky and have that huge archive, so especially Tommy, but all the husbands, they can kind of shine a light on who they were through footage of them … I wanted it to be her life through her eyes and not through someone else’s.”
White noted that Pamela, Brandon and Dylan “all have a good relationship with Tommy” and was aware early on that she would be in a documentary and that the archive would be used. “She was very supportive of her telling the story.”
The film traces Anderson’s entire life, from a tumultuous childhood, during which she was molested by a babysitter, raped at the age of 12 and abused by her boyfriends, to landing on the doorstep of Playboy in 1989 and reclaiming his sexuality through his first nude shots. She then took on Hollywood and fell in love with her, but she was burned by show business that didn’t leave her full of cash, the stolen tape (which she felt was just another rape) and her love. .
As for what White hopes people take away from the film, remember that she’s human.
“If this documentary does anything for Pamela personally — because she’s not a chess player, she’s not resourceful, she doesn’t need this documentary to raise her fame or stardom — I hope people understand her in a way that’s been misunderstood and they’ll be rooting for her a little more than they’ll be teasing her,” she says. “I think people always have. I don’t think Pamela has always been such a mocked punchline. I think people have a deep affection for her. But she was easy to laugh at because of the more caricatured parts of her So I hope this takes away the caricature [and] you see the human behind it.
She adds, “And I think people are going to be ready to root for her for, you know, the final chapters of her life. I think she deserves to be an American icon — and I think people are ready to follow her.”
Pamela, A love story comes out Tuesday at 3:00 ET on Netflix. His memoir, With love, Pamelawill go on sale the same day.