Ok, she was born in Canada, but in every other respect Pamela Anderson is the ultimate American icon... the Baywatch beauty who became a pin-up to successive generations, and whose marriage to Tommy Lee produced some of the best tabloid fodder of the 90s. A columnist for Jane magazine, an advocate for PETA, and a debut novelist with her roman à ciel, Star (Atria Books), Anderson took time out for cocktails and conversation with David LaChapelle.
A long-time friend, Anderson has proved a perfect subject for LaChapelle's sexy-twisted portraits that take their inspiration from Truman Capote's dictum that "good taste is the enemy of art”. The interview was moderated by blogger and radio host Kate Sullivan, who e-mailed BB the morning after to say:"I hope those two are feeling no pain but I have to say, in ten years and hundreds of interviews, that was by far the weirdest interview experience I've had....I know you want this to really be a conversation between them, but I didn't quite work out that neatly" Here it is.
David Lachapelle: Any attraction you might feel from Pamela is totally authentic and is not based on your television fame. Just so you know - it's real.
Sasha baron Cohen Exactly. I'm feeling a lot of attraction from Pamela right now.
Pamela Anderson Oh, I've seen your show! That's funny. All G! It takes me a while.
Sac: So you're working together? I've seen your shots together. They’re amazing.
The egg one...Coming out of an egg.
Pa: I was being hatched.
Sac: So, we were trying to put a picture of you on our show.
Pa.: Uh-oh, Why? What were you going to say?
Sac: I don't know how you'll take this, but the character is basically an idiot. He was - I was- doing interviews with real people, trying to sell a book about World War II. (To LaChapelle) How do you think she's going to take this?
DL: Oh, she'll love it. Don't even worry. She’ll be fine.
PA: I don't bruise easy.
Sec: He's an idiot, yeah? But his idea to sell the book it's like. All G selling a book on World War II - and the cover was a picture of...
Sac: Topless. But there were swastikas on your nipples in keeping with the theme of the book, you know, World War II.
PA: Same as my book. I did exactly the same thing.
DL: She has a book that just came out. We did the picture a few years back and we stenciled stars.
Sac: Don't worry, it's not going in.
DL: Her book cover is nude with stars.
PA: And it's about World War II as well.
SAC: The idea was that they were drawn in by the picture of you. And they go. "Oh, on the nipples, swastikas - World war II!
DL: "It must be World War II!" (Pamela giggles)
Sac: The lawyers said that we should cut it out. (A woman enters and sits down)
DL: This is Sharon (David receives a call from someone named Cher)
PA I want one of Cher's wigs. Ask her right now!
DL: Not that Cher.
Pa: What can we really talk about? We're gonna steal the microphone and go in the bathroom and sit in one of the stalls and talk for an hour like we normally do…
Sharon, could you do my makeup? I did it myself. Does that mean I'm not famous anymore?
Sharon Your makeup always looks beautiful. You're rice and tan.
Pa: I was lying outside today, because the boys want to their dad's yesterday.
And they don't come home until Friday. There was so much traffic coming here. I took an hour and a half. I said "I'm not going home until Friday: I do not want to deal - I don't want to go home" I write on Friday. I design my clothes on Thursday: I take my kids to camp or school every day. And then on the odd time when Tommy has the boys (laughs) every couple of months - I go out.
Black book I interviewed Tommy.
Pa: You did?
Blackbook: it was like three years ago, pretty soon after he had gotten out of prison.
Pa: He's a good guy. We all have our problems.
Blackbook: he seemed like a good person. And, well, this is none of my business, but I got the feeling that you guys were should mates.
Pa: Yeah, definitely. I just saw him today. It's just...you can't get away from it. It's one of these things we'll have to deal with for the rest of our lives. Everybody else is just extracurricular. That's my family. I don't necessary want to live with him, but he's my family. And so are my children. But he's Tommy, he's my right arm, my left arm...I don't know what it is a body part... Speaking of body parts! (Laughs) It's hard to see each other. We see each other and it's like two magnets repelling each other -
Oh, you're going? Well, keep going. Keep going" It's really hard I think the hardest thing is to truly, really love someone, just to let them be free. Really, honestly, to use a cliché, you really have to let them be free. To make their own choices. To see what their life is. And you just love them from afar, if you can't be with them. It doesn't mean you don't love them. That's a true friend it's sad.
Sharon: It's tragic.
PA: All love is tragic. All love is tragic, but it's more tragic not to love. It's OK, we're all surviving, it just never ands with us. He left and then he e-mailed me. "Why do you have to look like that when I come over?" (Laughs) And I'm like "Ditto! Go Away! Take the cowboy hat off!" My kids go "My parents can't be alone in a room together!" (David finishes his phone call; end explains that he was talking to a client about a potential campaign)
DL: No, it wasn't! Cher, it was the Cher of Singapore. And they told her "Our client, we just want to be honest with you, is very scared to work with you."
PA: Fuck off. Fuck off; I'm so sick of hearing that.
DL: (They said) "You're so overtly sexual in your work; basically, you're a dictator and a lunatic".
PA: So? And? Who cares?
DL: I am a dictator and a lunatic, but, I know when to turn it off. I can collaborate.
PA: Everyone's scared of you, David. It could be what was that commercial? Wasn't that funny? I insisted on David LaChapelle and they were treated out because they thought middle America does not understand David LaChapelle. So they had some fancy director come, like Fast and Furious-fancy director, and I said I wouldn't do it without David there. So they had to hire him to be my companion. And then we'd walk on the set together and then walk off... And then walk on.
DL: My contribution for the day - I was paid my full day rate - was for me to say. “Pan, I think your hair needs to be bigger."
PA: (Cracks up) And we ran back to the makeup trailer to change it.
DL: Which I think is a pretty major change.
PA: The bigger the hair the closer you are to God. It was a spiritual moment.
DL: That was one for the books. There were all those green berets and guys with guns. We were in the middle of the suburb and they had bought out the whole neighborhood, so everyone had left; It was like The Andromeda Strain , like the whole town had disappeared . And we're in the middle of suburbia, and there are just security guys with guns everywhere.
PA: They had guns and berets, and we had, like, a couple of skateboarder guys with no shirts on.
DL: They freaked out because Pamela was on the set and I went over and said something to her, and the director of photography came over and was like. "What did you say to her?" And they were all upset because I was intruding. And I said "I just told her where her key light was"- that's when you favor your face towards the key light. And they flipped out. I was just like a paid companion.
Blackbook : I would think you'd be at a level now where you get to be whatever you want to be, and they come to you knowing what they're getting into.
DL: I don't know, I think it's a weird time. People are nervous about things. So you know I'm really grateful if people hire me for a job and you know what? I do as much as I can creatively if they think it's over the line, that's fine.
Blackbook :Do you feel like you're supposed to be less gay? Less flamboyant?
PA: (Laughs) are you gay? Are you gay? I didn't know you were gay.
DL: I'm not gay.
PA : (Laughs) Oh, wow.
DL: This is slander, and I have it on tape.
Blackbook: OK, I have no idea what your real sexuality is, but in terms of your art.
DL: What my real sexuality is?
Blackbook: But in terms of your art, which I think, has a very campy aesthetic.
PA: So is that gay or heterosexual?
DL: What's camp? What's your definition? Can I get another one of those drinks? Where's Bobo?
Blackbook : Camp is fun. Camp is irreverent. Camp is playful. Camp is postmodern.
PA: Camp is VIP ( A detective show Pamela starred in ) It's not David LaChapelle.
DL: Then Jon Stewart would be camp. You know what it's just funny (pause) I think there definitely are pictures I've taken that can be put in that category. But to classify one's.
Blackbook: Oh, God. I didn't mean to insult you. I feel really bad.
DL: It's totally fine. I mean, I have a documentary that won at the Sundance and Aspen film festivals and at Telluride. That's a documentary, so to categorize one's entire me’s work in one word - I just find it, like, wow.
Blackbook: I guess I was thinking in term of your commercial work.
DL: They're not afraid of that, they're afraid of me being difficult because I have a name that kind of precedes me. They're scared that I won't take any kind of input, that it won't be collaborative. But definitely popular culture is affected by what's happening in the country. I mean, you can't just do anything you want t do anytime you want to do it.
PA: Yes you can.
DL: You have to think of your audience - well, I mean, look what Janet Jackson did. You can do it - you can do anything you want - but there's going to be fallout. Now, Madonna did the Sex book in a completely different time and it was a different audience because it was a private book. It's all about timing. And the place, and your audience. I always just do what's on my mind and in my heart. I don't really think about the reaction is, because ultimately I'm doing it for myself. When you're working for an advertiser it's a different thing, right Pam? It's like having a day job. You have to get to work on time.
PA: Like me. I have a...what's my day job? I don't have a day job right now (Laughs). This girl was trying to tell me, she was like. "Do you want to do this TV show?" And I was, like,"No, not really".
DL: What show?
PA: She wants to create a show with these people and me at Saturday Night Live. It actually sounds kind of funny, but I just really like my life the way it is.
DL: Pamela has no agenda. She just enjoys herself, and everything just comes to her. You see girl coming here- remember those girls that sent a note at that concert? "I want to be you. How do I be you?" You didn't come here trying to make it - it's really incredible. She's not ambitious in that way.
PA: We should talk about your film, too. When's it coming out?
DL: In the spring. It's called Krumped , it's a working title. Kids in South Central do this incredible street-fighting dance. It's a new dance based in the ghetto of Los Angeles: it started here and it's really taken off.
Blackbook: that’s so cool, because that's how break dancing started.
PA: That's how break-dancing started?
Blackbook: Yeah, it started on the streets in the Bronx. Kids would have break-dancing battles instead of knifing each other.
DL: Exactly, I had Ellen DeGeneres call the other day - she wanted them all on the show. And I'm like. "We have to wait to do it in the spring" because all this press won't do any good unless it's getting people into the theater. I don't want it to just be this little dance trend. It's so much more. It's a real form.
Blackbook: Do you feel at all weird about introducing it to that whole world of daytime television?
DL: No, it's for everybody. It's for intellectuals, it's for the cool people, and it's definitely for the daytime people. If daytime is a woman raising kids, then that's a great audience to have. That's why I didn't really want to show it in galleries, because I felt that it was only for a certain group of people and I prefer working in popular culture rather than commenting on it.
PA : I have to pee. We can just take this into the bathroom with us - that's how I picture this interview: us sitting on the floor of the bathroom going. "So, what are you gonna say?” I think we've been talking for a lot longer than an hour.
DL: I don't think we've really talked that much.
PA ; Usually it's like we're out with this group of people and you and I will just huddle over here and start talking.
Blackbook: OK, seriously, if you guys want to do that, I can go smoke.
DL : Pamela's the best mom. She stays home, takes care of the kids; she's at every baseball game, picking them up. Every time there's a picture (of her) in the tabloids. She's at the supermarket with her two kids.
PA: It's really pretty, too, right?
DL: What's that game,T-ball? You're at T-ball in a G-string.
PA : You've been there.
DL : Yes, Bobo's been there, scaling the wall. Should we tell that story? You'd have to meet Bobo for it to be funny.
PA : He still hasn't paid for that window, or the roof tiles .
DL : A friend of ours, Bobo, decided one night after we all went to Vegas and saw the Zumanity show, that he was going to sleep with Pamela's ex-husband Tommy Lee. But Tommy Lee's straight, that's the only problem.
PA: And Bobo has braces.
DL : He maneuvered himself to stay at Tommy's house - he said he was too drunk to drive - and then kept trying to break into his bedroom the entire night, to the point that Tommy had to lock the door. Then Bobo scaled the wall of their marital bedroom, where her children were born, and broke through the window.
PA: And proceeded to spoon him.
DL: If it wasn't for his braces, Bobo would be a good looking guy.
PA: Well, Tommy said it would have been cool. He's open-minded.
DL: He freaked out Mötley Crüe, and if you can freak out Mötley Crüe that's something. Tommy looked down and he saw this face, and he said he almost thought about it for a second and considered it, but he saw the braces and he said "Forget it".
PA: You said it, not me!
DL: it was like; it's 4am, who's going to know? Then he looked down and saw the braces and said, "Forget it, I can't go through with it" Anyway, the windows broken, and the next day Bobo's at T-ball.
PA: It was soccer. Tommy comes rolling up and I'm with my cooler.
DL: Can you imagine? Any other ex-wife would flip out. Pamela's the coolest. Pamela's like, "Oh, we'll just get the window fixed"
Blackbook: I'm going to go smoke. I'll be in the area. (Kate leaves)
DL : God, what a fucking bitch.
PA : Such a bitch.
DL : What a cunt, Jesus Christ, what a stupid bitch.
PA : Jesus Christ
DL : ( In a mocking voice) You're camp, you're camp.
PA : She thinks you're gay.
DL : She called me a fucking faggot!
PA : I almost tucking punched her.
DL : (Mocking) So, like, you're gay, right? Yeah, you want me to talk that? Jesus. She needs some loving in her dumper.
PA: She was really rude. Calling David LaChapelle gay and camp? Jesus Christ! Cheese and Rice!
( Pamela and David laugh)
PA : What are we gonna talk about?
DL: I have nothing to say.
PA : I feel the same way.
DL : When I was in Vegas doing the Elton show, on stage we had these 50-foot breasts that inflated and then lactated on the audience. A week before the show opened the Super Bowl thing happened, and I thought, Oh, no - they're gonna close us down. They're gonna run us out of town, but they didn't.
PA : We live by different rules, We can get away with it.
DL : We're not threatening.
Sharon : What do you think about reality TV?
PA : I've never fucking ever seen a reality TV show. I don't care.
Sharon : We are reality TV.
DL : Our lives are train wrecks as it is - why do we need to watch other people go through humiliating things? (Kate reappears) All I have to do is go down the street and I get called gay and camp!
Sharon : (to kat) He's just teasing you.
PA : He's not teasing ...she's horrified.
DL : I'm just playing. It's really hard. My thing is, it's so much better to look at a picture than actually read what anyone has to say, because it's so boring.
PA : No one reads the articles.
DL : And I think the best kinds of interview are the early Warhol's Interview magazine ones. Where you just turn on a tape recorder and write every single thing that happened in real time. You get a better idea reading about what people ordered on the menu than having them talk about subjects because who fucking cares? We just want to look at the photos of people leaving the Wal-Mart, and at T-ball. You'll never see me answer questions like. "Will you comment on the hundred series videos?" I'm like "No, I'm not a talking head" Like a talk show - people come on and it's so phony. And they fool America into thinking they're really fresh-scrubbed, wholesome people.
PA : All the people that people think are really great, they're not.
DL : The most wholesome-looking actresses are actually the most twisted and caught-up and phony. And it's always the fresh-scrubbed ones. With exceptions, but normally you can't judge a book by its cover.
PA : You can judge my book by its cover.
DL : You're living proof you cannot judge a book by its cover - there's nobody more centered.
PA : But you can judge my book by its cover.
DL : She wrote a book and it's about her experiences in Hollywood. She changed the names so it's actually a novel. But it's a true novel. You know what, I have to say, I was so tired today and I kept thinking. "I have to do this interview with PAM" and it's so hard to just talk. I mean, I don't care what Jennifer Ariston thinks about politics.
PA : No.
DL : I know my role, I make entertainment . It's just so retarded to put your things out - like, who cares? I care what Susan Sontag thinks, but I don't want to see a picture of her at the Wal-Mart. Everybody has a role, and I think one of the brilliant things about being friends with Pamela is that she's actually happy being in Hollywood, where nobody is happy, I've worked with people having meltdowns, and pop stars going into hospitals, having breakdowns, and, really, when I look back there are so few people that are happy. She is so great with her kids and I watch her being a mom, and everything stops. I'm sure you were the same in high school. I feel like I'm the same person I was in high school. I was always directing my friends, making art projects, and photographing people. Maybe it's arrested development, but I find that kids that didn't make it in their careers, who went out there and thought they were going to take over the world, a lot of times if they didn't find another door to enter; it made them embittered. So I don't feel like success ruins people - listen, when door close in your face, you've got to find another door, instead of letting it embitter you. Everyone's so jealous of Pamela, people talk shit about Paris Hilton like crazy, and I think, really, a lot of it is she looks like she's having a great time.
PA : Right (Somebody starts banging on the piano insanely, it's ridiculous)
Blackbook: We can wrap up if you'd like.
DL : Well, you can leave the tape recorder on, may be something interesting will happen...
(Pam gives Kate a PETA-designed "KFC" shirt (Kentucky Fried Cruelty: We Do Chickens Wrong) and describes a recent expose of cruelty to chickens in a KFC supplier's plant)
DL : I worked in Kentucky Fried Chicken in high school.
PA: You did? What the hell - did you see anybody kick chickens?
DL: We didn't have any live chickens there. My position was to take the frozen chicken and bread it after it thawed, and then put it in the baskets that went into the deep fryer. The secret of the Colonel's recipe is a lot of salt in the flour, and pepper. But what makes people like it so much is that they pressure fry it.
Underneath the fryer is the cylinder and all the little flaky bits of skin and flour batter collect underneath this thing. I don't remember changing it very often, but the first time the manager told me to unscrew. I went out to empty it into the dumpster, and she said "No, we don't throw that out! That's the gravy!" I didn't work very long there.
PA : What did they put over their mustache for those Got Milk (ads)? It's disgusting. What is it?
DL : Have you ever done milk?
PA : I wouldn't do milk because of PETA. I did urine. PETA did this whole thing. Got Urine? Because really, milk is urine.
DL: You don't drink any milk?
PA : I drink a little bit in my coffee, that's it. Urine in the coffee's. OK, it kinda cuts it (Pamela checks her messages on her Blackberry)
PA : Oh, this guy is so cute that just called me! Football player. Maybe I should date an athlete? (There follows a long period when, as David suggested, the tape is left running. Nothing happens for a long time - they chat quietly on the couch. Then, just before Kate leaves, David decides to explain why the word camp upset him)
DL : Andy (Warhol) had just died, I had been working for Interview for four years, and the new editor came on , Paige Powell. They called her the "Warhol Widow", because she was really Andy's confidant. Paige wanted me to meet the new editors. We went to dinner, she kept pushing me, and they just would not hire me. I had worked on almost every issue for the past four years. I did the last portrait ever taken of Andy before he died- a formal portrait. Finally, one night in front of all these people, at the Odeon in New York, I was told "Your work is just too camp for us right now". And there were these other photographer there who is not even on the map anymore. They were flavors of the minute, and I fell like this big. So that word has a lot...it's hard for me to hear. It sounds derogatory.
Moderated by Kate Sullivan