The Untold Truth Of Pam & Tommy

In the early '90s, two outrageous celebrities found each other, and however briefly, love, marriage, and happiness, despite being on opposite fame trajectories. Pamela Anderson was a star on the rise, the most popular actor on the bikini-heavy lifeguard soap "Baywatch," as well as a Playboy centerfold and breakout cast member from "Home Improvement." And then there was Tommy Lee, the spotlight-stealing, stick-twirling drummer for the glam metal band Motley Crüe, one of the biggest acts of the '80s MTV generation. The pair quickly earned a lot of attention from reporters, tabloids, and newsmagazine shows for their candid displays of public affection and altercations alike, reaching the peak of their fame and notoriety when a "sex tape" they made together was nationally distributed.

The tape was actually stolen, and the pair went through a lot of hassles and heartache to stop its release. That salacious story is at the heart of "Pam and Tommy," a 2022 Hulu limited series starring Lily James and Sebastian Stan as Anderson and Lee as they fall in love, fall out of love, and fight their villains publicly and privately. Here's the untold truth about the making of one of the most anticipated TV events of the year.

Pam and Tommy was going to be a movie starring different people

"Pam and Tommy" is a Hulu miniseries, produced in part by Dave Franco, co-starring Sebastian Stan as Motley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee. Those are some fundamentals about the project, and they were all originally completely different. 

Shortly after "Rolling Stone" ran Amanda Chicago Lewis' story about the theft of the Lee/Anderson video in 2014, entertainment company Limelight bought the rights to adapt it for the screen, according to Variety. Limelight president took the idea to Point Grey shingle, the development house run by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who signed up to make the project, intending to make a feature film with frequent collaborator James Franco portraying Lee. After discussing the concept with other producers, all parties involved realized "Pam and Tommy" would be better as a limited series, because of the thematic complexity of the story. More than five years later, the miniseries finally began filming, with Marvel Cinematic Universe star Sebastian Stan taking on the role first offered to James Franco, and the actor's brother, Dave Franco, working on the other side of the camera as executive producer (via USA Today) with Rogen and Goldberg.

It isn't a life story

One could assume from the title and format of "Pam and Tommy," an eight-episode miniseries, that the show depicts the life stories of "Baywatch" bombshell Pamela Anderson and Motley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, or that it at least covers the period of the celebrities' lives when they were a couple, from their elopement four days after meeting in 1995, according to People, through their first breakup in 1998, brief reunion in 2001, another coupling up in 2008, and their once-and-for-all split in 2010 (via Us Weekly).

But "Pam and Tommy" only briefly touches on the specifics of how Lee and Anderson got together and then fell away from one another. The limited series focuses almost entirely on the controversy and legal ramifications surrounding an intimate home video the pair made, as per Variety. Featuring the couple cavorting on a boat and graphically depicting marital relations with one another, the tape was discovered in their home by a disgruntled maintenance worker, who sold it to an adult film distributor. "Pam and Tommy" is specifically based on a recounting of those events as laid out in a 2014 Rolling Stone article titled "Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World's Most Infamous Sex Tape."

The miniseries isn't necessarily a comedy

Potential viewers of Hulu's "Pam and Tommy" might be led to believe that the project is a comedy. The trailer presents the series as a winking and campy look back at the '90s, featuring the "love story" of an over-the-top, wild-man rocker and the bleach-blonde star of a T&A-centric syndicated soap opera, brought to life by two modern-day actors doing their best celebrity impressions under several heavy layers of makeup. Further cementing its comic credentials, the "Pam and Tommy" preview offers a glimpse of comedy icon Seth Rogen in a silly mullet playing a bumbling crook.

And yet, according to the people behind "Pam and Tommy," the miniseries isn't really a comedy, or necessarily something to be laughed at or taken lightly. "I think a lot of people would think it's one thing, but it's really about privacy and how things got crazy then," Lee told "Entertainment Tonight." "People need to know." Editor Tatiana S. Riegel attests that "Pam and Tommy" is "a surprisingly emotional thing. You end up having a lot of compassion and insight into people that you certainly don't at the beginning of it," she told Variety.

Producer Sue Naegle wanted to make "Pam and Tommy" because of what she saw was the true story, beneath the surface. "The opportunity was to tell something that was emotional and funny and true and hard," she explained to Variety. "There was an unfair cultural response in the '90s. It bothered me then."

How Lily James became Pamela Anderson

Lily James leads the cast of "Pam and Tommy" as Pamela Anderson, or Pamela Anderson Lee, '90s "Baywatch" star, "Barb Wire" action hero, and gossip column magnet for her relationship with Motley Crüe member Tommy Lee. James is virtually unrecognizable in her role, a face familiar to millions from her work in "Downton Abbey," "Cinderella," and "Baby Driver" — all disappearing under a mess of blond hair, and her British accent nonexistent thanks to her uncanny imitation of Anderson's signature breathy purr.

It took a lot of people a lot of time and work to turn James into Anderson for the cameras. According to a Variety interview with Barry Lee Moe, head of the hair department on "Pam and Tommy," James endured "anywhere from three to five hours of hair and makeup" at the start of each shooting day on the limited series. The hair department employed the use of wigs, too, and not just for James. "We ended up using 25 wigs in the end. Everyone from Seth Rogen to Nick Offerman, Taylor Schilling all wore wigs because we transform them into new characters," Moe said. The only major cast member to use his real hair: Sebastian Stan, as Lee.

Lily James nearly backed out of Pam and Tommy

After agreeing to take on the role of Pamela Anderson in Hulu's "Pam and Tommy" sex tape saga/limited series, Lily James extensively prepared before shooting began, thoroughly diving into her character, an actual person of whom she was a longtime fan. "I've always felt there was this boldness to Pamela, this unashamed kind of authenticity," James, a veteran viewer of Anderson's "Baywatch," told Variety.

The first thing James did to get into the Anderson mindset: She watched a lot of interviews with the actor as well as plenty of "Baywatch. "I binged hard," she said, noting and absorbing the actress' physical gestures, behavioral patterns, and recurring vocal patterns. "She talks really fast, and I would watch her interviews over and over again and annotate them, learn them, and parrot along with her," James explained. "I wanted to get that energy and that impulsiveness."

Nevertheless, James felt that she'd maybe gone too far, so overwhelmed in her prep work that she almost quit "Pam and Tommy" before the cameras rolled. "I really wanted to pull out of this a week before," James said. "It just felt too frightening. But I think that's a good place to work from because it keeps you growing and getting better."

How Sebastian Stan prepared to play Tommy Lee

Sebastian Stan plays well-known metal drummer Tommy Lee in "Pam and Tommy," reuniting him with director Craig Gillespie, who helmed "I, Tonya," the biographical film in which the actor portrayed Jeff Gillooly. Despite the pre-existing relationship, Stan wasn't sure why Gillespie asked him to play Lee, a person with a specific and strong personality and persona. "I don't have a single tattoo on my body," Stan told Variety. "So I was like, 'What exactly is making you think that I can play this man?' But I was intrigued enough to want to see why he was calling."

Once he accepted the role, Stan descended into information gathering and character building, acquiring and consuming everything he could find on Lee. He watched interviews with the drummer available on YouTube, read the cooperative Motley Crüe memoir "The Dirt," and, for a blast of realism, learned how to play the drums and how to play them like Lee does, including his signature twirl of the drumstick. "It's not easy to do," Stan said of the flair. "My fingers were swollen for a good week and a half. I kept hitting myself in the head with it."

The filmmakers have experience with controversial '90s figures

The subjects of the Hulu limited series "Pam and Tommy" are Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, two people who were already very famous, tabloid attention-drawing figures in the early 1990s individually, for their starring role on "Baywatch" and playing drums in the notoriously hard-partying hair metal band Motley Crüe, respectively. When those two fell in love, got married, and then experienced a tumultuous, scandalous marriage — which included the creation and theft of a very intimate couples tape — they got even more famous and developed a complicated, if uneasy, relationship with the general public.

Perhaps nobody is more suited to making biographical and historical filmed works about relatively recent notorious public figures than the chief creatives behind "Pam and Tommy." Director and executive producer Craig Gillespie is probably best known for helming "I, Tonya," the 2017 darkly comic and sympathetic biography about the rise and fall of '90s Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. One of the showrunners on "Pam and Tommy" is D.V. DeVincentis, who previously served as an executive producer on "American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson," another limited series about a complicated '90s newsmaker (via Variety).

The real Pam and Tommy have mixed feelings about the series

Sometimes, movies and TV series based on still-living people are made with the full involvement of the subject, who helps tell the story they want to make sure it gets told the right way. Members of Queen and Elton John assisted in the production of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Rocketman," for example; Hulu's limited series on Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, however, did not benefit from the participation of either titular party. 

Anderson, in fact, is opposed to the entire idea. "She and her family think the show is a cheap knockoff. The whole thing is a joke to them," a friend of the actor told The Sun. "Pamela has no intention of watching this God awful show, absolutely not. Never." According to Variety, Anderson's friend, rock star Courtney Love, wrote a social post (which she later deleted), calling out "Pam and Tommy" producers for exposing Anderson to "complex trauma" by re-enacting the events depicted in the film. According to screenwriter Robert Siegel, Anderson has "chosen not to engage" with filmmakers. "So we've respected her desire not to be involved."

Lee was more receptive to "Pam and Tommy." "He seemed touched and appreciative that I took the time to even reach out and connect," Sebastian Stan, who plays Lee, told Variety. Lee expressed his approval to "Entertainment Tonight." "I know Sebastian, he's playing me. From what he's told me, really beautiful story," Lee said. "The story's actually cool, what actually happened wasn't."

A hard-to-believe scene in Pam and Tommy wasn't invented for the series

Very early in "Pam and Tommy" — just the second episode, according to Variety — the Hulu limited series gives a nod of recognition to something a lot of people learned about Tommy Lee after viewing the stolen videotape that proves central to the plot: That the drummer has a prodigiously large male organ (per Page Six). The scene features Lee, having just met Pamela Anderson, his future wife, and he is head over heels for the actress, so smitten he wonders if he's in love. And he has a conversation about it with that body part, voiced by comedian and "Big Mouth" voice actor Jason Mantzoukas. Amazingly, "Pam and Tommy" didn't invent this exchange. "As much as I'd like to take credit for that, I was simply adapting a chapter," screenwriter Robert Siegel said — the conversation occurs in Lee's memoir, "Tommyland."

Siegel added that "Hulu was extremely supportive" of the idea, which turned out to be a technically complicated sequence to get on film. According to director Craig Gillespie, it involved four puppeteers, some animatronics, and a real, human actor, Sebastian Stan, trying to take it all seriously somehow. "By the end of it, I treated it like it was an intimate buddy conversation that one might have when they're falling in love," Stan said.