One of the craziest stories during the pandemic was the Lily James-Dominic West affair. The photos of Lily and Dominic cavorting in Rome came out in October 2020. What followed was typical-yet-bonkers. Reports of Dominic’s estrangement from his wife Caitlin, followed by an awkward “photocall” with Dominic and Caitlin, followed by Dominic leaving a note for photographers claiming his marriage was fine. Lily went into hiding for a while as she was branded the “other woman” in Dominic’s marriage, and he reportedly had feelings for her too. In the end, West stayed married and Lily survived, and arguably thrived. She became more famous, she booked more work, like the miniseries Pam & Tommy. She was cast as Pam Anderson in the ‘90s, and Lily spoke to Porter Magazine about the project and how society is still pretty sexist and misogynistic.
She knows that not everything is at it seems: “I remember once going to the Berlin Film Festival in this amazing pink dress with all these diamonds, but I had an awful urine infection so had to leave the convoy of cars to run over to a petrol-station toilet. That’s my glamorous reality.”
She had doubts about pulling off Pam Anderson: “I just had no idea if I could do it. I’ve never worked so hard. I read the books [Anderson] has written, I read her poetry, I can parrot along to all her interviews. And then, of course, there was the physical transformation. Slowly, our incredible team found a balance where I resembled Pamela but also felt like I could act through it. I’ve never done anything where I look very different from myself before. And I’d really like to continue in this vein, because I felt there was something very freeing and liberating in it. There was a bravery that came from that. A courage that came from… disappearing.”
Returning to her natural self after playing Pam: “I hated it. It was like being stripped of all these superpowers! I’d really enjoyed the physicality and the sensuality, even down to the long fingernails. There was just so much character to hold on to – it was really thrilling.”
The misogyny Anderson faced: “It was exciting, thinking about what it meant to be a young woman at the height of her fame. When you look back at some of her interviews from the 1990s, the misogyny is so striking. I mean, it’s changed so much, but…” She lowers her voice, and I wonder if she’s thinking of the week in 2020 when a paparazzi photo of her with actor Dominic West led to James’s friends highlighting the media’s ‘slut-shaming’ of her. “I think it’s more hidden now, perhaps? Anyway, there was a lot in it that I found I could relate to.”
On the first celebrity ‘sex tape’: “The shaming was so extreme. Unfortunately, that’s still the case, don’t you think? Women are held to much higher standards and attacked in ways that feel so vicious. Pamela had such wit and grace in the way that she held herself. I admire that strength.”
On Pam’s lack of involvement: “This is the first interview I’ve done about this project, and I care a lot about it. I was really hopeful that she would be involved. I wish it had been different. My sole intention was to take care of the story and to play Pamela authentically.” Did she reach out to Anderson independently? “Yes. And I was very hopeful that we would be in touch right up until we started filming.”
Celebrity culture: “It provoked an internet and celebrity culture that, now, I believe is just way out of hand. There is no such thing as privacy now.” Instead of our videos being stolen from safes, “we’re handing them out, constantly sharing our lives – with an audience that doesn’t really care about you. And giving away information to corporations using it for profit. I know a time before that happened, but there are young girls who have no idea. This was a trigger moment that unintentionally sparked a new time… I hope a lot has changed. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s changed quite enough.”
I come out of this interview feeling like Lily worked hard to honor what Pam went through, but I’m still concerned that the miniseries will treat it like a comedy, when really it was a horrific ordeal for Pam. Pam and Tommy both fought like hell to get control of the situation, and they were still fighting and suing their way to some kind of justice even years after the tape came out. Still, Lily did the work. I was surprised by how much voice work she did to sound like Pam, and she apparently wore a chest plate to recreate Pam’s famous curves. As for the oblique references to the West scandal… it’s not exactly comparable, but I get what she’s saying. And honestly, society is still very sexist (I’m proud that our coverage mostly focused on Dominic West being a sleaze though).
Cover & Instagram courtesy of Porter Magazine.
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