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Lily James had the "first day from hell" while filming Pam & Tommy. Instead of easing into the story behind the nonconsensual selling of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee's sex tape, the very first scene she shot with dialogue on Hulu's fictionalized retelling turned out to be one of the most pivotal moments for her take on the Baywatch star.
At the very end of the series' third episode, "Jane Fonda," Pamela meets with her new publicist to go over the promotional plan for her film Barb Wire. While the conversation starts out light, it quickly takes a powerful turn as Pamela details why Jane Fonda is her career role model. It's the first time viewers see the actress' passionate determination brewing under the surface. (Check out the full scene above.)
James knew how important this moment was for the character, as it's the first sign that there's more to Pamela Anderson than people may assume. "The point of it is to shock and surprise the audience, like, 'Were you underestimating me? Well, here we go,'" she tells EW's The Awardist. "It's such a slam-dunk, mic-drop moment. It really shifts everything, and I do like how the writers made it like a Trojan horse. You think of it as one thing, and then it becomes something else. The publicist — who I think is supposed to be the audience — is sort of patronizing her, and so then she comes out with this big speech and you understand her depth and intelligence and her commitment and passion and what matters to her. It's just such a cool moment."
That said, filming it first "added an absurd amount of pressure," James admits. "I'd only been dressed in the character like three times. And then suddenly, I was doing this huge monologue. I was so nervous. I was just thrown into the deep end, and it was pretty terrifying. Of course, I was completely paranoid that we didn't get it. I didn't want to f--- up. I didn't want to get fired on the first day."
James credits director Craig Gillespie with getting her into the right headspace for the scene. "He's so alive and fiery and passionate, and he gives you a little smile and it fills you with confidence," she says. "And he really lets you play. He only said 'action' like twice and basically just lets it run, which I love, because saying 'action' often snaps you out of it. By letting you just do take after take and resetting in your own time, it feels more relaxed. I actually did loads of improvising in the scene, and they didn't put any of it in. I was kind of bummed about that, but it turned out great."
While her first day was a challenging one, that first scene showed James that her North Star was how she related to Pamela. "There's this new path that Pam is taking with Barb Wire, and everything feels so scary. I've definitely felt patronized in rooms and slightly diminished and wanted to be more direct like she was," says James. "I started to relate and understand it from my own perspective. It's like your most authentic voice just comes out of nowhere and these words spill out of you. And as that's happening, it becomes really easy."
As James stopped focusing on all the prosthetics and started focusing on the emotion and message behind Pamela's big speech, she stopped feeling nervous and started feeling inspired. "I just think that what she's saying matters so much," she says. "Every actor — more so actresses, I think — faces this thing of being boxed in and typecast and 'you can only be this one thing,' especially when it comes to your sexuality, how that's weaponized and demanded of us, but then put down. Everything in the scene was just exactly what I wanted to be exploring and talking about. It's so powerful."