“ACTIVISM IS SEXY”
PAMELA ANDERSON. FROM BAYWATCH PIN-UP TO POLITICAL CRUSADER
Even Pamela Anderson can’t help but marvel at her current public persona. Reflecting on the strange and surreal path that led to her present incarnation as activist and advocate – for animals, the environment and a political prisoner named Julian Assange – she is, uncharacteristically, lost for words as she tries to explain the shift. As she admits to Stellar in an exclusive Australian interview: “I wonder sometimes myself.”
Anderson shot to fame in the ’90s thanks largely to her looks, bounding along the beaches of Baywatch, eventually peering out from a record 14 Playboy covers and, years before Kim Kardashian, pioneering the celebrity sex tape thanks to an illegally pirated romp with her then-husband Tommy Lee. A bombshell in the mould of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, boasting a seemingly helium-induced voice and a mane of rock video-ready blonde hair, she played the part with relish. “It was a beautiful, carefree time of my life,” Anderson says. The Baywatch era was also, she’s quick to add, “where I realised I needed to share all the attention I got with something more meaningful, and have fun while doing it”.
Her first steps toward activism were taken anything but gingerly: a longtime vegan, Anderson reached out to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) at Baywatch’s zenith, handwriting a letter to offer her services as a volunteer. “She said that since [the show] had exploded, she wanted to be known for more than her boobs and her boyfriends,” says Dan Mathews, senior vice president of campaigns for PETA.
Anderson became one of PETA’S most visible celebrity supporters, joining protests and appearing in ads for the advocacy group – she even posed nude in a blizzard for their first-ever anti-fur Times Square billboard. “Being vegan doesn’t mean being shy or withdrawn,” she says. “It’s a political statement, like switching to green energy. This lifestyle… is a wild experience: rebellious, punk. I like the perception that I’m changing activism.” Besides, she cheerily adds, “a vegan diet improves your sex life!”
SEX – WHETHER HAVING it, monetising it or lampooning it – has always existed in tandem with Anderson’s celebrity. And she has always been savvy enough to embrace it. “She knows people first take note of her for her looks,” Mathews tells Stellar, “[so] she baits and switches to get them onboard.”
It is perhaps no surprise that she and PETA joined forces in 1995, the same year the sex tape leaked, arguably one of many times Anderson’s savviness has saved her.
In 2014, she was largely retired from acting and instead busy launching her titular foundation, which “supports organisations and individuals that stand on the frontlines in the protection of human, animal and environmental rights”.
In her new capacity as a (mostly) full-time philanthropist, Anderson now orbits the nexus of geopolitical power. She rubs shoulders with government officials, visits French migrant camps to dole out vegan food and pays regular visits to rumoured boyfriend and Wikileaks founder, Australian Julian Assange, at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has lived since being granted political asylum in 2012.
How on earth did Anderson get here? “I’m starting to see the correlation more clearly,” she says. “All the issues I fight for are to reconnect, even cleaning up the environment. It is my intrepid, runaway mind. I’m a mischievous soul [and] everything I do is rooted in the loving experience of sensuality.”
To that end, Anderson claims that “plastic… has oestrogen”, and implores men “not to drink from plastic bottles”. She has surprisingly traditional views on gender. “We are becoming more androgynous as a species,” she tells Stellar. “Men get weaker in an authoritarian environment; they don’t need to be as manly. And women are working… who’s watching the kids? I may get some heat for this, but I’d consider myself an ‘anti-feminist’. I obviously believe in treating people fairly, but men and women are different for a reason, with very important roles to play.”
She also worries that “the world will forget how to make love”. Last year she and Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and author, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the dangers of porn. They are now finishing their book, The Sensual Revolution, expected for release later this year. Anderson also says, “I was just asked to write a sexy vegan cookbook. I’m drawing, painting. I’m considering a few artistic shorts and maybe a film next year. But my full-time job is what I’m doing, and that’s being an activist.”
Serious as she is about saving the world, Anderson still found time to film a cameo for the new movie version of Baywatch, out on June 1. But she apparently has mixed feelings about the enterprise, which stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (in David Hasselhoff’s role as Mitch Buchannon). In February, Anderson questioned Johnson’s ability to “gel” with his role and said she “never wanted to do the movie”. Even now, asked if going back to the beach reignited her interest in acting, she tells Stellar: “Oh, god no. It’s the other way around.”
ASIDE FROM HER focus on activism, Anderson cites two key reasons for slinking away from the screen: Dylan and Brandon Lee, her sons with Tommy Lee. “Since I had kids,” she says, “I didn’t do much acting. I wouldn’t leave my boys to work on a film.” She says she is proud that “I protected their privacy when they were small. Now they are over 18 and can make their own choices.”
Brandon, 20, is an aspiring actor who, his mother says, “looks like an old movie star and is tremendously romantic and believes in love and commitment”. Dylan, 19, has modelled for Saint Laurent and attends music school. “He is extremely ambitious and talented,” she says. “Not only that, he has a good head on his shoulders and empathy.”
The pair are unsurprising winners of the genetic lottery. For the recent Met Gala in New York, Brandon suited up in a gold silk jacquard Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo, accessorised with slicked-back hair, a whisper of a moustache and an Elvis Presley sneer. Dylan, meanwhile, boasts a tidal wave of jet-black hair, his mother’s lips and his father’s cleft chin.
Like most millennials, the boys stay busy on Instagram. Their mother does, too – in a different way. Her page is named after her foundation, and showcases a curated selection of arty black-and-white photos. “I try to evoke a feeling on my Instagram,” she explains. “Cinematic, romantic, nostalgic – I’d prefer to live in black and white. It’s very flattering.” If it’s elevator selfies you’re after, you’ve come to the wrong place. “I don’t care too much about other people’s day-to-day activities.”
Those looking for a personal insight into Anderson’s psyche may find her personal website and online journal to be more revealing. The entries read like attempts at poetry, or some variant thereof – according to Anderson, her father and grandfather were poets. She posts every few days, usually on subjects such as sex trafficking, animal abuse and, yes, Assange. In a March 9 entry called “My Julian”, she refers to him as “the most intelligent, interesting and informed man in existence”. She’s written
``I adore julian. he is a great man´´
``since kids, i didn´t act much. i would not leave my boys to work on a film´´
an open letter to Australia, criticising Malcolm Turnbull’s “weak position” on Assange’s case for asylum. And she’s posted personal photos of Assange with his internet-famous cat, who has been seen in the embassy’s windows wearing a tie, and has its own Twitter account.
“I adore Julian,” Anderson tells Stellar. “He’s a great man and it would be a dream to have him reunited with his young family in France. I hope [new President Emmanuel] Macron will be as strong as [leftist French politician JeanLuc] Mélenchon when it comes to refugees – that includes Julian.”
But when asked to clarify their relationship, she says “it’s personal, and he is a vulnerable, political prisoner. It’s difficult. I will not reduce it.”
As for Australians, she implores us to “demand that as a fellow citizen, Julian is protected by [your] government. Stop kissing America’s ass.” And the cat? “I will not divulge anything too personal,” she replies. “They are cute together is all I can say.”
Whenever she visits the embassy in London, she creates a stir. Last October, Assange fell ill after she delivered him vegan food – and conspiracy theorists surmised she had tried to poison him. Food in hand or not, when Anderson arrives she faces a swarm of paparazzi whose shots are splashed around the world. “I don’t pay much attention [to the coverage]”, Anderson insists. “If it draws attention to Julian, it’s good. We need people, more than ever, to start realising what is at stake.”
On June 19, Assange will almost certainly mark five years holed up inside Ecuador’s London embassy. Twelve days later, Anderson turns 50. Her plans are still unclear. “Time has flown,” she says of the looming milestone. “I don’t want to celebrate me too much.”
It is likely that, in contrast to her “dear friend” in lockdown, Anderson will be in yet another corner of the globe, soldiering on as she promotes and provokes in equal measure. As she says, “I’ve rented my home out in Malibu so I can travel and be other places full-time.”
Wherever she ends up on her fiftieth birthday, Anderson isn’t likely to stay long. “It was fierce determination that made my dreams come true,” she says. “I don’t give up. I’m relentless. I’m here to stir the pot – and give all the love I have.”
ACTOR TO ACTIVIST (clockwise from top) Pamela Anderson prepares food for migrants in France; her rumoured boyfriend Julian Assange; in the original
Baywatch; with Dwayne Johnson in the upcoming Baywatch reboot.