When the Hulu series Pam & Tommy was announced it was easy to imagine it being a crude comedy focusing on the infamous sex tape that made Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee household names. But, like Pam herself though, there is more to this series than what is on the surface. Sure, much of what you would expect is present, including a now infamous talking penis, but the series’ explores much more. The title duo of Pam & Tommy, played by Lily James and Sebastian Stan, with the help of some prosthetics, wigs and makeup are perfect ringers making it to lose yourself in the chaos.
Series creator and writer Robert Siegel and producer/writer D.V. DeVincentis sat down with Awards Radar to discuss this story about real humans with real feelings, a small-town girl whose life is turned upside down by double standards and the perfect storm of budding technology and entrepreneurialism. The story begins in simpler times and by the time it is done, one video tape helped to usher in the internet.
Steven Prusakowski /Awards Radar: I really enjoyed this series, it was so much fun, very wild, and just not what I expected. It surprised in so many different ways, especially the scope of it. I’m curious why why did you choose to tell this story?
Robert Siegel: Partially because of the scope of it. You know, D.V. and I are both definitely attracted to stories that have a definite superficial, nice superficial layer of fun and sometimes trashiness on the top. There’s entertainment value, but then there’s vegetables, there’s real substance underneath. And this was kind of a classic example of that. You know, it’s sex and drugs and rock and roll and then this tape and penises and boats in Cancun. But underneath it gets at these issues of privacy, the birth of the Internet, a lot of I would say it’s the birth of our modern age.
D.V. DeVincentis: I mean, it’s about the moment when the Internet, as we know it, was born.
Robert Siegel: I mean, if you make the case that the two defining figures of our age that we live in right now are Kim Kardashian and Jeff Bezos, which I think you actually could, given the dominance of culturally and on the business side, those two figures, you could trace both of them back to how this this event kind of has Jeff Bezos and Kim Kardashian DNA within it might have been a strain.
Steven Prusakowski: There’s a six degrees of Pam and Tommy that reaches out to Bezos and Kim Kardashian, essentially.
Robert Siegel: Yeah. And the show covers how people figured out how to monetize the internet. This new technology came along, now how do we make money off of it? Credit cards and streaming video and all this stuff that wasn’t around back then kind of came on just as this tape. It was sort of this perfect storm of sex and celebrity and e-commerce. None of this would have happened if it didn’t happen at that exact moment when the stars were aligning and the Internet was coming. If it had been two years earlier, it would have been the Rob Lowe tape. Rob Lowe had a sex tape where it was just sort of like a bunch of VCR copies. If it was two years later, it would have gone viral almost instantly. This is the only moment where this two year odyssey that we lay out where it took two years for this tape to go viral. It couldn’t have happened at any other moment, except 1995 to 1997.
Steven Prusakowski: It’s really impressive to watch the pieces come together. There’s a moment when Pam and Tommy think they are in the clear. The videotapes have kind of reached their peak reach. Their nightmare is over. And then you see Tommy very slowly typing in HTTP and you realize it has just begun.
D.V. DeVincentis: It’s funny, we had to go back and research and remember what it was like before the ubiquity of the internet and try and relate that to people in the way that you’re describing. Even taking it through what happened to them sort of lines up as well, in terms of the steps. If they didn’t tape it, then stolen from them, it’s then distributed, sort of locally by VHS copies and then distributed kind of through the mail – it really doesn’t break open… until it’s literally the first thing that people paid attention to, in terms of streaming. So much of that time, so much of the way you got on the internet that time was by services like, if you remember, CompuServe and AOL and Prodigy. The internet was a totally different thing. This event whet the appetite to make people want to take the extra step and go around those mediation services and kind of was the beginning of the end for them in a way because once people are able to type in http and go out into the into the great wide, you know, open to the internet. Everything’s changed.
Steven Prusakowski: You know, after watching this all come to life in the series, it really makes you think are we better now than we were pre-internet?
Robert Siegel: We thought about that. I couldn’t make that case, personally. I mean, you don’t have to schlep to the library to find out. You know, who won best picture in 1996. But Jesus the internet has unleashed a lot of – I don’t want to sound like a crotchety old…
D.V. DeVincentis: I would say this, that all of these things are supposed to make our life easier, and we’re supposed to make accomplishing our goals less effortful. And I think that it’s had the opposite effect. It’s only made us have to work more. It’s only made us have to be available to the world. 24 hours a day. I mean, like with somebody if you don’t return an email in an hour he’s mad at you. And you’re like, I was on an airplane. That’s not even an excuse anymore.
Steven Prusakowski: You used to come home from work, take off the work hat and sit down for dinner with the family. You were home and you were done. That’s not the case anymore.
Robert Siegel: Yeah, I think it’s family. And it’s just fractured us, we don’t have a shared reality. Everybody just lives on their own. I get my news from here. You get your news from there. And we don’t see each other stuff like that. The conversations that are going on on the left and the right are there’s no crossover. I don’t know. I’m not a fan. I’m not on social media. I’m not into it.
Steven Prusakowski: While the series was certainly quite outrageous, at times it also has this softer side. It is surprising how well the two tones mix. You wouldn’t expect it to work and actually, I think one of the best parts of this series – it reminds you under it all that this is a human story. This is not just about a sex tape. This is about people at its core. How did you come up with a tone? And was there ever an idea to go with like a straight drama instead of this approach?
Robert Siegel: This is my version of a straight drama. It starts out a little bit heightened and more outrageous by design because we want people to go in seeing these not as people you know. If you’re kind of mimicking the reality of what happened back then, we saw these as kind of cartooned characters and we forgot that they are actual human beings with feelings. So the first few episodes of the show kind of put the viewer in that headspace where Pam and Tommy are – just ridiculous. And then, there’s this realization, this reckoning that, ‘Oh, these are our humans.’
D.V. DeVincentis: One of the main things that Robert and I have in common is how we are drawn to material that’s really about something not on the surface. That is really fun on the surface, because we like to write things that are funny, and we like to read things that are entertaining. But we also, I know, for myself, get bored, if it’s not actually about something. So it kind of has to operate on those two levels. I don’t think it would be that interesting if it wasn’t fun. And I don’t think it would be that fun if it wasn’t interesting.
Steven Prusakowski: In addition to a great director, Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, Cruella) being at the helm, you also have this amazing cast. When it was first announced, a lot of people were surprised by casting Lily James, until you see her transformation. What was the process of casting like for the series?
Robert Siegel: A lot of casting is just processing. It’s amazing how quickly it narrows down to just a few people who are right for something. I mean, if you start running through, what about this actress? What about this actress? You’re like, no, no, no. And then eventually you get to one where you’re like, ‘Huh!’
D.V. DeVincentis: That’s interesting. That’s interesting.
Robert Siegel: If it’s too obvious, it’s probably wrong. But if it’s if you get that, ‘huh,’ for me, that’s interesting. That’s usually the one that sticks. What’s interesting about it is that it’s not that it’s not expected. If you kind of scratch beneath the surface there definitely are a lot of similarities between Lily and Pam. I think a lot of people underestimate them both. I think a lot of people come in with the wrong impressions about them. I liked the idea that there’s certainly more to Pam than meets the eye. And I think by putting a not obvious actress, just conceptually, but putting a not obvious actress in you’re flying into that. Pam is also has this outrageous kind of persona, but she’s actually really a good girl. She’s from a small town in Canada. She’s extremely shrewd and smart. She’s usually the one who sees in our soul. Certainly, she’s the one who sees five steps ahead. She’s kind of playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers – the men around her are. And Lily just brings that real playful girl next door, bubbly quality that Pam has. But I also think she has that real ferocity and shrewdness underneath it. I read Twitter more than I should and they’re like, ‘Well, why didn’t you cast this crazy bombshell act?’ ‘Crazy bombshell actors?’ I’m like, ‘Well, no, then you don’t get the depth and the layers and the surprise that Pam also brings.’
Steven Prusakowski: Did Pam or Tommy ever reach out to you? Have you ever heard back about the reactions to their portrayals?
D.V. DeVincentis: No. We tried a number of times to get in touch with him at the beginning of the process of writing it and a couple of times after that. And we never heard back from Tommy. He and Sebastian got in touch towards the end of production and then I believe they’ve hung out once or twice more recently, but we weren’t really in touch with them. Like I said, we would have liked to have been with him but it didn’t go that way.
Steven Prusakowski: It’s a shame because I think when Pam sees it – it’s kind of a love letter to her and how she’s much more than what you see on the surface.
D.V. DeVincentis: It’s nice of you to say that because it really is a love letter to her. I have so much admiration for her. We both do. The more you look at what happened the more you unpack it, the more you see what, not just a competent, not just shrewd, intelligent person she is, but also the resilience involved is astounding. And she still is that way.
You can watch the entire season of Pam & Tommy on Hulu.