“Pam & Tommy” is the rare based-on-a-true-story series where the stranger the plot point, the more likely it actually happened. Did Tommy Lee send a biker gang after Rand Gauthier? According to some parties involved, yes. Did he write a chapter of his memoir from the perspective of his own talking penis? Also yes. But in the limited series’ purposely dispiriting finale, there’s one plot point that may have taken a bit of creative license: Pamela’s audition history.
It’s perfectly possible that the real-life Pam Anderson auditioned for Kim Basinger’s role in “LA Confidential” and Elizabeth Hurley’s part in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” but if so, no proof of either audition exists online. More likely, the series’ writers chose two parts that would exemplify the type of role Pamela may have gone out for around that time. And while she would’ve been a great “Bond girl” spoof, it turns out that in real life, Pamela was a stone’s throw away from a totally different type of role in the ’90s.
I Want To Believe in Pamela as Scully
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, “The X-Files” star Gillian Anderson says that Pamela Anderson was initially approached about playing the role she eventually embodied instead. Gillian Anderson played brainy, skeptical special agent Dana Scully on and off from 1993 to 2018, bringing the character to life across 217 episodes and two feature films. It’s also worth remembering that “The X-Files” came together before Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s whirlwind marriage, when “Baywatch” was in its early years.
“They were looking for someone bustier, taller, leggier than me,” Gillian said in 2008, per The Sydney Morning Herald. “Pamela was somebody who was more familiar to them in terms of what was on TV at the time.” For her part, Pamela Anderson has not commented on whether or not Fox approached her, but since she has a Netflix documentary in the works, maybe we’ll hear her side of this story soon.
Gillian didn’t voice any opinion on how Pamela as Scully would have changed the series, but she did seem to think the initial bid for the “Baywatch” actress was a demonstration of the network’s initial lack of faith in her, saying:
“They couldn’t fathom how David and me could equal success. At the beginning, nobody trusted that I could do anything. I had no body of work behind me at all, and, certainly Fox felt very strongly that I wasn’t the right person for the job.”
Though Pamela had a more established career at the time that “The X-Files” was created, it’s hard to imagine her version of Dana Scully. Certainly, “Pam & Tommy” demonstrates that the actress may have been underestimated in her acting career even before the stolen honeymoon tape led to an onslaught of institutional sexism that diminished her job opportunities. But her blonde, glam look, and bubbly personality seem like the diametric opposite of Gillian Anderson’s authoritative, no-nonsense portrayal of Scully.
Another flavor of ’90s sexism
This anecdote adds yet another level to the toxic brew of still-recent Hollywood sexism that’s on full display in “Pam & Tommy.” In the series, we see Pamela lose out on roles because she’s now being seen as too sexual; though casting directors don’t tell her as much, they’re clearly using the same logic she explains that the Penthouse lawyers used. People can’t outright say that sexually confident women don’t have rights, she explains, so “they say something else instead” to explain their behavior towards her. Gillian Anderson’s assertion that Fox overtly wanted someone with a different body type than hers for “The X-Files” is simply the other side of the sexist coin.
The knee-jerk reaction I’ve heard from many people watching “Pam & Tommy” is that we’ve come a long way since the ’90s, but shallow and judgmental casting calls are clearly still happening. In 2019, actress Joey King opened up to Refinery29 about being told she wasn’t pretty enough for a part, while just this year Andrew Garfield spoke up about missing out on a major role because of his looks. Colorism is also a frustratingly pervasive issue impacting actors of color in Hollywood.
It would be easy to look at this “The X-Files” anecdote as a tale of two Andersons, whose career paths were split by two gendered generalizations. But clearly, this story and “Pam & Tommy” itself highlight industry issues that still exist today, and go far beyond these two talented women.