Showrunners Robert Siegel and D.V. DeVincentis set out to explore the story of how Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape was stolen with Hulu’s Pam and Tommy, in which Lily James and Sebastian Stan play Anderson and Lee.
The show received 10 Emmy nominations, including best limited series and nods for James, Stan and Seth Rogen, who served as an executive producer on the show and played Rand Gauthier, the man who stole the tape and whose story was first told in Amanda Chicago Lewis’ 2014 article for Rolling Stone, on which the show is based.
“There’s such an appetite for explorations into real people, and it doesn’t even have to necessarily be famous people — although that is a thing, that preexisting awareness,” DeVincentis tells THR about the nominations. “But people really want to see a dramatic exploration into something that’s real, and for us — maybe more than some of the other [nominees] — it was also an exploration of a time and of a paradigm shift in culture.”
Let’s talk about how the show came together, from the moment you optioned the article about the story.
ROBERT SIEGEL Technically, we didn’t option it. Dylan Sellers, one of the producers, optioned it and took it to Point Grey, Seth Rogen’s production company. They took it to Annapurna, and then Annapurna took it to me, and then I took it to D.V. — it was kind of a “follow the yellow brick road” model. I immediately responded to it, and I think D.V. definitely responded to it in the same way. He and I have similar tastes: We’re often up for the same jobs, so it was nice to finally meet him and actually work with him. I definitely would have been jealous if [he] got this one. I wrote the pilot and the second episode for Annapurna, and then we shopped it around and Hulu really responded to it. There was a lot of interest, but Hulu was the most fervent and passionate about it and really got it, and we felt like they’d be a great partner. Then D.V. was added, and then Lily came in pretty early.
D.V. DEVINCENTIS Lily and then Sebastian were certainly on the lists because when Craig [Gillespie] came on, he has that preexisting relationship with Sebastian from I, Tonya. It was such a slam dunk.
When Lily was cast as Pamela, were you as astonished as the audience was at her transformation into Pam?
DEVINCENTIS A part of it that’s so great is that it is unexpected. We talked about it at the time and since; she is much like Pamela Anderson, who was underestimated, and so was Lily for this role. There’s something so exciting about a real transformation, not just physically but in terms of even a career. It’s something that Lily had never done before. It adds so much energy to the whole endeavor to have somebody doing that, and then the way she did it was so extraordinary.
SIEGEL And Pam has such a playfulness and lightness and sweetness to her that I thought Lily would be really great at bringing — in addition to all the other qualities — to the role. I was surprised how surprised people were by the casting. To me, it makes perfect sense. I just think Pam is a very multilayered person and is always upending expectations. When you’re dealing with big names, you can’t ask them to read, so it’s all this enormous leap of faith, which is very scary. And you can’t chemistry test them — we didn’t … so you just have to use your imagination and project how they’re going to play it. That first day when the camera rolls, there’s a pretty large knot in your stomach. Even if Sebastian and Lily were right, they might not be right together. In this case, we got lucky.
DEVINCENTIS The first day that we all got together — Rob, Craig, Lily, Sebastian and myself — we were very nervous and excited. And we sat down and read through some scenes, and then we decided to get them up on their feet and see how that goes, and they did the scene where Tommy follows Pam out of the club when they first meet. And we did that in Craig’s driveway, and the second the two of them started walking and talking together, it just came alive and instantly made complete sense.
Lily has said episode six, the deposition episode, was challenging for her. What were the conversations like with Lily to prepare for it?
DEVINCENTIS That was a really arduous time in the production schedule. It was very, very difficult, and it put an enormous amount of pressure on Lily, and all we could do was try and alleviate it as much as we could. A huge thing about how we did it was having Hannah Fidell direct that episode, and having her around. It has to be said that she instantly became part of the brain trust the second she showed up. Hannah was so wonderful and was a big part of us all navigating our way through that stuff.
Which material in your research was the most crucial resource to the show?
DEVINCENTIS We did exhaustive research, and Lily would still find things that we didn’t know about that turned out to be crucial to the storytelling. Lily and Sebastian were the best custodians of characters I’ve ever seen. Their dedication and their love of the characters is so overwhelming, and it’s all there. And by the way, Sebastian, because his transformation isn’t as extreme, the specificity that he’s using isn’t quite as noticeable, but it’s every bit as potent. Particularly recently, I’ve seen some footage of Tommy Lee talking, and after seeing hours of it after watching Sebastian do it, you’re like, “Oh my God, Sebastian was really inhabiting it.” It was incredible.
SIEGEL For me, the archival interviews, hearing them talk. You can just learn so much from video footage.
DEVINCENTIS If you watch enough interviews with Pam, particularly the late night interviews, you start to see how brilliantly and with the sort of innate intelligence she handles the situation. You watch what she’s putting up with, and you see her putting up with it. I like to think there’s sort of a larger goal, like she knows people are going to be sexist and gross and shitty to her, but if she gets through it, she gets to talk about things that are really important to her, like animal rights and PETA. And to me, the behavior in watching how she handles really insensitive, crappy people was the most instructive thing about that character to me in terms of research.
I know Pam and Tommy didn’t want to be involved in the show, but have you heard anything from them since its debut?
SIEGEL Sebastian has a relationship going with Tommy. He reached out to Sebastian during the shoot — I think he actually wanted to visit the set. We thought that’s probably not the best idea. After the show came out, they hung out once during the shoot and then they hung out again sometime in the last month. I don’t know if you could call them friends, but they’re certainly friendly, and he really liked the show.
DEVINCENTIS We always tried to get in touch with him and reach out to Pam at every stage, and while we were never able to make contact, she was always our audience. I hope she loves it because the show is a love letter to her and her strength.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.