Taylor Schilling didn’t expect her role in Pam & Tommy to be such a big deal. But after thinking about it, she’s realizing exactly why her character, who appears briefly in the series, is a key component to the whole story.
In Pam & Tommy, Schilling plays Erica Gauthier, a bisexual porn star and estranged wife of Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen), the man who broke into Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s home to steal and release their private video. The real Erica was an adult film star and eventually went on to become a director, but on the series, she is a character who reframes Rand’s understanding of what was wrong about stealing and releasing the tape without the consent of anyone involved. Neither Anderson nor Lee consented to the distribution, and they didn’t participate in the development of the Hulu series, either. But through Erica, a sex worker who chose to appear in many adult films throughout her life, the narrative about Anderson is reframed for the viewers of the show, too.
Here, Schilling talks about the real Erica Gauthier, remembering the Internet in the ’90s, and why she feels moved by Anderson’s decision to not speak out about the tape.
Did you know about Erica Gauthier’s side of the story before joining the show?
No, not at all. I had no idea how Pam & Tommy's sex tape got out into the world. I vaguely thought they had been involved with it or released it because I was a little bit too young when that happened to process it in real time. Erica is like a bay leaf in the stew of this whole story. She really holds it down, as a sex worker by choice, who’s able to delineate between porn and exploitation. She can really clearly articulate that. It's a really smart element to add into this story. Erica differentiates from what is appropriate and empowered, and what’s not. What they did was criminal, and a deep betrayal.
Had you ever worked with Seth Rogen before?
I had so much fun with him! I hadn’t worked with him before. He made a real effort to be very kind and generous with his time and attention, and it was really fun. I also love Nick Offerman. I watched some of his scenes and he’s just stellar.
You’ve played characters based on real people before, most notably Piper in Orange is the New Black. Did you ever meet the real Erica?
I never met her. She died in 2012, but her job in porn was a dream for her. I pitched that there should be some sort of investigation into Erica as a character of her own. In the series, she really is there to serve the Pam and Tommy storyline and add dimensionality to the main narrative, but in her own right. She loved porn, and she made over a hundred films before she moved on to directing and left the industry. I think she thought of herself sort of as a helper, a bit of a healer. She became a physical therapist and had a son and a husband in Florida. A really interesting life.
It’s interesting that you mention the real Erica becoming a director, because in Pam & Tommy, the fictionalized version of her credits Pamela Anderson with having some sharp cinematographer skills. She almost reframes her as a bit of an auteur, and notes the difference in camera angles she chose to employ when filming the tape compared to most porn.
I was so struck by that scene! I had the same response that you did. I was like, what an interesting brain on this woman. It’s an important grace note to this entire thing. At first I was like, why is Hulu having me do press? Why is my poster on Highland? But the reason that I responded to Erica so much is because it’s vital to have the energy of a woman who is very steady in her belief system. She has her own point of view, including the way she sees the tape—it’s from a very unique perspective and people say it a lot, but she’s living life on her own terms. I think there’s a part of me that thinks Erica is enlightened, and I really respect that.
The series makes it clear that this situation was very humiliating for Pamela, probably more than it was for Tommy. She’s trying to be this self-possessed woman, in control of her own career, even before the tape gets out, but it is released and follows her everywhere, stripping her of the ability to control her own narrative. I think where Erica comes in is to be that voice for her, since we don’t know exactly how Pamela felt when everything went down.
We so often see women being the object in a story, and specifically for Pam, we watch her being just dragged around by her nose, by what other people are projecting onto her, expecting of her, wanting from her, assuming that she will offer. Erica is a really important contrast to that in this story. I don’t even think Erica’s doing it from a place of empowerment or understanding what she’s doing, but her aperture is, “I will not even take in your expectations of me.” It’s sort of her gift.
In the structure of the story, we can kind of forget that the way Pam is moving through the world is exploitative and the product of so many systems of oppression, because it is just so normalized. We are so used to seeing that story! It’s interesting to have a vital counterpoint to that way of being in the world, because Erica is not meeting anyone’s expectations and she’s doing it with pleasure and joy. She can be in a relationship with a woman and feel comfortable. She feels deeply empowered and enjoys doing sex work for a living. That’s an acceptable way to be in the world as well.
I think it’s also interesting that as much as this show is about celebrity culture and the ’90s, it’s really about the emerging technology of the Internet. What was your reaction to that aspect of the series?
Yes! When I read the script, my takeaway was, This sex tape started the Internet! So many people got modems to watch the tape.
And the concept of paying for the Internet, streaming, all of that—it just feels very smart to wrap up that story within the story of the sex tape.
Absolutely. [The paywall] gives a modicum of agency to the creator, whereas otherwise, there’s no infrastructure to be the author of the experience.
I’d be curious to hear from an OnlyFans creator or someone who works in that space now, 25 years after this tape was introduced to the Internet and changed the way content is streamed.
That’s part of what’s so different now. We have no concept of what that was like—or at least, I don’t. In a sense, everyone can create now. The idea that you’re so out of control of your own content doesn’t exist anymore.
Recently, there’s been a wave of shows and documentaries that demand justice for mistreated female celebrities of the ’90s and ’00s. I thought it was especially shocking to watch some of the Jay Leno clips and the way Pamela was treated on late night talk shows. Do you remember that?
It’s barbaric in a lot of ways, that in our lifetimes, the violence of stealing personal property in a break-in into someone’s home, and then there being no checks and balances to protect that material...and to be made fun of for it or blamed for it...I’m really moved by Pamela Anderson and her courage to keep moving through the world as she has. [For Anderson to] keep working and continue to be vocal about what she believes in...she continues to be a force. And most people think that she did it! She hasn't done some campaign to set the record straight, she’s just like, I’m gonna keep moving forward because I can’t control it anyway. There are some lessons there for everyone, and I think she has a strong inner world. It’s an interesting example of courage.