Many of the words the world uses to describe Pamela Anderson start with the letter "B": Buxom, blond, babelicious, bombshell, bodacious. But while the 48-year-old can still rock an itsy-bitsy bikini (see her record-shattering 14th Playboy cover this past January, shot by Ellen von Unwerth to commemorate the magazine’s final nudie issue), there’s more to Anderson than meets the eye. Indeed, in a limo Saturday night on the way to the New York screen premiere of her new short film, “Connected,” Anderson revealed qualities even deeper than her storied cleavage.
The premiere capped off "Seeding," a day of events at midtown's Museum of Arts and Design celebrating Pin-Up magazine’s eco-centric garden and landscape design issue. Perfect context for a pin-up who has sworn off plastic and powers her home with solar panels.
As the actress settled gracefully into the car's back seat, sheathed in a spare, stark-white dress by Hamel, a Serbian label known for seriously body-con frocks, and shod in sky-high nude stilettos (faux leather, of course, since the PETA supporter eschews animal skin), she mused on “Connected.” “This is the first time I’ve ever been in a serious role,” she said. “I’ve done Baywatch, and other things on TV that I could do with my eyes closed—run around in a bikini, et cetera. But it was fun to play a really dramatic character.”
Directed by the 29-year-old photographer and filmmaker Luke Gilford, “Connected,” which also stars Dree Hemingway, is an eerie, 10-minute, sci-fi-tinged window on aging, insecurity, and the desire for physical transformation and spiritual enlightenment in a technically evolving, image-obsessed society. Anderson’s character, Jackie, is a weary spin instructor seeking inner and outward change through meditation, yoga, green shakes, supplements, oxygen treatments, and self-improvement podcasts (voiced by Jane Fonda). We’ve all seen a lot of Anderson over the years, but never seen her quite like this—pared down, vulnerable, and visibly frightened of what lies ahead.
“The film is a metaphor for how women are treated after a certain age," Gilford explained. "Of course, it’s larger and more universal than just women, but it speaks specifically to women and beauty—and how after a certain age, they are just kind of discarded.” Ouch.
Anderson can relate to Jackie on a few levels. “Aging is something we all deal with,” she said. “At a certain age, you can find yourself at a loss. Your children are grown. You may have gone through a divorce. You’re trying to find meaning. What’s your purpose now? You’ve raised your kids, and now they think you’re a little crazy, because you’re trying to do all these self-help things. You become distant from everybody. You’re searching for answers. If I do all these things to look younger—the creams, the classes, the supplements, the procedures—I’ll be more accepted by my kids, my friends, men. You’re dealing with so much loss at this age. It seems like everything is behind us, so what’s next? We took a lot of things for granted—youth, beauty. But now what?”
Her artistic timing is uncanny. Anderson was emotionally flayed after a brutal (second) divorce from Rick Salomon last year, which helped her get into her character’s fragile state of mind. “I look back at pictures of myself when I was in this awful relationship, and I looked 20 years older," she said. "I know it sounds like a cliché, but happiness has a lot to do with beauty. Calm, peacefulness and not-constant stress are very, very important to feeling beautiful and confident. And that comes across whether you’re wearing makeup or not. I remember looking in the mirror during filming and saying, 'Who is this person? How did I let myself get to this place?'"
Romantic turmoil behind her, one gets the sense she’s in a really good place these days. And unlike her character in “Connected,” she isn’t apprehensive about her age. “I actually like aging. I have great older female role models in my life, including my amazing mom, who have glitz, glamour, and all sorts of fun. Getting older isn’t the end. I know I have so much to look forward to.”
When asked if she regrets anything she’s done in the name of beauty, Anderson rolled her eyes down towards her chest. “Not that we need to point it out,” she said, laughing. Her longtime makeup artist, Alexis Vogel, piped up from the front seat: “Let’s just say that at some point, we all realize that less is more!”
In the film, Anderson doesn’t even wear mascara, a bold move for a girl who like lashes as much as she does. Her maquillage was toned-down accordingly for the screening, too. “I like to try different looks,” she said. “If I’m doing a photo shoot, for example, I like to play with the artist’s interpretation of me. I’ll try anything. I’m not one of those people who always has to look a certain way.”
Which could help explain why Anderson has been a prolific art-world muse through her career, inspiring works by the likes of Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, and the photographer David LaChapelle, whose portraits of her are like a mash-up of Cindy Sherman and Jenna Jameson. “I went to a Jeff Koons museum show with his mom,” she said. "She was like, ‘This is your leg, this is your hair, this is your shoulder.’ I had no idea. It was such a huge compliment.”
The actress moves easily in the art world, and has amassed an impressive collection over the years. “All my friends are artists,” she said. “I love people who are creative and really pushing the envelope and reaching for new things. Artists are the freedom fighters of the world.”
Just then, her phone rings. It’s her son Brandon, 19. He will be slightly late to the screening because his Uber just blew a tire. Dylan, 18, couldn’t make the event, as he’s in school. One senses her children are her rock. “Are you okay? Okay, don’t worry, sweetheart. See you when you get here,” she said on the phone.
The car pulled up to the museum, where there is a photographer waiting to take photos for this story. Anderson posed obligingly. As a crowd of bystanders started to amass around her, she smiled sweetly, and disappeared into the building.