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The GoPride.com Interview

Pam Grier

by Windy City Times
Pam Grier rose to fame in the early 1970s with a trio of films, and has kept her career alive with various movie and television roles, including The L Word. Her new book, Foxy, My Life in 3 Acts, gives a candid portrayal of life growing up in a different time period and the developments that have made her the strong woman she is today.

WCT: (Windy City Times) Hi, Pam. I have been reading your book. It is so well written.

PG: (Pam Grier) Oh my God, I really worked on my dangling participles; thank you. It really was an arduous project. I don’t think everyone is running to write a book because you have to revisit so many instances and circumstances. I had to pick myself up off the floor again.

WCT: You definitely did some revisiting.

PG: I didn’t want it to be a rambling saga. I don’t know how many other autobiographies of celebrities and politicians with various statures in the community I picked up their books to see how they structured their memoirs. I had to do something that would really represent my work. I wanted it to have a beginning, middle and an end. I wrote it like a screenplay because there was so much information.

WCT: You had to cover your whole life.

PG: Yes, what formed my character from my successes and failures, to everything that I could share and the lessons that I learned. It wasn’t easy. It took over a year and a half because I was shooting the last season of the L Word and a film for Hallmark called Ladies of the House with Florence Henderson and Donna Mills. Jennifer Beals said that I should write it. She said that I had so many experiences where some people would not be able to even get out of bed after. People have had much more tragic lives than mine but hopefully they can get something out of it by at least reading a page or two.

WCT: How did you start on the project?

PG: I started off with an outline, not even thinking that I would have the courage to submit. I wanted to share my lessons and prevent others from falling. Other women opened doors for me. If you read Stormy Weather by Lena Horne, you will have those moments.

WCT: How did Andrea Cagan help you write your book?

PG: I had so many projects and couldn’t write four hours every day so through the universe I found her. She had done Diane Ross’ biography, as well Grace Slick and Marianne Williamson, who was a woman’s guru in the mid-’80s. I called Andrea and set it up through her agent. I wanted someone who could be strong enough to hear my story. There were times that I couldn’t even talk anymore about it and took a few days off. There were times that she had to stop. There were certain projects that kept me alive with a lifeline such as charity work, acting, Tim Burton and my dog.

WCT: You had to use the cream of the crop.

PG: Yes, we had to use the most important aspects of my life. It is not about celebrity with me, it is about being human. I want others to know that they are not alone. Each signing has been so overwhelmingly successful. They would have to open up another room because there would be 200 to 300 people.

WCT: You have been through a lot that many people do not know about until this book.

PG: Some instances never go away. After the first encounter that I had with molestation as a six-year-old, I stuttered. To this day I still stutter but I have a mechanism that stops me. There are times such as 9/11, where it comes back because I was so afraid. I still have the trauma and my problem can come back.

WCT: I used to stutter but I don’t remember actually doing it. People told me later that I did it.

PG: That is interesting. I remember when it happened and in the last few days I have had moments of fear or uncertainty and I will begin to stutter.

WCT: I love all the old movies, like Coffy and Foxy Brown.

PG: Were you old enough to see them? [Laughs]

WCT: I was born in 1970 so I have gone back and watched them on video.

PG: It was amazing what we attempted to do with so little information.

WCT: Does it seem like a dream?

PG: No, it doesn’t seem like a dream. It seems like a reality, a lived life. We were able to show what the woman’s movement was doing. I just had the luck to be in the right place and be the chosen one. After I did Coffy then I was stepping into the men’s realm. How dare me? I am posturing as a man. I was showing off my strength and my body. That was not acceptable and new to pop culture. Back then you only had one theater with a week or two to play. We were filling up those theaters and taking away from the mainstream. Men were coming to see my body and women were coming to see women being empowered.

WCT: You were changing cinema.

PG: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and I used to go see Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies. They didn’t call them Asian exploitation movies. Their people gouged and gorged every second but no one had given them a negative advertising title. When we did it this was blaxploitation! People were confused. Was it Black magic, a Black cat or was it negative? It was a critical time and as a nurturing woman I didn’t want to sweep crime under the rug, I wanted to expose it. I didn’t do 10 or 15 movies with the same formula. I wanted to do two or three and move on to something more interesting.

WCT: In the book you said you wanted to be a film student.

PG: I did. I had the book An Actor Prepares by Constantine Stanislavski.

WCT: I read that in college.

PG: I still have my book. I realized how wonderful the work of an actor is. I wondered if I could survive in the acting world as a woman of color.

WCT: Speaking of the acting world, was Quentin Tarantino a fan of yours and just made a movie about you?

PG: He was, and not only of Coffy, Foxy Brown and Sheba but all the films of that era. He loved that, without a budget, you could make a very interesting film. He was a child looking at what made the movies interesting. He wanted to make his own Foxy Brown, which turned into Jackie Brown. There was less violence, Jackie doesn’t shoot anyone but she orchestrates everyone around her to die violently. He invested two years of his life to write it for me.

WCT: It was a great homage to you.

PG: It was amazing how he could find certain elements to examine about this woman. It was a difficult one to shoot because he was shooting out of sequence. There was a major storyline and three others. It was hard to figure out the story sometimes—okay, Quentin, you are giving me a headache!

WCT: In your book you stated that you relate to gay people because they are oppressed like you were.

PG: I was ignorant before The L Word. I only had what was given to me by society. I needed to know humanity and needed to do that show. I knew I would be a beacon for people that were fearful. I love it when people came up to me later and said they healed their family because of that show.

WCT: Do you still talk to the L Word girls?

PG: I absolutely do. Maybe it is just women but were championing a story for others. It was a global issue of women who fight to have rights. They had to live in a world that it was not only gender issues but it was gay issues. There were a lot of stories to be told. We shot in Vancouver and maybe because of that we became even closer to one another.

I keep in touch with quite a few of them, Mia and Leisha. I haven’t heard from Kate in a while but she is in a series. I have bumped into them when we have done presentations in various cities.

WCT: Our community appreciates the support.

PG: I went to the Gay Winter Party recently. There were so many gay men and women from all over the country networking. It was so enlightening to see. We had a great time.

WCT: I saw you at the Gay Games when you did an appearance with them.

PG: Yes with Marlee, Ilene and Daniela. We had a ball! I love Chicago.

WCT: Are you still working on the WB’s Smallville?

PG: It is coming back. If I am invited back then it will be great. Right now I am working with Tom Hanks on Larry Crown. He is writing, directing and producing it. I play Julia Robert’s best friend. In the film we are both teachers at a college where Tom Hanks comes to a school and takes adult classes. It is a wonderful story.

Interview by Jerry Nunn for the Windy City Times.


 
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