It’s hard to believe it has been more than 26 years since a ravishing and spirited young woman from Vancouver Island made her first appearance in Playboy but 13 covers later it’s clear Pamela Denise Anderson has secured a place in history as our most beloved Playmate. For her record 14th cover, we enlisted James Franco to interview the Marilyn Monroe of our time. The resulting conversation between these two creative minds is breezy, a little brainy and the antithesis of boring.
FRANCO: Let’s go back to October 1989. Tell me how your first cover happened. You were spotted at a football game, right?
ANDERSON: [Laughs] Yeah. The cameraman zoomed in on me and everyone screamed and yelled, so they brought me down to the 50-yard line. I was wearing a Labatt Blue T-shirt, and Labatt ended up giving me a commercial. From there, Playboy called and flew me down. I’d never been on a plane before.
FRANCO: You hadn’t?
ANDERSON: No. I came from a tiny town, Ladysmith, on Vancouver Island.
FRANCO: How was the shoot?
ANDERSON: The photographer shot me in one roll of film because I was nervous and throwing up. But then I saw the pictures, and from there it was hard to keep my clothes on! I was painfully shy before, but then it clicked in my head that nobody cares what you look like naked except you. People are more concerned about themselves and their own flaws.
FRANCO: How old were you then?
FRANCO: Why do you think you were shy?
ANDERSON: I think society tells you you’re supposed to be modest, but I didn’t have a very modest family. My dad was a bad boy and my mom was a buxom blonde bombshell. In response, I tried to control my environment.
FRANCO: What did you want to be before Playboy came calling?
ANDERSON: I didn’t know. I’ve always been very imaginative, and I thought I would do something creative. I just knew I had to get out of my small town. I never wanted to be in this industry; I didn’t know that option existed for me. It wasn’t something I pursued. But I guess I’ve done pretty well for myself just going with the flow.
FRANCO: What’s the craziest thing that has happened to you at the Mansion?
ANDERSON: Oh dear, so much. But you know, when people kiss and tell, they’re usually lying. I don’t want to get too detailed, but I’m sure one of my sons was conceived there. [laughs]
FRANCO: Tell me about your recent return to acting.
ANDERSON: Now that my kids are grown, I’ve had fun over the past year doing some great little projects, like the indie film The People Garden and the short film Connected by photographer-director Luke Gilford. These projects are more character driven and unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I’m experimenting. I still don’t know if I’m any good at acting, but I’m taking it a lot more seriously now, and I’m fascinated. I’ve been fortunate to have some incredibly creative people around me who want to give me opportunities. Like Werner Herzog called me—
FRANCO: Really? What did he say?
ANDERSON: Well, first I thought, Holy crap, the man who directed Fitzcarraldo wants to meet with me! We had lunch at Chateau Marmont, and he told me, “You are something special. You need to be on the big screen.” I couldn’t believe he said that. He has a project in mind for me, and I hope it materializes. The fact that I’m on his radar is really flattering.
FRANCO: You have so many qualities, but my guess is when people think of you, they think first of your beauty. What is it like to live a life like that?
ANDERSON: I don’t quite know how to answer that. I don’t think of myself as beautiful, but I know I have a deep, sensual drive. People respond to that more than physicality because your spirit never ages. I’m a bit of an exhibitionist, and I like being playful and having fun.
FRANCO: It seems to me you don’t hide from what you are.
ANDERSON: Well, you have to be yourself. That’s the hardest thing to be. I’ve been in professional environments where people have tried to change me, and that’s when I become like the Hulk and just rip them off my back. Then I’m back to being myself. I try to live my life as honestly as I can.
FRANCO: I have your Playmate Data Sheet from 1990.
ANDERSON: Oh dear.
FRANCO: Under “Ambitions” you wrote, “To win an Oscar.”
ANDERSON: How funny is that? It was a joke!
FRANCO: But who knows?
ANDERSON: You never know.
FRANCO: If you do Werner’s movie, then maybe. What are your ambitions today?
ANDERSON: I don’t know what’s next, but I feel like something is percolating. I don’t know if it’s a movie or if it’s a love affair, but something is trying to get me, and I’m open to it. [laughs]
FRANCO: For turn-ons you wrote, “Sincerity, honesty, strong arms, waffles and fried chicken.”
ANDERSON: That’s because Mario took me to a waffle and fried chicken place—this was before I stopped eating chicken.
FRANCO: Mario who? Mario Van Peebles?
FRANCO: Did you date him?
ANDERSON: Kind of. Yeah. Maybe.
FRANCO: So when you wrote that, you were thinking about a date with Mario at Roscoe’s Waffles.
ANDERSON: Probably! [laughs]
FRANCO: What do you like now?
ANDERSON: Honesty and sincerity. You know, that’s hard to find around here. But someone unusual, that’s for sure.
FRANCO: “Turnoffs: Possessive men, jealous people, insensitive people and split ends.” I’m guessing possessive men are still a turnoff.
ANDERSON: Yes, they are, but they’re everywhere. It’s hard to love without attachment, even for me.
FRANCO: Last one: “Being a Playmate means: The start of something big.” Do you think that was true?
ANDERSON: I think so. I always thought I would stay in Los Angeles if I found work, and if I didn’t, I would go home. And then the work never ended. I think I’ve had a pretty fun life.
FRANCO: I’ll say.