Though “Pam & Tommy” may take some creative license in telling its story, the recreation of Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) and Pamela Anderson (Lily James) at the height of their fame/infamy is unimpeachable. More than any of the needle drops or the script’s wide-eyed wonderment at VHS and the internet, it is the work of the hair and makeup teams that bring the entire era to life. IndieWire spoke to hair department head Barry Lee Moe, makeup department head David Williams, and makeup special effects designer Jason Collins about tackling that challenge.
“I got [Tommy’s] piercings from Body Electric on Melrose, and I simply took in a photo of Tommy Lee’s chest,” Williams said. “And the man who owns the shop asked, ‘Are you working with Tommy Lee?’ And I said, ‘Well, not exactly, but why do you ask if that’s Tommy Lee?’ [And he said] ‘I know those tattoos!’ It was fascinating how identifiable these people are, their body parts, their individual body parts without seeing their faces. People know.”
When recreating those iconic tattoos, Collins first put together a chronological timeline of Tommy Lee’s body art before deciding against absolute period accuracy for the series’ timeframe. “We [printed] each tattoo separately and [Stan] had about 30 to 35 tattoos applied every morning. It was a pretty good long process for him,” Collins said.
For Pamela’s look, including those blonde tresses, the process was less about perfect authenticity than about making James look as much like Anderson as possible. “The first time we tested [Pam’s hair], I kept the hair longer than Pam,” Moe said. “When you’re looking at Lily’s body and face in comparison to Pam’s, you have to consider the distance between the shoulders and the head. Every time we did a test, we adjusted the cut and shape of her hair to finally get there.”
Of course, Collins, Williams, and Moe were busy with more than just the two leads. They also had to recreate a very specific moment in fashion, as well as other celebs. The series opens with a tease so pitch-perfect it takes a moment to realize that it’s not archival footage. In it, Pamela is a guest on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” giggling awkwardly as Leno (Adam Ray) makes jokes about her stolen and leaked sex tape.
“When we started doing [Leno’s] makeup, you know, the first pass at it was caricature,” Collins said. “We really concentrated on the chin, and the chin was too much. We got the chin to be much more minimal and brought things up into the cheeks and things like that.” That the brief scene — which was not initially intended to open the series — was strong enough and period authentic enough to introduce viewers to the world of the show speaks to the level of detail the three department heads brought to their work.