“I think I’ve been rehearsing my whole life for this,” says Pamela Anderson of making her debut on the Great White Way as Roxie Hart in Bob Fosse’s legendary Jazz Age musical Chicago. “The story and my life are so parallel,” she continues. “I always say…30 years of therapy or just one Broadway show, then I’ll be fine.”
Next month, the 54-year-old Baywatch star and activist will begin an eight-week run as Hart in the long-running, Tony-winning revival. It’s a role that Rob Marshall—who directed and choreographed the Oscar-winning film adaptation of Chicago in 2002—foresaw Anderson in over a decade ago after a serendipitous run-in on (where else?) the beach in California. “He came up to me, and said, ‘Have you ever thought about being on Broadway?’ ” recalls Anderson inside a smoky lounge in New York’s The McKittrick Hotel, where she’s just wrapped a shoot for the show’s promotional campaign with longtime collaborator Ellen von Unwerth. The mother of two goes on to explain that having been a parent of two teenagers (her sons with ex-husband Tommy Lee, Brandon Thomas and Dylan Jagger) at the time, she didn’t have the bandwidth to dedicate to the role then. Now? “The stars are aligning at the right time,” she says.
It may have been a long time coming, but it will still be worth the wait to see Anderson step into Roxie Hart’s shoes. As one of Fosse’s most notorious and fascinating characters, Hart has been played by the likes of stage legends Gwen Verdon and Ann Reinking. “I know for people this is really unexpected,” admits Anderson. “I’m just giving it all I have. I really am.” At her core, Hart is a thoroughly modern, misunderstood heroine navigating the ups and downs of fame. It’s not totally unfamiliar terrain for Anderson, who has always stayed true to herself while triumphing over personal strife and the pitfalls of stardom. As Anderson has been catapulted back into the public consciousness (through a fictionalized account made without her consent), this has never been more clear. “I feel like it’s a really empowering story–it’s time,” says Anderson of her decision to set the record straight through a memoir she’s been writing and, of course, the forthcoming Netflix documentary. “I’m doing it for a lot of reasons,” she continues. “I have my whole life to draw from.”
An enduring style icon, Anderson has also begun captivating a new generation; one that can’t get enough of the larger-than-life looks she “threw together” in the mid-’90s and early aughts. “The ’90s were about being unique,” she explains of her unstudied, off-the-cuff approach to the bombshell aesthetic she cultivated. From recreating her signature piled-on updos to trying her razor-thin brows on for size using the viral “Y2K” makeup filter, TikTok users are enthusiastically popularizing the #PamCore hashtag. Moreover, Anderson’s style from decades past—everything from her off-duty uniform of cut-off crop tops and denim shorts to her red carpet fashion, from micro-miniskirts and waist-whittling corsets to plunge-neck dresses—has further fueled the trend by becoming prime Y2K mood board fodder. “It’s funny, especially to see the fashion,” says Anderson, “because I’m like, ‘Okay, now everybody’s caught up!’”
As Anderson prepares for her new role in Chicago, she sits down with Vogue to discuss her Broadway debut, the TikTok-fueled nostalgia for her ’90s and ’00s style, and how she’s staying well in both mind and body.
Vogue: Congratulations on making your Broadway debut in Chicago! How does it feel to make it to theater’s biggest stage?
Pamela Anderson: I can’t even believe those words! I’ve never had the opportunity to do anything at this level. I’ve always been a dancer and a singer in my head. [Laughs] I just had to do it…it was a leap of faith.
Chicago is such an iconic production, and Bob Fosse’s work is legendary. From the music to choreography to the costumes, what elements of the show do you love most?
Well, I love Bob Fosse. I love the choreography. I love the storytelling. The script is so amazing. Everything about this is iconic. The fact that they gave me a shot to do it is really shocking for me. I always thought I got away with murder in a bikini. I never had to apply myself to anything and at this point in my life, this was something I really needed.
From Gwen Verdon to Ann Reinking, so many incredible performers have stepped into the role of Roxie Hart. What excites you most about this character?
I get chills…I think I was meant to play this character. It feels like synchronicity, it feels very meant to be. This started with Rob Marshall. He saw me on the beach one time at a surf contest with my boys. He came up to me and he said, “Have you ever thought about being on Broadway?” And I just started laughing. And he said, “I’m serious. I’m watching you. You need to be on Broadway.” And I said, “Who are you?” He goes “I’m Rob Marshall.” And I’m like, “Who are you?“ And he goes, “I directed the film.” And I was like, “Oh my God.” And he said he called [Chicago producer Barry Weissler]. That was how it happened in the beginning. That was about 10 years ago. It just wasn’t the right time. My kids were younger and I didn’t have my focus. Now my kids are grown and they’re so supportive. This is kind of a family project—my kids are my cheerleaders!
Let’s talk about getting ready for the role. Could you run me through your voice, dance, and acting training for Roxie as you prepare for the stage?
Well, I’m going from zero to a thousand. I haven’t been doing anything for the last few years. To start off, it’s three hours of dance with Greg Butler, two hours of acting with Ivana Chubbuck, and then one hour of voice with Eric Vetro. I did two weeks in L.A. and yesterday was my first day in New York. Tomorrow we start. It’s a lot! I love really hard work. Like I said, I’ve gotten away with a lot…I’ve never really had to apply myself like this. So I’m just…I’m curious. And it’s funny because, being my age, I’m thinking 20 years ago it might have been easier, but maybe not. I needed those last few years. And now I feel like I’m really ready. I’m really ready.
For much of 2022, you’ve really been at the top of the zeitgeist. How are you feeling about this attention?
Like I said, it’s the stars aligning at the right time. And there’s been a lot of…it’s all been crazy. But anyway, I’m writing my book. My book is going to be coming out probably not for eight months, so it’s a while away. I wrote my memoirs myself without any collaborators, nothing. So I’ve been working on that this last year, and then with the Netflix documentary, and now this. It’s like, you know what? I like to take opportunities, especially when you can go one way or the other, I say, “Just go for it!”
TikTok, and in turn Gen Z, is obsessed with your personal style and the beauty looks you popularized in the ’90s. Have you noticed this? How do you feel about these trends starting to come back around?
I don’t even have TikTok! I’m not on social media at all. Sometimes people send me things. It’s just been funny. I take it as a compliment. But, you know, all those outfits I threw together in the basement in like five minutes, Tommy [Lee] did my makeup half the time. [Laughs] I think it’s become that more people are trying to be like other people, but in the ’90s, we were all just trying to be ourselves. Not too long ago, I decided I didn’t have to change, I just had to be more of me. And that was such a great feeling for me. That’s what we all need to do.
How do you think your approach to style and beauty has evolved since the beginning of your career?
Well, I think you can tell the times I’ve dressed myself and the times that stylists have dressed me. And I always prefer the times I dress myself. Because they’re fun, and not serious, and not trendy! It was funny because I was coming to New York and my son said, “You’ve got to pack a lot of clothes.” I was like, “Ugh, I’m not a big clothes person.” I’ve basically been in the woods and on the beach. Taking it easy, writing my memoirs. I haven’t really been out. All of these clothes have just been kept in boxes. We were going through my storage and archives from the ’90s and my god, there’s the craziest stuff. I have original Gianni Versace and Alaïa and all these great pieces people sent me. So I just packed three suitcases full of my own closet and brought them to New York. Like I said, there was a time when people started dressing me…but I feel like [in terms of style], I went from the ’90s to where we are now. That’s what it feels like. The [in between] of it is a blur.
At Vogue, we love when you’re just being you.
Thank you. You can tell. Only we know our own bodies.