How Lily James Transformed Into Pamela Anderson for Pam & Tommy

“Natural beauty takes at least two hours,” Pamela Anderson once joked. In Lily James’ case, it took about four to transform into the ‘90s beauty and style icon for the new Disney+/Hulu series, Pam & Tommy. James plays the Playboy centrefold turned “Tool Time Girl” turned Baywatch legend alongside Sebastian Stan as Anderson’s ex-husband, legendary rocker Tommy Lee, during the mid-nineties when their infamous sex tape was stolen and leaked on a pre-social media internet. (Seth Rogen, in a mullet, is the contractor who burglarised their home.) 
It’s a peak ‘90s storyline — and peak Pam style. From her voluminous blonde hair and smokey eyeshadow, to the over-the-top headpieces worn on the red carpet, and even the bright-coloured minidresses seen in the show V.I.P. (once described by Anderson as a “Spice Girls Bodyguard Agency”), the icon was never known for her subtlety. Which is why James’ hours in the makeup room involved several wigs, makeup, a full tan, face and body prosthetics, wardrobe, and even details such as applying tattoos and fake scars (like the ones on Anderson’s arm from when she was attacked by leeches at age nine). 
Photo: courtesy of Hulu.
For any biographical portrayal, especially for someone as famous as Anderson, one of the biggest challenges for the makeup and costume teams is making sure it doesn’t come across like a caricature. “You run the risk of it looking artificial and sort of costumey, and the last thing you want is your actor to be almost in drag as Pam Anderson,” says hair department head Barry Lee Moe. “You want to create realistic, honest portrayals of these people.” Especially, in this case, because Anderson refused to be a part of the process. James told Net-a-Porter’s Porter magazine that she tried contacting Anderson, but to no avail. At least there were countless paparazzi and red carpet images for the makeup and wardrobe departments to pull inspiration from. “It was such a collaborative process. So much of what the look ended up being relied on all of our teams working in harmony together to really successfully portray this look,” says Moe. “Pam Anderson is iconic in every way, shape and form, so to dive into that world and break it down through images was really exciting.”
Pam & Tommy’s makeup department head David Williams was in charge of recreating Anderson’s trademark makeup: a dramatic smokey eye, a neutral full lip, thin, arched eyebrows, and voluminous lashes. The look was invented by Alexis Vogel, a makeup artist and close friend of Anderson’s, whom she first met on the set of her 1993 Playboy cover. Vogel, who passed away in 2019, dubbed it “baby Bardot.” That particular look became the model for many imitators for years to come, says Williams, who paid homage to Vogel throughout the series. “You’ll notice a redheaded makeup and hair person next to Pam in a lot of the scenes, and that's our nod to Alexis because what she did in her career was pretty remarkable,” he explains. To recreate the look, Williams used a lot of lip products from the ‘90s, such as MAC Cosmetics’ Spice lip liner, Chanel Nude, and Vamp lip liners, as well as Charlotte Tilbury Pillow Talk, and lipsticks from Bobbi Brown and Hermès. Chanel Coco Flash in the shade Boy was specifically used for the beachy Baywatch makeup, and for eyes, he used Tom Ford Cocoa Mirage, Chanel Mystic Quad, the ‘90s-inspired Smokey Eyes Quad, Makeup Forever Neutrals and the Urban Decay Naked Palette.

“[You’re] wanting the energy to be right, and to be able to do justice to something that we all know so well and poured our hearts and souls into. It wasn't until those paparazzi pictures came out the following day that I was dumbfounded by how spot on Lily looked as Pam Anderson."

David Williams, Makeup Department Head
There are iconic beauty and fashion moments in every celeb’s career, and according to Williams, there were three looks that they knew had to “hit head on.” These included her appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Barb Wire look, and, of course, Baywatch. “There are a lot of different looks that Pam and Tommy went through during their time together, but this was very specific for the height of their romance and what was going on,” says costume designer Kameron Lennox. She sourced vintage pieces, like the black Versace gown for the Tonight Show scene, as well as a gold Vivienne Westwood dress for the nightclub where Pam and Tommy first met, but her team custom-made other outfits, like the leather lace-up bustier outfit for Barb Wire, and the red Baywatch one-piece. Lennox also put in a fun Baywatch Easter egg—in a couple of scenes, Pam wears a Knight Rider t-shirt, a reference to her co-star, David Hasselhoff. 
Photo: courtesy of Hulu.
“A segment of the world knew her from her initial Playboy photos, but the entire world knew her through Baywatch. That was their real introduction to this American beauty — or Canadian beauty,” says Williams. (Anderson was born in Ladysmith, British Columbia, and currently lives on Vancouver Island.) Williams was so nervous on the day of the Baywatch shoot, he called one of his spiritual advisors for guidance, but it couldn’t have turned out better. “[You’re] wanting the energy to be right, and to be able to do justice to something that we all know so well and poured our hearts and souls into. It wasn't until those paparazzi pictures came out the following day that I was dumbfounded by how spot on Lily looked as Pam Anderson,” he recalls.
Early on, there was discussion about James dyeing her hair a high-level blonde in order to “look and feel like Pam all the time.” But it would require too much maintenance, so Moe ended up styling a total of four wigs designed by Rob Pickens at the Beverly Hills-based Wigmaker Associates. To get Anderson’s quintessential bleach blonde ‘do, he used a lot of the same techniques that she did, like large velcro rollers as well as his go-to vintage Remington hot rollers. “There's nothing that's comparable so I really hold on to those,” he says. To keep her waves in place, Moe used a variety of Unite products, such as Unite Beach Day texturising spray for the Baywatch look, as well as tools like the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer and GHD Platinum Styler when he wasn’t using the vintage rollers. 

"Like what little girl, little boy, little nonbinary kid has not wanted to look like Pam Anderson at some point? I mean, I certainly did."

Barry LEe Moe, Hair Department Head
Moe recalls one stressful shoot when they had to change James’s look multiple times for the montage of Pam and Tommy partying and falling in love in Mexico. “We quickly threw her hair up into that kind of iconic Pam Anderson, effortless messy updo and we had about five minutes to do it,” he says. “She looked in the mirror and I just remember that day that was one of the first days where we were just all floored, we couldn't believe that we weren't looking at Pam Anderson. We thought, ‘wow, we really nailed this.’” Adds Williams: “That was ammo that Barry was saving in his back pocket. Because when that happened, it was bam. It was on.” 
To make James’s facial structure resemble Anderson’s, prosthetics were used to cover her eyebrows and make her hairline higher, and acrylic teeth were created to achieve Anderson’s “million dollar smile.” The latter, according to the special effects makeup designer Jason Collins, acted as instant lip filler. “We took casts of her top and or bottom teeth and created really thin veneers that gave her that beautiful Hollywood smile, but it also gave us a little something extra — it allowed us to push her lips out ever so slightly. And by doing that, that gave us those Pam lips a little bit,” he explains. “The trick was making the teeth thin enough that she could have diction because she's already an English actress doing an American accent. We didn't want that to get in the way.”  
Photo: courtesy of Hulu.
Then there was the process of replicating Anderson’s other famous assets — her surgically enhanced 34DD cup size, not only for the nude scenes, but for the costumes to look accurate on James’ body. “It was really working with Jason and David to figure out how we were going to recreate, like, the side boob for the Baywatch look,” says Lennox. James wore breast prosthetics made of silicone, which Collins says is great for photography since it absorbs light like skin, and moves well. “The trade-off is the weight. It was about three and a half pounds, which isn't bad if you think about it in the long run, but wearing it all day, it does become like a second skin,” he says. The prosthetics are on full display during more intimate scenes, so the chest plate was blended off and into “natural edges,” like the area of her clavicle, and then matched with her natural skin tone and airbrushed with tanning solution. James wasn’t the only one who had to get used to some serious prosthetics — in one unforgettable scene, Stan, as Lee, has a conversation with his prosthetic penis, which was controlled by two puppeteers. (His pierced nipples were also the work of special effects magic.)
It’s not clear whether James took another four hours to de-Pamela herself at the end of the day, but she did tell Porter that despite the high-maintenance transformation, she “hated” taking off her costume, describing it as being stripped of superpowers: “I’d really enjoyed the physicality and the sensuality, even down to the long fingernails. There was just so much character to hold on to—it was really thrilling.” Moe can relate. “What an amazing escape. Like what little girl, little boy, little nonbinary kid has not wanted to look like Pam Anderson at some point? I mean, I certainly did,” he says. “Growing up in the ‘90s, she was my blonde bombshell…so to step into those shoes for a day, I wouldn't want to take it off either.”
Pam & Tommy is out on Disney+ on 2nd February

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