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Tanned, Tattooed and Toughened : Forget the Sweet Pamela Anderson of 'Baywatch.' She's Making a Sharp Leap From TV to the Screen With 'Barb Wire'

July 20, 1995|CHUCK CRISAFULLI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Near the bustling sets where the futuristic action flick "Barb Wire" is being filmed, a sign on the star's dressing trailer warns off visitors with a single forbidding word: "Mayhem." But inside that trailer, Pamela Anderson, the notably curvaceous co-star of TV's "Baywatch," turns out to be a friendly and gracious hostess.

Anderson first got noticed as the Tool Time Girl on "Home Improvement" and has since become an internationally recognized icon-in-a-swimsuit thanks to the wild and improbable worldwide success of "Baywatch." She created some of the biggest press frenzies at this year's Cannes Film Festival, making appearances to promote "Barb Wire" before she'd even begun work on the film.

Now she's in the process of actually making that leap from the little screen to the big one, with the eponymous lead role in a modestly budgeted feature that's been virtually built around her participation. She's just completed two months of shooting around Los Angeles, at locations that ranged from San Pedro junkyards to the cavernous birthplace of the Spruce Goose at the former Hughes Aircraft Co. plant in Playa del Rey. The film is expected to be released next spring.

Despite her rapidly rising profile, in conversation the 27-year-old Canadian-born actress is open, down-to-earth and cheerfully good-natured. And, as she quickly and proudly points out, she is also freshly tattooed--there's a ring of barbed wire around her left biceps.

"The makeup people were going to paint this on my arm every day," she explains, "but I had a tattoo artist just sketch it on me and I wore it around for a half a day to see how it looked. I decided I'd just go ahead and get it done. I love it. I think it's very feminine, for barbed wire.

"I guess I just love tattoos--look at my husband," she says, referring to her graphically enhanced spouse of five months, drummer Tommy Lee of the rock band Motley Crue.

*

During a break between scenes, Anderson kicks back in a gray "Phat Farm" T-shirt and shorts and awaits the arrival of the next in the series of decidedly provocative outfits she wears as Barb Wire--a leather-clad, motorcycle-riding bounty hunter, nightclub owner and unmistakably empowered woman who is given to growling "Don't call me babe" at over-friendly males. The character is drawn from a successful series of "Barb Wire" comic books put out over the last two years by Dark Horse, the company that brought "The Mask" to life in both comic books and film.

"My manager wanted to turn this down, and told me, 'You're not going to play a cartoon character,' " Anderson says. "But when I read the comic book, I knew that nobody could play this character but me. I agreed to do it without even seeing a script. I figured at this point in my career, I'm just lucky to be working, and Barb sounded like as much fun as I could have doing a movie. She's actually closer to me than anything I've ever done. I feel like I wangled my way into Hollywood, and I'm always in trouble and doing things sideways but eventually getting to where I want to be, and that's how Barb is. There's an evil, twisted, dark streak inside me that I finally get to explore with this character."

Anderson's "Barb Wire" tattoo may cause some finagling of "Baywatch" story lines this month, when she begins shooting what will probably be her final season as the sweet, mystically inclined seaside vixen C.J. "I'm really looking forward to it," she says. "Maybe we can have some fun. Maybe C.J. will turn into this evil, tattooed woman all of a sudden."

"Barb Wire" director David Hogan admits that he had never seen an episode of "Baywatch" when he signed on to the film, but says he's been greatly impressed with his star's abilities. "She can really act, and she's brought a great sense of humor to the role, which I don't think anybody expected. And she's been amazing doing most of the stuff that we thought we were going to use a stunt double for, including the fight scenes. She looks beautiful, but she's got a tremendous, vicious kick."

"People don't realize that I'm pretty athletic," Anderson says, smiling. "In this film I've been kick-boxing and riding a Triumph and firing automatic weapons. I even let them strap me to a helicopter, even though I'm afraid of heights. I'm doing it all."

Anderson hopes that "Baywatch" fans will be interested in her "Barb Wire" exploits, but also hopes the film will help establish her independence as an actress. "It's hard to be on TV for a while with a character people are familiar with, and then jump to movies. I hope people will see the 'Barb Wire' ads and realize that this is not C.J. on the beach. It's something very different. It's also something I'm proud of--and I never say that about anything I do. I hate pictures of myself and never watch the shows I do. But I've been watching these dailies thinking, 'That looks damn good!' "

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