Earlier this week I had the great privilege of talking to Pam Grier, whose new film Bad Grandmas will be playing at this year’s Saint Louis International Film Festival. As a fan of both her 1970s Blaxploitation roles and her amazing performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, it’s one of the most exciting interviews I’ve gotten to be a part of. Happily, Grier was a warm, spirited, and talkative person, not to mention quite funny. While conversation was aimed at the process of making the movie, it often turned to the significant and powerful relationships with her collaborators. Grier will be in St. Louis to give a Q&A after a repertory screening of Jackie Brown, which I recommend attending. She truly is a thing to behold.
TheArtsSTL: How are you?
Pam Grier: I’m great. I’m being a bad grandma.
Speaking of that, because there are several grandmas in this film, could you tell me about your role in the ensemble?
We are all cut from the same of cloth of wickedness and drinking and killing and smoking and getting our way, and we’re gonna hurt ya! And I think that’s the secret of all actors—to let it go, you know? You have the Brady mom, Florence Henderson, and Foxy Brown! And you have Sally and the local actors who are amazing. They are so fantastic. The producers; locals who invested in the film; Srikant, the director who wrote it; Judge Reinhold who came aboard had a great sense of humor about having all of us grandmas fawn over him and then beat him up. We had a ball, and everyone’s going to be a grandma or papa or grandpa one day. And to work with Florence, who is a master class, to share each other’s successes and culture in the entertainment industry, and the locals who are also Broadway actors and classic actors who brought so much, it’s a real hoot! I had a great time. The producers came on the set as extras, they were into film, and it was great seeing that. They’re from all across the country and sharing their narratives, their culture, their grandmas, because back in the day the grandmas kept everybody together. We wouldn’t be in a lot of these messes today if we had a grandma just like, “Okay, we gotta come back and we gotta take a switch to somebody.”
That’s true. Hillary Clinton is probably the baddest grandma of all in that sense.
She really is, she really is. And she can actually get some branches and put them on the desk. Like, “Alright, now who’s gonna act up today?”
It’s interesting you mentioned Sally. She was in a short film of a friend of mine.
Really? Oh my goodness we had so much fun. And you know what? Artists are great all around the country. They brought so much to it and we had great respect for their work. It was a great time. You know, back in the day, I don’t know if we had the freedoms fifty, sixty years ago for women and women in film. Today we have more. And we shared that, and you can tell we had a great appreciation. We’re getting together—and I won’t give the movie away—but we’re doing some shady things. We’re doing some things where everybody in the audience will say, “oh I did that too.”
I also wanted to ask, what was the chemistry like on set? Did you guys find a way to riff off of each other?
Oh, we did. There were times when they’d keep the camera rolling. “Do it again. Now do it your way. Now do it that way, that’s funny.” Are you kidding me? We were able to go beyond. “Ok, cut. I said CUT!” [laughs]. We had such a good time that they just let the camera roll. We just filled in the blanks. It was wonderful.
It’s interesting how you said earlier that it’s you and Florence, because it’s two ends of the spectrum. You’ve got America’s mom from the ’70s and the action heroine from the ’70s.
Right. And we were joined at the hip. She was so vibrant, you [wouldn’t] know she was in her 80s. She was just a force. We ate after work. We stayed at the same hotel. We would go to the restaurant and the bar and have dinner together and just talk about our lives and our journeys—where we’ve been where we’re going, and she was just extraordinary. Like I said, she was a master class, because she had done Broadway and she sang in some of the greatest musicals and met some really interesting people.
That being said, she shared it with me. And that was just wonderful and intimate. I felt really special to be in her life and to have her telephone number and call her up. Like, “Hey Flor, what’s up? I’m coming to L.A.!” So we had that. She was just wonderful and she will be missed.
Yeah, she will. I was wondering if you had that dynamic with Florence, considering what roles you’re known for.
Oh, absolutely. As actors, we knew what we needed to do. We had to be best friends. We used each other’s comedy. We ad libbed a lot. We had jokes. Sometimes we couldn’t stop giggling—“Okay, stop giggling.” “We can’t, she’s funny! She’s making me laugh. She’s making me pee on myself, she’s so funny!” We had a ball.
We were able to be the actors that we were trained and asked to be, and do the work, and I really believe we did it. I think we had a great time. We showed what grandmas can do. It’s not about an age. It’s not about a number. It’s about a sensibility. It’s about a sense of freedom, of some empowerment from your tenure on the planet. All the information, all the experiences, failures, successes, we brought to work. We brought it to the screen. We’re thinking about doing a Bad Grandmas 2.
You’d say the film really espouses the power of grandmas?
Oh, absolutely! We should be sitting at the White House! “Excuse me? Wait a minute, he’s a little too orange today. Somebody messed up. He was pink last week. Get the color right! Let me do the hair. No, that tie is too long.”
He could be more presentable.
You kidding me? We’d have a ball! Let the grandmas run the White House. They’d be partying, they’d have disco balls, we’d have drag racing and all kinds of things going on.
That sounds like what our country needs!
It should be! We should be canoeing on the lake in front of the White House, or kayaking like we do here in Colorado. Everybody’s kayaking. I grew up here and I’m used to it. I also love bringing my ruralness, my military background, and the urban part of my family to film to bring context and subtext and be fresh with each film. I don’t like being redundant and the audience doesn’t like that, either. They want to be taken on a new journey. And for Florence and I to be in this film as Bad Grandmas, and we are cutting and killing and doing these things, we are living our lives and sharing even our fantasies. I’m so glad that citizens in St. Louis, film lovers who wanted to finance the film and see it and promote it and see Florence and I act a fool and make it interesting— we love the appreciation and I hope we gave it back as well. | Nic Champion