Don't be surprised if, as a red-blooded American Male, you find yourself completely alone at your place of work or higher education on May 3rd of this year. That's the opening day for Barb Wire, the big-screen debut for Baywatch's mega-global star Pamela Anderson, who aside from bit parts in forgettable movies such as Good Cop, Bad Cop and Some Kind of Wonderful hasn't stormed the silver screen in the same fashion that she has beamed into homes around the world or flown off magazine racks across the USA. The highly recognizable actress, who has graced the cover of Playboy more than any other woman in history, and who has an equally impressive resume in the audio-visual arena , has not really had the same success at the theaters.
If the attention that was showered on her in Cannes this Spring she arrived via speedboat to find literally hundreds of paparazzi stumbling over each other desperately angling for the shot was any indication of the reception that Barb Wire will receive, it just might be the early leader in the annual summer box office sweepstakes and turn Anderson into an even larger phenomenon. At the very least it's clear that her audience the male population between the ages of 12 and 50 will be there to support her as movie magic further expands the larger than-life mythos of Canada's 28 year old sweetheart.
Proving that in Hollywood, star-power is worth more than its weight in gold, Barb Wire was green lit on the strength of Anderson's name alone (a name that has since been changed to Pamela Anderson-Lee following her marriage to Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee). Barb Wire, a little known comic based in the superhero universe known as Comic's Greatest World, was just one of Dark Horse Entertainment's many properties that company heads Mike Richardson and Todd Moyer were looking to put into production. Then, in rapid succession, producer Brad Wyman told Richardson, founder and President of Dark Horse, that he had Pamela Anderson's ear, the project was pitched to her, and from there financing was a fait accompli. "Brad told us that he had access to Pamela Anderson," recalls Richardson. "We pitched Barb Wire and she loved it."
Anderson, who has been quoted in interviews regarding her love of Bullfinch's Mythology and the writings of Carl Jung, felt that playing Barb would be a great opportunity. "My manager was getting a bunch of scripts in and he said, 'I don't even know why I'm telling you this but I've got this movie based on a cartoon character but you're not playing a cartoon character.' I don't know what he expects me to be, but at the time I said okay. Then some time later I was asking about it, 'Who's that character she rides a motorcycle, shoots guns and is an action hero? I want to do it.' I got the comics and said this is me. Nobody else can play this this has everything that I want to do."
Her obvious appeal as a celebrity, coupled with Baywatch's weekly viewing audience of one billion worldwide, gives Anderson the kind of heft at the global box office that few stars of either sex can match, a fact not lost on the film's producers, Polygram Filmed Entertainment. "Polygram is huge in Europe and with their strength in foreign distribution and Pamela in it, the numbers looked very good," recalls Richardson. "We did the deal and raced like crazy to get moving. This all happened in January ['95] and principal photography began by May 24th."
Loosely based on the comic book, Barb Wire is a post-apocalyptic shoot-em 'up with Anderson starring as Barbara Kopetski, the ass kickin', name taking, bounty hunter with allegiance to neither man nor country. Barb's creator, comic book writer Chris Warner, admits that having his pen and ink drawings transmute into flesh and blood has surpassed his wildest imaginings. "I never envisioned her as oozing this kind of bombshell quality, but when Pamela walks across the screen it definitely adds another level to the character," says Warner.
While elements of Warner's comic book vision have been retained Barb still owns and operates the Hammerhead Bar situated in the fictional town of Steel Harbor and she's still a bounty hunter who rides a motorcycle and handles weapons of every shape and size the super-hero antics of the comic book (and her cohort and sometime bodyguard, the cyborg known as The Machine) are nowhere to be found.
"The comic book is based in a super hero world and the interaction between those heroes", explains Richardson. "Those aren't the elements to played up in a Barb Wire motion picture, which is focused on one individual story where Barb is reluctantly drawn into a situation that compels her to action."
Even with a draw of the magnitude of Pamela Anderson, adapting a comic-book can be a tricky enterprise, as evidenced by the box office flame outs of popular cult comic heroes in the Stallone stinker Judge Dredd and the tanked Tank Girl. Couple that with the intense pressure to get the film scripted, blocked and have production completed before Baywatch began shooting after its hiatus, and time concerns became paramount. Todd Moyer, Dark Horse Entertainment VP and Executive Producer on the film, credits action writer Chuck Pfarrer (Hard Target, . Darkman) with giving the picture its look and feel and delivering a script that put the project on a pace to get completed.
"We knew we could make the movie with . his draft," says Moyer. "He scripted the . action sequences. We wanted to make sure that the character Barb Wire defended her . self in a realistic fashion. It wouldn't be , believable to have her beating up ten huge . guys. It's more in the style of say, Steven Seagal in Above the Law when he walks, down the street and drops a couple of guys with an elbow. It's important that she be smart and use her best assets in fighting and uses them in a surgical fashion."
The Pfarrer draft more than vaguely resmbles the film school staple and rookie Screenwriter's bible, Casablanca. Though the script was undergoing revisions nearly every day as shooting went on ("One day they want the ramp at the back of the truck to drop down, the next day they don't. There's something new every day," offered one special effects coordinator).
Just as Casablanca was set in neutral Morocco against the backdrop of World War II, Steel Harbour is the free zone in the aftermath of the Second Civil War and free Canada is the promised land. Anderson's Barb is the doppleganger for Bogie's Rick: she's the jaded, bitter bar owner with a broken heart, and the Hammerhead, if viewed through a twisted, demented, is a virtual stand-in for Rick's American Cafe. As Bogie had to wrestle with his conscience and broken past when former love Ingrid Bergman needs assis tance in getting her husband, the key to the Allied Resistance, out of Casablanca, so too must Barb face her demons when Axel Hood (Temeura Morrison) comes knocking on her door seeking safe passage for his wife, who just happens to be...you guessed it....the key to the rebel resistance. Only this time, instead of transit papers being the magic ticket to freedom, the plot is based around the hunt for special contact lenses which allow the wearer to bypass retinal scans and pass into free Canada.
Much as it seems to be something of a stretch to think of Pamela Anderson playing a role requiring the hard edged cool of a Humphrey Bogart, the even more difficult task falls to Morrison to add weight as the long-lost love with an agenda in a film that walks a tenuous line between having a titillating camp sensibility and being a dark, oppressive action epic. Bit as anyone who saw Once Were Warriors might figure, Morrison handles his duties with aplomb.
"Temeura is phenomenal," offers Jack Noseworthy, who plays Barb's blind brother Charlie. "He is a spectacular talent, very Brando-esque. It's like he's got this internal machine working all the time and when he wants to, he just turns it on and makes it happen."
The frenetic push to get the film finished forced Barb costume designer Rosanna Norton and art director Jean Philippe Carp (best known for his work on the French sensation Delicatessen) to begin working on the picture even before a director was hired. "I began putting together the principle of the bar in March," says the Frenchman Carp. "For me, it was important to approach the film psychologically from the point of view of what material is available to these people trapped in this neutral zone hence all the bare, naked metal."
Costume designer Norton had been schooled in the dangers of too literal an adapttion stylistically or otherwise from previous work on genre films such as Casper, The FlintstonesandTron. "What looks great in the comic would look really stupid in the movie," she admits. "If we dressed some one in a pink and blue outfit like Barb is in the comic, even someone with Pamela's figure would come out looking fat and silly".
With assistance from Norton, Anderson has clearly become Barb, right down to the tattoo that now adorns her left arm. "It's synchronicity. Just like what happened with Jim Carrey and The Mask," marvels Barb's creator Chris Warner. "Look at the comic Barb Wire and who comes to mind?. Pamela. Nobody else could play her. "Not surprisingly, the costumes for the movie are truly out of this world and put Anderson's ample assets in full view. "We'd be tying her into her corset saying, Honey, we don't want to hurt you' and Pam would just say 'Pull it tighter," says the ebullient. costume designer. "One of the real challenges was to dress her doubles, we had to be virtually surgeons with double-sided tape and padding." Alongside Anderson's readily apparent , gifts, she's proud of the athletic prowess she brings to the role. "I was athlete of the year in high school and I just really wanted to do this," says the Baywatch beauty who unabashedly mentions that some time ago she told Details of her desire to play Pambo. "I kickboxed for a couple of months and learned how to ride a motorcycle, and learned to fire every kind of fully-automatic, semi automatic weapon that there is."
Shedding her little-girl-lost image was not without its hardships, however. "I've had guns around me my whole life, but my dad always taught me, 'Keep away from those things.' The only problem I had was that the shells kept popping out since I was firing blanks and I couldn't wear glasses." Showing that she's equal parts beauty and brawn, Anderson squeezed off round after round of the aptly named 20 pound Desert Eagle machine gun all while managing to keep her heels on and hair in place.
Anderson brings a nearly snarling ferocity to the picture as she executes whirling kicks, fires rapid-fire pistols and machine guns and spits out Barb's catch phrase,"Don't call me Babe."
Producer Richardson who felt that Anderson was "out stunting the stunt women" hasn't been the only one to sing . Anderson's praises. Co -star Noseworthy also felt that working with the misunderstood beauty was a rare treat. "I had no expectations," he says. "She's just an incredibly nice girl and is not really anything like the caricature image people see in the media.We had a total blast. I can still remember my first day on the set. Pamela, Temeura and I were slinging huhge machine guns through fire. In the flashback sequence, we're beating people up, shooting guns playing G.I. Joe and just having the best time."
Despite having backers on the set and being generally well liked by most of the cast and crew alike, the picture's first director Adam Rifkin (whose previous credits include the Charlie Sheen starrer The Chase and the thoroughly cultish The Dark Backward) was taken off the picture after just a week of shooting. The cryptic "creative differences" was the official reason stated by producer Todd Moyer adding that, "It's now a bigger-budget picture and there is more time to shoot it."
Rifkin's replacement was the director David Hogan, whose big screen work includes directing the second unit action sequences on the giganto Batman Forever and doing the same for Aliens. While the change was greeted with less than unanimous approval, everybody seemed to take the shift in stride. "Sure, I was disappointed," opines designer Norton. "Adam had a surrealistic vision and a very interesting view about where he wanted to take this picture. Now we're doing more of a music video thing, a more commercial picture and it will be very interesting to see how those two visions will match up."
"It's unfortunate for any movie to have that kind of massive upheaval," adds Noseworthy, "but I was hired to a job and that's what I'm here to do." Noseworthy, who rose to fame as the lead in the cancelled MTV series Dead at 21, was both excited and amused by playing a blind character, "Great! I'm in a film with Pamela Anderson and I'm blind and I play her brother. Somebody somewhere has a very twisted sense of humor." While he researched the part extensively, taking courses at a Braille Institute and learning how to go through life as a blind person, on shooting days he was literally blinded by wearing contacts with white lenses that completely covered his eyes. "I wanted to play it straight, which would have been more creative, but for reasons having to do with the storyline they wanted me to wear these Ienses."
The film's sets were built inside the old Hughes Airforce Base in Marina Del Rey, the location which Dreamworks SKG recently co-opted for their new facilities. In addition to Barb's bedroom comlete with indoor jacuzzi is the massive two tiered Hammerhead bar. "I wanted the bar to be huge, to give the director a bird's eye view of everything," says Carp. "We had two different concrete floors existing so on one level we have the bar, and then on a lower level there is the kitchen and the dance floor. Then there is the mesh grid to protect the bartender from fights."
As proprietor of the Hammerhead, Barb has an office that looks out on the chaos of the weapons free bar below (there's a gun-check at the front door) while the office doubles as her armory. Presiding over this techno wasteland of Ieather, treachery and booze is Curly, the aide-de-camp, confidante and maitre d' of the Hammerhead, played by the unforgettable Udo Kier. The self styled wizard of camp, Kier made an indelible mark on horror fans every where early in his career with his back to backperformances in the Andy Warhol cult films Dracula and Frankenstein. Talking about how he got cast as Barb's number one guy, Kier relates the German actor's stereotyping dilemma. "I had been offered the part of the villain, but I wanted to be Curly, he says "I had just done Johnny Mnemonic and I didn't want to get typecast. It is so easy for that to happen when you are a foreigner."
Once he had the part, though, there were still more casting hijinks to follow. "I've worked in films for over 30 years and never been on a film where the director was changed. I went to the new director's house in Malibu to meet him because I was cast by the first director. We laughed and we laughed and made up this very funny character with a bald head and a tattoo of a fly on his cheek." The picture has had a bumpy ride though. Alongside the change within the first week of shooting, Anderson had serious health problems which placed added pressure on the already rushed production, causing valuable shooting days to be missed and no small amount of nerves to be fried. Summing up the shoot, Anderson reels off a laundry list of events surrounding the picture, which in her mind might just end up adding flavor to the whole endeavor. "There was the first director, then the second director, then I had some medical problems on the set and I got married just before the movie, which is probably really bad timing," she says. "I said, 'Well, I hope this chaos adds to the whole vibe of the movie' because this movie is chaos and I think that in the end it will be great."
Those medical problems turned out to be a pregnancy that ended when Anderson suffered a miscarriage. "People were very understanding," recalIs Noseworthy. "Sure, we're trying to shoot a movie, but this woman had a miscarriage. There are more serious thinqs goinq on." Despite everything the rushed production schedule, beginning production without a script or Director, the director being changed, Pamela's pregnant, Pamela's not pregnant every person on the set reiterated time and again what a phenomenal time they had making the movie and the sincere sentiment that they hoped the fun would translate well to the big screen. Whether or not the "chaos" was a good thing remains to be seen, but when you've got Pamela Anderson in tighter than you can imagine leather pants, made up to look like a cross between a hooker and a hitman, at the end of the day, it just might not matter.
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