Actress Pam Grier discusses taking on the title role in Jackie Brown, working with Quentin Tarantino, The Man With the Iron Fist, and much more.
Actress Pam Grier has had an incredibly diverse career, starring in 1970s blaxploitation classics such as Coffy and Foxy Brown to 1990s cult classics such as Mars Attacks and Jawbreaker. For many movie fans, though, Pam Grier will always be remembered as Jackie Brown, the title character in Quentin Tarantino's fantastic crime drama, which makes its Blu-ray debut October 4. I recently had the honor to speak with Pam Grier about her experiences making Jackie Brown, and much more. Here's what she had to say below.
Hi Pam. How are you doing today?
Pam Grier: I'm great. I'm just really excited about the release of Jackie Brown on Blu-ray. We made the cut! Some films never make it to Blu-ray, and I think Quentin would've been so upset if we didn't (Laughs). With the Blu-ray, we'll have a whole new audience of young people and maybe some of the old guard who may want to give it a shot now. Those who are sticklers for their Beta. You remember Beta? Those people still have cassettes for them and they trade them! They have Beta clubs. Did you know that?
Oh yeah, absolutely. It's kind of like the Atari for movie geeks.
Pam Grier: Exactly!
I'm really glad this is coming out on Blu-ray as well. It's hard to pick a favorite Quentin movie, but this one was always special for me. It was his first adaptation, and I'm a huge Elmore Leonard fan as well, so maybe all those elements stuck with me.
Pam Grier: Did you do a comparison? If you compare Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch, if you revisit the book, the story, and then you see Quentin's work, you see the complexity that he made so seamless. It's extraordinary. I don't know if anyone could've adapted that piece so well.
I remember reading, I believe it was the liner notes on the first DVD, that Quentin was very nervous to hear Elmore's reaction to casting you, since Jackie was white in the novel. Can you talk about your initial reaction to the novel, and then Quentin's version of it?
Pam Grier: I was familiar with the novel and, when he was talking about adapting it, I thought it would take someone with brilliance to do so. I had no expectations, I knew he would work wonders, but you never know until you see it. When I read the script, I said, 'Oh my,' and I went back and read it again. It was fantastic. Then to see it come to life was amazing. I don't think certain writers could do that. I really don't.
Elmore even said that, despite some of the changes, it was still one of the most faithful adaptations of any of his novels, and it probably still is to date.
Pam Grier: Really? Well, you know there's Get Shorty, Out of Sight, but I think this is the best one. I think you're absolutely right. It literally makes you want to go back and revisit Rum Punch after you see it, just to see how well he did. It blows my mind.
I talked to Robert Forster recently and he said there was this fairly expansive rehearsal period, where you went to all these locations before shooting and go through the scenes together. Can you talk about that process and how that helped once you started shooting?
Pam Grier: In a way, it's similar to a theater. When you're on the stage, you see the set. For Jackie's apartment, Quentin had changed the paint on the walls at least three times so that it would be a great composition with the blue of the uniform, with the color of my skin, the mood of the story and the music. He had what Jackie would have collected, to create her history, things on the table, memorabilia, salt and pepper shakers from a lounge (Laughs). I got to stay in the apartment and I also went to the jail, to get a sense of what it would be like to be stripped of everything and put everything in a plastic shopping bag. You're leaving, and you're going where? You didn't show up for work, you have no job, a man wants to kill you (Laughs). He made it really extraordinary for the actor.
Did you ever find yourself revisiting the novel on the set, or did you pretty much stick to Quentin's version of it?
Pam Grier: I wanted to look at it for myself. There were a couple of emotions which would emerge in a scene, which would come from my part and from my soul, but you really want to work with his vision, because he's the one that's cutting, he's the one who has to maintain a clarity and a coherence of the story and the characters. He's fine-tuning and putting the scenes together, so you really want to stick to his direction.
Robert also said that he would often play the music which we hear in the film, on the set. Was he playing these Delphonics songs when you were in those scenes?
Pam Grier: All the time. When we were shooting and between shooting, we were playing music. It relaxed the crew and made them work effortlessly. When we shot a scene, he'd play a song he was planning on using in the soundtrack, which would add to the mood and the beats. He's like a choreographer, for the physical body of a dancer or actor, because I found myself almost doing a dance, if you will, of breathing and body movement, when Ordell comes to her apartment to kill her. To get the cigarette out and get the gun and put it in my waistband and turn. Quentin would say, 'I don't want to see the gun. Get it out, he's coming to kill you. You may have to shoot him first before he shoots you or strangles you.' Knowing Ordell, I'm going to be strangled, shot, and suffocated (Laughs). Look what he did to Chris Tucker. You know he's going to do worse to Jackie, and she has to be so cool, negotiate with him, get him on her side and out of the apartment. That's a lot! That's a lot of direction. It was exhausting. He didn't even know what happened to him. He left his balls on the sofa (Laughs). That was an intense scene. I fell down on the floor and had to take a nap.
This cast is just phenomenal. Even in smaller roles, like you said before with Chris Tucker, everyone brings such an amazing presence to this movie. Can you describe just being on the set with all these amazing cast members?
Pam Grier: Well, it's like being a little kid at the amusement park. I get to play with him too? (Laughs). They bring such a history and legacy to their passion, and they want to work with me and Quentin. You can't ask for more, you just can't. It would be like an $80 billion movie if they all got what they normally get (Laughs).
I was wondering if you could talk a bit about another project you have coming up called The Man with the Iron Fist. I'm pretty excited for that one, with RZA directing. Could you talk about your character in that movie, and your thoughts on the overall experience on the set?
Pam Grier: I play RZA's mother, in the mid-1800s. He went to Quentin and said, 'I want to direct.' The next thing you know, he's calling me to work with him in China, to play his mother. It was wonderful and, of course, Wu Tang Clan, their work is just so poetic. He's an amazing director. My character gives up her freedom to save her son. It basically starts out his journey, to a new land. It was very, very moving. Shooting in China was extraordinary. The people were so warm and so smart. My interpreter, who was with me during the time, wanted to be called LeBron James, because he was very tall and he loved basketball. You could watch HBO and CNN and NBA all day long there. I asked him if he liked Nike and he said, 'No, I don't like Nike. It's not made in the USA.' They wanted anything made in the USA. If you had something with made in the USA on, they'd buy it from you. We could get our economy back on track just by selling everything made in the USA to China.
Is there anything else that you're working on or looking to sign onto in the near future?
Pam Grier: I just finished a film in New Orleans. It was produced by T.D. Jakes and I play a detective in the bayou, who is looking for a serial killer. She's a real indigenous, Creole, tough detective. Then I did one with Ving Rhames in Pittsburgh called Mafia. We're developing a reality show, there's so much going done. I'm just trying to get it done! I also had my memoir released last year. It made the New York Times best-seller list, and it's going to be a film as well.
Is the deal already in place for that?
Pam Grier: The deal is in place. We're have to find the director and screenwriter and cast and all of that process is moving.
Is there anyone you have your eye on to play you then?
Pam Grier: It's not who I choose, it's what the role demands, and who is the actress can be comfortable with telling the story. Things are very, very traumatic, and not all the actresses have the depth or the confidence to play in certain scenes that demand craft. For example, when I did The L Word, and some actresses came aboard to play Jennifer Beals' love interest, on paper they said they could make love and kiss another woman, but when they got there, they couldn't. You have to really take into account the actor's ability, and often their personal life and religion and whatever they're about. It's not me choosing, it's the actress saying they can do it. That's how real casting is complete.
Are you writing the adaptation as well?
Pam Grier: I am writing the first draft, and whoever will be the director will do their own take.
Great. Well, that's my time. Thank you for speaking with me. It was a real pleasure.
Pam Grier: It was a pleasure speaking with you. There will be more. Wait until The Man with the Iron Fist comes out. RZA is a martial artist, and he's a fantastic martial artist in the film. He's excellent.
I can't wait to see it. Thank you so much, Pam.
Pam Grier: All right. Thank you.
You can watch Pam Grier as the fantastic title character Jackie Brown, which can be seen on Blu-ray for the first time October 4.
Jackie Brown was released December 25th, 1997 and stars Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Michael Bowen, Chris Tucker. The film is directed by Quentin Tarantino.