She was Queen of the ‘blaxploitation’ movies of the
70s, at a time when the action flick was far less fashionable
than it is today. Now she's back, tougher, cooler, and more hip
than ever, in the title role in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown,
a role that garnered her a Golden Globe nomination. Pam Grier is
something of a survivor and an anomaly: over forty, female and
black, this ex-model cum chanteuse and actress has re-emerged as
an illuminating movie star in the new Tarantino film, in a role
written specifically for her. "I'm really fortunate to have
had a film written for me," the 49-year old actress admits.
She owes Tarantino a great deal, conceding that "had it not
been for this movie I doubt this 'comeback' would have
happened." This, despite her "being comfortable doing
small roles in theatre and small films." But there was no
arm twisting involved to get her to come on board the Jackie
Brown express. "It was hard to say no to Quentin."
"Age doesn't mean
anything, whether people want to label you or not."
In the film, Jackie Brown (Grier) is a 44-year-old woman who
supplements her meagre stewardess' salary by smuggling money for
a vicious L.A. gun runner named Ordell Robbie (Samuel L.
Jackson). His gang members include an ageing and not-too-smart
bank robber (Robert De Niro), a pot-smoking surfer girl (Bridget
Fonda) and a luckless ex-convict (Chris Tucker). When Jackie
herself runs into trouble with the law, she sheds her world-weary
defeatism and coolly devises a plan to double-cross both the
gangsters and the cops. Helping her out is a lovesick 56-year-old
bail bondsman, Max Cherry (Robert Forster), who hears Delfonics
tunes whenever she walks into the room.
"When Quentin invested part of his life to write this for
me, it was a clear honour", Grier recalls when asked why she
was ultimately drawn to this character. "But there was also
the challenge that the character had a depth of emotion that I
was required to respond to." She admits that there could
well be some of her in Jackie. "There's an equation in
starting over several times, as well as taking the risk of doing
so." The one thing they don't have in common, however, is
the concern Jackie has about ageing. "That's quite important
to her, but in the case of MY life, I'm not concerned about that
at all." She adds that her only real concerns, these days,
are "good health and being spiritually fit and caring.
" Criticising Hollywood's obsession with youth, Grier feels
that "age doesn't mean anything, whether people want to
label you or not. It is just a number, and I'm very comfortable
at and with my age. It's unfair that one has to be controlled or
censored because of one's age; that's not art. For me, to say I
want to explore what a woman in her forties would be, is part of
one's evolution. Without having to remove everything, how can you
encompass 25 years of emotion into Jackie Brown."
"As long as I can do
one play a year, I'm happy."
In 1981, Pam Grier gave one of the most intense performances
ever as the homicidal prostitute, Charlotte, in the Paul Newman
police drama "Fort Apache, The Bronx." But despite her
effective performance in that film, the 1980's did not yield more
than small, but memorable performances in films such as
"Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Above The
Law." Dissatisfied with her film career, Grier turned to the
theatre. She appeared in productions of "Frankie and
Johnny," for which she gained 75 pounds, and "Fool for
Love," which earned her an NAACP Image Award in 1986. She
rediscovered her love for acting." As long as I can do one
play a year, I'm happy. The 80's were pretty boring in terms of
the movie offers I was getting, and that's when I discovered that
working in the theatre was a great way for me to keep developing
my acting skills." In 1996, however, the movies offered to
Pam Grier were anything but boring.
She is now, once again, getting the substantial roles she has
always deserved. She gave a stirring performance in Original
Gangstas reuniting fellow "blaxploitation" actors Fred
Williamson, Jim Brown, Ron O'Neal, and Richard Roundtree. She was
a lethal and sly transsexual in John Carpenter's Escape From LA,
and a divorced mother in the quirky sci-fi comedy Mars Attacks!
Grier recently completed Fakin' Da Funk, a film in which she and
Ernie Hudson adopt a young Asian man who suffers an identity
crisis, and co-stars with Jada Pinkett in Woo.
"I'm glad he said yes"
On a personal note, Grier proposed to her boyfriend on
national television earlier this year. "I'm glad he said
yes. He's a senior vice president of A & R at RCA/BMG Music.
He's a talented and creative guy, a great influence on my life.
He comes from Denver, like me, there's a great connection there.
We're very lucky." Whoever it was that said life begins at
forty may well have been thinking of Pam Grier.