Heads, as they always do, turn when Pamela Anderson enters the room. Wearing a flirty Dolce & Gabbana polka dot dress and black Louis Vuitton pumps, the former Baywatch actress looks every inch the Hollywood star on holiday as she strolls into the lounge at the Sofitel in Marseille and settles at a table overlooking the old port city. But Anderson, who turned 50 last summer, actually lives just 15 minutes away, where she shares a home with her new boyfriend, French soccer star Adil Rami, 32.
Yes, that's right, the onetime poster girl for Malibu (and red swimsuits) has decamped to the South of France, where for the past year or so she has transformed herself into a bombshell Zelig, forming an unlikely, even surreal network of friendships with a shocking range of influential — and sometimes infamous — world figures. If politics makes for strange bedfellows, Anderson is running an orgy. She's become pals with everyone from GOP billionaire activist Sheldon Adelson (an old Malibu neighbor) to Bill Clinton (they partied together at the Vienna AIDS Ball) to kosher sex guru and former congressional candidate Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (they wrote a book) and a slew of other movers and shakers from various corners of international culture (punk designer Vivienne Westwood, pop artist Jeff Koons). As a political figure in her own right — championing animal rights — she's been invited to speak her mind at venues ranging from Oxford University (where she talked about veganism) to the Kremlin (where she spoke about Siberian tigers) to the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok (she gave a speech about endangered species).
And then, of course, there have been the strange rumors about her dating a certain Russian president. "I love this question," Anderson says, laughing, when asked about her relationship with Vladimir Putin. But she doesn't actually answer.
By far the most controversial relationship in her life at the moment, however, is with Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, the website that released hacked Democratic emails at strategic points during the 2016 elections that many believe may have helped swing the election to Donald Trump. How the Hollywood sex symbol became friends with the world's most wanted hacker — holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for the past six years to avoid extradition to Sweden, at first, and now the U.S. — is something of a mystery. All Anderson will say is that they met "years ago" and that it was Westwood who introduced them (Westwood calls her "one of the most intelligent women I ever met"). Anderson also declines to reveal the exact nature of their relationship, although it's clear her many visits with him at the embassy have drawn them close.
"We talk about everything," she says of her friendship with Assange. "We talk about the Bible, we talk about what's happening with my kids, what's happening with his family. It's not just about politics, even though I do take a lot of notes and it's so overwhelming, the information he gives me."
Anderson is still working as an actress in films — she'll start shooting a French-language movie in August with director Philippe Lacheau (a sort of French Farrelly brother) — and she's keeping busy in other ways, as well, like assisting a German magician on a recent European tour (more on that hobby-job later). But the woman who once ran in the sand with David Hasselhoff, who has appeared on the cover of Playboy more than any other human being, has found in France the most fascinating, unexpected and in some ways bizarre role of her career, and she's playing it on the world stage.
Somehow, while nobody was looking, Pamela Anderson found herself at the center of the geopolitical universe.
When she arrives at the Sofitel, Anderson has just finished up a French lesson nearby. Judging by her conversation with the waiter — she orders legumes, quinoa, pommes frites and a Provence rosé with ze purfect Franch accent — the lessons are going well. "I always knew I was going to live in the South of France at this time in my life," she says, and takes a sip of wine. "Since I was doing a lot of photo shoots here for Playboy, like 20 years ago, I wanted to live here so bad. I had done Malibu very well, you know? Like with Baywatch and Soho House and walking around with my dog. I felt like the mascot of Malibu. And I just wanted out of there."
So, when her two 20-something sons with ex-husband Tommy Lee had left the nest and embarked on their own careers — Dylan's a musician and Brandon an actor — she rented out the Malibu house to "some businessperson from New York" and settled in Saint-Tropez. There she met Rami, who persuaded her to move to Marseille with him. Here in France — a country where the president is 25 years younger than his wife — their 18-year age difference barely raises an eyebrow. "He's not a part of that [showbiz world]," she says. "That's the best part."
Anderson has always been skeptical when it comes to Hollywood, even when she was living in it. She pulled her sons out of classes in Los Angeles and enrolled them in a boarding school on Vancouver Island to offer them something akin to her own British Columbia upbringing (she was born in Canada but became a U.S. citizen after moving to Los Angeles). Her relationship with Lee, one of three ex-husbands, was famously volatile, with accusations of abuse leveled at the Motley Crue drummer. "I picked her up many times from her lawyer's office and flew her up with her kids and hid her out in Aspen for a month because the guy was beating her up," recalls former mogul Jon Peters, who briefly lived with Anderson in the 1990s. "But she made it through. She raised the kids. She's got money. She's got a career."
Her son Brandon recently was involved in a physical altercation with his father over derogatory tweets the rocker posted about Anderson. But these days Anderson tries to keep her distance from family dramas. "I stay out of it," she says. "The kids are adults, and they make all their own decisions. I look at the differences in their personalities and their fearlessness and their ambition and their clarity, and I'm just so proud of both of them."
She only hopes she won't be appearing as a character in the upcoming Netflix movie about Motley Crue, The Dirt. "I can't imagine it being of any interest," she says. She's even more dismissive when it comes to her other famous ex-husband, Kid Rock. She says she never spoke to him again after they divorced in 2007 and isn't buying his new Redneck Everyman persona. "When he was with me, he didn't hunt. I don't think he was very Republican, but now he is. Oh well." She sighs.
In any case, her day-to-day life now is tres ordinaire, she insists. In the morning she might make a trip to le petit marche with her vegan grocery list in hand, then perhaps take a boat ride from Cassis to Calanques. In the evenings, she entertains at home with Rami and friends, hosting frequent vegan barbecues. Her last professional gig — aside from co-writing that sex book with her friend Rabbi Shmuley, Lust for Love: Rekindling Intimacy and Passion in Your Relationship — was being a magician's assistant in Hans Klok's magic show touring the Netherlands and Germany. "It was one of those things that ICM said, 'You're never gonna wanna do this,'" she recalls of discussing the job with her agents. "And I said, 'This is the only thing you've brought me that I want to do!'"
Between jobs and barbecues, though, Anderson has found plenty of time for politics. Last fall, she stepped into something of a controversy by telling Megyn Kelly that Harvey Weinstein's victims should have "known what they were getting into." The comment did not endear her to the #MeToo movement, to say the least, but Anderson is not backing off. "You need to have that Spidey sense or whatever it is that this is not right," she says, doubling down. "When someone answers the door in a bathrobe, don't go in that room. Or if you go in the room, get that role. (Laughs.) Sorry, now I'm really in trouble. I remember Revlon and Guess Jeans both offered me huge campaigns, and I didn't feel right about going into a room and sitting on a bed. I just had this sense that this was not going to go well." The closest thing to an unpleasant encounter was over the casting of the 1992 Steven Seagal movie Under Siege. "I remember him saying to me, 'If you don't do it, then that girl across the hall will do it, and she'll get the job,'" Anderson recalls. "And I said, 'Well, good, goodbye."
Anderson's personal politics, like her personal relationships, are often complex. She's a feminist, she says, yet she's appeared on Playboy magazine's cover 14 times and was offended by how Hugh Hefner was criticized after his death. "I hate when people say bad things about him because I believe he empowered women and I believe he did so many great things for civil rights," she says. "I say Playboy was my university. I learned about activism, I learned about art, I learned about artists, and there were always really colorful, wonderful people there. It wasn't seedy or salacious or sleazy. It was cool."
She agreed with Bernie Sanders on many issues in the 2016 presidential election, but once he was out of the race, she voted for Jill Stein. She's not a huge Donald Trump fan, having crossed paths with him in the past, back when she was part of the Playboy universe. "I think it was his birthday," she recalls of their first meeting. "I was hired to be there. We all were paid like $500 a day. He was with a wife — I don't know which one — but he was nothing special." And yet Anderson also takes swings at one of Trump's favorite whipping posts, the so-called fake media, claiming that WikiLeaks is the only trustworthy source of information. "There are people in the world that don't question authority," she says. "They just think, 'Oh, somebody smarter than me has figured it out, and I'm gonna go on with my day and I don't have any feeling about it because I'm too busy.' I think that's dangerous."
Her most passionate issue, though, is the animal rights movement — she recently exec produced an anti-meat documentary with fellow vegan (and Malibu neighbor) James Cameron, The Game Changers, which screened at Sundance and Berlin. And she has sometimes furthered that cause by forging alliances with politicians whose records on human rights have been less than stellar. She started palling around with Putin, for instance, after she wrote a letter to him in 2015 urging that a shipping vessel carrying endangered fin whale meat be blocked from passing through Russian waters. Since then, she's visited the Kremlin and met with scads of Russian officials: Putin even invited her to his inauguration so that she could hand him flowers at the ceremony (Anderson couldn't make it).
At the moment, though, her biggest concern is for her friend Assange. Nearly a month has passed since they last spoke, and Assange's internet access was cut off by the Ecuadorean government. Days before meeting with THR, Anderson traveled to London and attempted to see Assange but was denied access. "He's cut off from everybody," she says, a frantic note creeping into her voice. "The air and light quality [at the embassy] is terrible because he can't keep his windows open and he can't get any sunlight. Even prisoners can go outside, but he can't. I'm always bringing him vegan food, but he eats very simply. I talked to him on the phone the day [his internet] was shut off. He sent me an urgent call. And now, nothing."
Assange, she believes, is in grave danger. Although Sweden has dropped the rape charges that sent him fleeing to the embassy for protection — accusations that he has denied — he still can't walk out of the building without being arrested and extradited to the U.S. to face trial for espionage. Anderson, for one, believes those charges are completely bogus despite widespread agreement, including among U.S. intelligence services, that WikiLeaks coordinated with Russia to release the hacked DNC emails in order to impact the 2016 election. "He's been wrongly accused of so many things," she says. "But this is a way of keeping him down and keeping him ineffective. He's just ruffling the feathers of people that are powerful. I always try to humanize him because people think he's a robot or he's a computer screen or he's not this human being.
"He's so misunderstood," she continues, "especially in Hollywood, and really hated, because of the Clinton monopoly on the media."
If it weren't for her sons, who still live in Malibu, Anderson might never return to California, even for a visit. There's enough going on in France to keep her creatively fulfilled, she says. She plans to attend this year's Cannes Film Festival for a premiere or two, as she did last year, when she hit the red carpet for the AIDS activist film BPM (Beats Per Minute). After all, she has her own wild Cannes memories, like in 1995, when her first starring vehicle, Barb Wire, was introduced to buyers. "This is before we shot one frame of film," she remembers. "It was so out of control. Boats were running into each other and people were falling off the boats with cameras. I was in complete shock."
She's got some other movie projects in the works; the Safdie brothers (Good Time), darlings of Cannes, have been courting her for a film (after they finish making the Adam Sandler starrer Uncut Gems for A24), and Werner Herzog has a role for her in his long-gestating Vernon God Little — adapted from the Booker Prize-winning novel — if the German auteur can ever get it off the ground. ("He met with me numerous times at the Chateau Marmont and said, 'I can make you have the best performance, I know what to do with you,'" Anderson says.) But for now she's happy to split her time between her vegan barbecues with Rami and her new role as muse in chief to some of the world's geopolitical power players. Although, to hear her tell it, she's not entirely sure why on earth anybody is bothering to listen to her at all.
"I speak at the Kremlin or I speak at Vladivostok at the economic conference about green energy and a green economy," she says, smiling. "And I don't know what people are expecting from me. I can talk about whales and the environment, biodiversity of the oceans. I can talk about anything I want because I think people are still looking at me, trying to figure out, 'Why is she here?'"
This story first appeared in the May 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.