Pam Grier made quite the splash last year with the release of her memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. Even if you didn’t read the book, you probably saw her onOprah, talking about how Richard Pryor ejaculated cocaine into her hoo-ha. The paperback edition of Foxy was published in late July to considerably less fanfare, thanks to its shocking lack of new information about Pryor’s seminal fluid. But the book has plenty of surprises that never got the attention it deserved during the initial media blitz. For one thing, I had no idea that Pam Grier, the star of blaxploitation classics like Foxy Brown and Coffy, lives on a farm in Colorado. Her day-to-day life involves big skies and open fields and cattle, the polar opposite of everything she’s experienced on screen. I’m not confused enough by the difference between reality and fiction to think that Grier, like her iconic characters, has ever screamed, “This is the end of your rotten life, you motherfuckin’ dope pusher!” But at the very least, I’d expect her to live within walking distance of a subway. Also, did you know that Grier, the women Ms. magazine once called the “mocha mogul of Hollywood,” is a devoted knitter? Weird, right? It’s like finding out that Iggy Pop is really into antiquing.
I called Grier to talk about her book, but more importantly, to make sure that she’s still, as the poster for Foxy Brown promised, “a chick with drive who don’t take no jive.” I was not disappointed.
Pam Grier: Forgive me for being a little hoarse. I’m in New Orleans, shooting a new movie, and I guess I’ve been doing a lot of shouting.
Eric Spitznagel: Is this Skinny Dip? I heard you were shooting that next. The tagline sounds great. “They took her bikini. They took her virginity. She took her revenge.”
No, I haven’t gotten a script for that yet. They announced that I’m in it, but I haven’t talked to anybody about it. The movie I’m working on now is On the Seventh Day. It’s a thriller with myself and Blair Underwood. I’m an indigenous detective who lives in the Bayou and wrestles with alligators. I have these long braids and I wear a cowboy hat and I solve crimes in New Orleans.
With these kinds of films, do you need to see a script beforehand? I’d think that the less you know, the better.
Oh no, I do like to see the script. Because I’m a visionary, and I surround myself with my external environment and that helps me create my character.
Isn’t it like jumping off a cliff? It’s easier if you don’t think about it and you don’t look over the edge. Just shut your eyes and jump.
I couldn’t do that. I take my craft as an actress very seriously. When (B-movie producer and director) Roger Corman first put me in his films, I wanted to take it to another level. I didn’t see them as B-movies. I thought of them like Stanislavski says, “There are no small actors, just small roles.” So I made every role bigger. Stanislavski ’s methodology was very important to me. It changed my approach to acting, and that made everybody else in the cast work differently. I was doing Anton Chekhov in a wet t-shirt.
Is that a movie title?
[Laughs.] No, no, not literally. Although it sounds like a Corman movie, doesn’t it?
I was gonna say, I need to add Anton Chekhov in a Wet T-shirt to my Netflix queue.
That was the genius of those movies. People watched! And it was different. “To be or not to have! To be flat chested or not be flat chested, that is the question!” Shakespeare! Cherry Orchid in a wet shirt. You can’t beat it!
I don’t know how to respond to that, so let’s just move on. When fans meet you, are they disappointed that you aren’t more like your movie characters?
Sometimes I do appearances and they expect me to walk in with a big afro and a jumpsuit and platform shoes and a funky soundtrack following me, like wacka-wacka-wacka. But usually when I start talking, they realize, “Oh yeah, that was just a movie role she did. None of that was real.”
And if they don’t, you take them down with a Foxy Brown judo-chop?
Not judo, but I could maybe do some kung fu White Tiger Qigong.
I have no idea what any of that means, but it sounds badass.
Judo is external. It’s Japanese, it’s not Chinese. It’s two different forms. I try to know my stuff. I also practice yoga and rumba. I’m all about feeling good after I work out, knowing that I’ve given praise to my body.
Yoga is great and all, but you’re not going to teach a lesson to a dope-pushin’ pimp with the downward dog.
Probably not, no. [Laughs.] Sometimes they need the rough stuff. Sometimes they need Mama G to step in. As my mom would say, “I don’t think so!” We have our Hispanic sisters, we have our American sisters, we have our European sisters, but when all women get together, we are a force. Pink wasn’t the color, but now it’s everywhere. We’ve got men wearing pink track shoes. They’re wearing pink ribbons. They’re out there in full force going, “I have a mama, I came from a woman, and now I want to learn how to love a woman. I want to learn how to take all of my filters out and listen to a woman.” If we have to hit them to get their attention, so be it.
That was the weirdest stream-of-consciousness monologue I’ve ever heard, and I have no idea how you got there, but I love it.
[Laughs.] You’ve got to keep up, baby.
You’ve been in almost 100 movies. Do you remember any of the plots, or just the poster taglines?
I probably don’t remember any of it. There was a whole lot of them.
Let’s test your knowledge. I’ll give you the tagline, and you give me the movie title.
Oh gosh! [Laughs.] Okay, I’ll try, but I may need a few hints.
“She had a body men would die for — and a lot of them did.”
That could be all of them. I think that was used in every movie.
It was Coffy, but I’m going to give it to you because you’re technically correct. Here’s another: “Chicks in chains… and nothing in common but the hunger of 1,000 nights without a man.”
Well, that’s one of the prison movies. It’s either Black Mama, White Mama or The Big Doll House or Women in Chains.
You got it on your first guess. It’s Black Mama, White Mama.
How about this one: “Wham! Bam! Here comes Pam!”
Oh my goodness. That could be… let’s see… Coffy, Foxy Brown, Sheba?
Nope. But you’ve got the right decade.
Scream Blacula Scream? I don’t know. The Arena?
It has a day of the week in the title.
Oh, so it has to be Friday Foster.
You got it. Okay, one more. “She’s brown sugar and spice but if you don’t treat her nice she’ll put you on ice.”
That has to be Foxy Brown. You know Foxy Brown was based on my Aunt Mennon.
Really? Your Aunt Mennon cut off a guy’s penis and sent it to his girlfriend in a pickle jar?
[Laughs.] No, no, not literally based on her. The spirit of her. And Coffy was my mom. She was the nurse who was always having somebody in her kitchen that she was attending to medically, either bandaging a wound or setting a leg. These characters are such a big part of who I am and where I came from. I’m haunted by the Fox in a Box set. Did you know it’s now being sold in Russia. Did you hear about that?
I’m just having a hard time keeping up with your train of thought.
[Laughs.] You can do it. I was at a convention in England last year and these women from Russia asked me autograph their copy of Fox in a Box. It’s a boxed set with a few of my movies; Foxy Brown and Coffy and one other. I said to them, “It’s in Russian now, is it? That’s fantastic. How do I get one of these?” And the woman said (in a sinister Russian accent), “You don’t vant to know.”
Nice! Your movies are being sold on the Russian black market?
It looks like it. You want to see Foxy Brown in Russia, you have to talk to one of those guys in Members Only jackets and sunglasses who hang out in alleys.
What’s Foxy doing in 2011? Is she still alive, still fighting the good fight?
Foxy Brown is in every walk of life, in millions of women around the world, who are earning their self-esteem and self-confidence, whether it’s with an education or reading a book or just being curious about life and not being the wife or little lady who’s waiting for somebody to do something for her.
She’s not posing as a hooker to infiltrate a crime syndicate’s prostitution racket?
Maybe not so much.
So, the Foxy Brown of 2011 is nothing like the original Foxy Brown?
It’s the spirit that matters. My grandfather used to say to me, “A man will respect you more if you can do something with your life.” I’ve lived by that philosophy.
When your memoir was first published last summer, it got a lot of attention for a certain story about your relationship with Richard Pryor, and the alleged cocaine toxicity of his semen.
I only shared that to save lives. Because it was the sexual revolution, and it still is, and having unsafe unprotected sex with any partner could be life threatening.
But aren’t HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases a more realistic danger than cocaine-laced sperm? I mean, at least for the average person?
You can’t be sure. When you’re mixed up with drugs and sex, and you meet this wonderful person who’s trying to get clean and you know that sleeping with him will harm you. And at the time, I didn’t think it would harm me. I don’t want somebody else to suffer what I’ve suffered through. It’s not worth it. We’re not a stupid nation anymore. We’re not asleep. We’re not apathetic.
We’re America, and we’re not going to be pumped full of cocaine jizz.
Exactly! We have to use every resource of research and knowledge and science to save ourselves from ourselves.
A big part of your book that wasn’t given the same attention when it was first published was the chapter on premarital sex. You basically argue that women who have too much sex prior to marriage “wear their vaginas out.”
That’s right, yes.
Here’s another sentence from your book that gave me pause. “By the time you grow up and meet a great guy, you’re all stretched out.” Really?
Well, when you have a child, you stretch yourself.
But most guys don’t have baby-sized genitals.
Yes, but you don’t have the same tightness and flexibility and often your husband is not pleased. You can have surgery, like vaginoplasty. They talk about it in that movie, It’s Complicated. Remember that scene?
I do. I’m pretty sure they were taking about vaginoplasty because somebody hadn’t had sex in awhile and they thought their vagina had closed up. And also, it was a joke.
Well those are real issues that women shouldn’t ignore or shy away from. Women should understand what their bodies go through. Men will say, “It’s not fun anymore. Your vagina is too stretched out, and I’m not getting as excited, and I’m not having my needs met.”
Not owning a vagina myself, I couldn’t begin to argue the medical reality of this. But is it seriously something that women are concerned about?
Absolutely it is!
When women get together, they have conversations that begin with sentences like, “Oh my god, you guys wouldn’t believe how stretched out my vagina is?”
Oh yeah, ask anybody. Women talk about this stuff all the time. If you’ve been with a man who’s well-endowed, it stretches you out and you literally cannot be with a man after who’s smaller. The sensitivity is lessened because you are stretched. It’s especially common among women who have athlete boyfriends or husbands.
Oh come on!
Okay, no, no, stop. I know you dated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and that may’ve biased you. But you’re telling me that all professional athletes have gigantic penises?
They do. I’m sorry, it’s true.
What about Barry Bonds?
Well, I don’t know from personal experience. But these are real issues and real concerns.
Couldn’t you just do Kegel exercises?
Yeah, they can work. But a lot of women don’t know about the Kegel. They don’t know how to “Squeeze, squeeze, breathe, squeeze, squeeze, breathe.”
Here’s another chance to save some lives. Maybe you find a way to make it fun. You could explain Kegel exercises the Foxy Brown way.
“Squeeze, squeeze, breathe, motherfucker.” Put a little Foxy sass in it.
[Laughs.] Yeah, but that can be very confusing. You’re chatting way too much. There’s not a lot of chatter with Kegel. There might be a little bit of spanking.
Spanking? Really? How does that…?
There might be some handcuffs on the bed. But I don’t know about the chatter.
Okay, sure. I don’t know how that works, but you’re the expert.
[Laughs.] But seriously, these are real adult issues, and it’s time for us to be adults. We need to protect our children and guide them so they don’t make the same mistakes.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com