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GRIER, PAM

THE EVOLUTION OF FOXY BROWN.
Jackie Brown star Pam Grier talks exclusively to Paul Fischer.

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.

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