Actress Pam Grier on 'The L Word'

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Pam Grier, the blaxploitation sex symbol from the 1970s, now plays a straight character in the Showtime lesbian drama The L Word. Grier talks Farai Chideya about the show, which is about to start its fourth season.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Unidentified Man: When Foxy Brown comes to town, all the brothers gather around because she can really shake 'em down.

CHIDEYA: In 1975, she became the sexy, super bad queen of black exploitation flicks.

Unidentified Man: Pam Grier, that one chick hit squad who creamed you as (unintelligible) is back to do a job on the mob as Foxy Brown.

(Soundbite of movie “Foxy Brown”)

Ms. PAM GRIER (Actress): (As Foxy Brown) You tell me who you want done and I'll do the hell out of him.

CHIDEYA: Pam Grier went on to play one of the revelers in a boffo B-movie “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” She was also the voice of animated characters in shows including “The Wild Thornberrys.” Now screen veteran Pam Grier is playing Kit Porter, one of the few straight characters on the Showtime channel's hit lesbian drama “The L Word.” The show starts its fourth season on Sunday night.

Despite the success of her show, Grier is no glitzy diva. She lives a rugged life in the Colorado countryside, braving droughts and blizzards. She says rural living has given her some valuable career lessons.

Ms. GRIER: It teaches you common sense. How to survive, whether - when you have harsh weather, when you have drought, when you have fire. When I am doing “The L Word” for Showtime we usually to shoot in the summer, and back here in Colorado we'll have drought conditions and I fly home on the weekend just so I can dig, you know, firebreaks and make sure we have lots of water and the systems are going and we have horse rescue procedure.

My horse trailer is hooked up, ready to go move horses out; not only mine but my neighbors if they are not in town. So it teaches you to prepare.

CHIDEYA: Let's turn to “The L Word.” You have a role as Kit Porter, who is the half sister of Bette Porter, played by Jennifer Beals. And you have such a sweet demeanor on the show, naïve in a way, not that you are someone who hasn't lived. You play someone who was a singer in the past, but what - describe what Kit Porter is to you.

Ms. GRIER: Kit Porter, to me, is a woman who left her home to be an independent woman. Didn't want to be like her mom. And her mom wanted her to get out and have a career and not give up, you know, her career for, you know, her husband. And she ended up losing, you know, both and was very lonely. And she is a very sensitive heart who is very accepting. Some people may see it as naivety, but it isn't. She's just very, very accepting and tolerant.

CHIDEYA: If you had to put a triangle with Foxy Brown as one corner, Kit Porter as another corner and you as the last corner, what would you draw from both of those characters?

Mr. GRIER: From Kit Porter, she has a wonderful sense of patience. And from Foxy Brown, Foxy Brown comes from me, and I come from my mom and my aunt, Nena(ph). These were women of the ‘70s movement, of the independent women's movement who were only trying to say that education will give them the respect from men, will give the respect from society, and that it's OK for a woman not to be married to be accepted. It's okay for her not to have a family. She can still be a woman. Let her be the best woman that she can be.

CHIDEYA: What kind of reactions do you get when you go out doing promo for the show, from the gay and - I guess from the lesbian community and any gay guys who also end up showing up, and straight women who were gay for Shane or for one of other characters?

Mr. GRIER: From all across the board it has been exceptionally accepting and embracing. And I think that the “The L Word” and the actors that have come aboard have really helped to open the eyes and hearts and minds of many, many people who just didn't have an understanding of the gay/transgender/bisexual world.

CHIDEYA: You know, I was reading a profile of you in New York magazine that came out just recently. And it says here, quoting you, “as a woman of color you're not going to be the leading lady. Is that going to depress me and make me drink and feel horrible about myself? I can't let that happen to me.”

So what are you making for yourself now, Pam Grier? What world are you creating that you can live in and thrive in?

Mr. GRIER: Well, the world that I grew up in is a very - I was an Air Force brat, so I understood international politics and war at a very early age. We lived in England. And then we'd come back to a rural environment that gave me a balance to, you know, urban living. And then I lived with cousins and I'd been in the South and my mom couldn't catch a bus - they wouldn't stop for us.

So I learned a lot about what America was and what I would have to accept. I choose to live in Colorado so that I am not being told by my acting professors in classes that I can get every role because I'm a good actor; that's not true. There are roles that I won't get because of the color of my skin, my gender or my height.

There's a lot of roles I don't get because I am 5'8” and half the leading men are 5'7”. So that I've known, and it's OK and I understand that. And I said, you know what, I'm going to spend, you know, the next I don't know how many years doing theater and feeling that, and not doing films which promote you because of box office. You just do the work if it interests you. I'm still interested in humanity and being a good actor.

CHIDEYA: Well, Pam Grier, thanks so much for joining us and good luck in everything you do.

Mr. GRIER: Thanks to you.

CHIDEYA: Pam Grier plays Kit Porter on the Showtime program “The L Word.” The new season begins on Sunday.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: That's this foxy episode of NEWS & NOTES.

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