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Hulu’s Pam & Tommy may just revolutionize fake-penis technology

Four puppeteers, Sebastian Stan, and one animatronic penis

Sebastian Stan as Tommy Lee in Hulu’s Pam & Tommy Photo: Hulu

Every decade will now be lived twice: once by the people living through it, and then through a variety of TV specials recounting the decade’s major events.

Everything from Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky to the OJ Simpson trial have received the miniseries treatment, but 2022 will have something very big to offer anyone recalls the 1990s: Pam & Tommy, the story of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’ sex tape. Through Baywatch and Mötley Crüe, the two set the standard in celebrity coupledom. And now, the TV recreation, from I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie, is setting a new standard in fakes penises.

Anderson and Lee, who first made headlines for tying the knot after only four days of knowing each other, made tabloid history when their sex tape was stolen in 1995. The entire experience is getting the miniseries treatment, which will premiere on Hulu on Feb. 2. And while Lily James first went viral for her transformation into Anderson, now the attention is turning to Sebastian Stan’s recreation of Lee.

Stan has said in various lead up press that he hit the books, reading The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band, alongside Lee’s own memoirs, Tommyland. It should be noted that Tommyland, co-written with Lee and Anthony Bozza, features an extended conversation between Lee and his own penis. It doesn’t always go well. For example, his penis claims that it has “been behind every decision you’ve ever made since second grade,” and that “no matter what you what you write in this book of yours, I promise you, people will buy it for one reason: to find out how long I really am.”

Pam & Tommy writer Robert Siegel, who was an editor of The Onion in ‘90s and later wrote the film The Wrestler, saw the confrontational relationship as a chance to build out a whole character in the series.

“There was gentle pushback, because you’ve got to push back a little when a talking penis is presented to you. But Hulu was extremely supportive,” Siegel tells Variety.

Lily James as Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy
Tommy (Sebastian Stan) with outstretched arms in Pam & Tommy Photos: Erin Simkin/Hulu

From a technical perspective, the animatronic used to bring the Pam & Tommy costar should push the limits of fake penis technology. Back in the days of Boogie Nights, prosthetic makeup artist Howard Berger simply created a prosthetic by “building a wire frame armature and then sculpting the penis in clay,” he recounted in a Grantland oral history of the movie. “Then we took a three-piece plaster mold and split it right down the center so it was one side, one side, and then there was a back plug that had the core that created the receptacle in the testicles,” Berger recalled.

Boogie Nights was successful in recreating a penis, but not all productions have shared Berger and Paul Thomas Anderson’s exacting level of detail. When Chris Hemsworth was preparing to show off a member during the little-remembered 2015 movie Vacation, “a hapless stand-in” had to show off the available prosthetics before giving the options to Hemsworth. “It was the opposite of funny, because you felt so bad for this poor stand-in,” writer-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein told Vulture.

There’s precedence for using high-tech robotics to bring a penis to life onscreen. In the unhinged indie comedy Swiss Army Man, directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert not only made Daniel Radcliffe play a farting corpse dragged around the woods, but one scene saw jerked around by a fake manhood acting as a divining rod. “The way the penis moves in the film, it was based on an animal called the tapir who have penises which are prehensile and can move around,” Radcliffe described to Metro UK back in 2016. “Normally all of the animatronic stuff we had on Harry Potter most were controlled by a guy with a little remote control. This for some reason was controlled by two gigantic levers that were on the side of the set that a guy was wrenching around to operate.”

Creating a talking penis was a different challenge all together. In the conversation with Variety, Gillespie described shooting these conversations as “just awkward. You’ve got four puppeteers working with an animatronic penis. And then, how much is too much, and do you start to lose his emotional torment of what’s going on? Hopefully it works.”

Hopefully! Stan, for his part, got to live through a penis-having fantasy which most people with penises probably aren’t even aware they have: to have their penis voiced by Jason Mantzoukas.

In the context of the show, Tommy Lee is talking to his penis in the midst of his four days of passion with Anderson and is considering marriage. Having another actor to work with helped, Stan tells Variety. “By the end of it, I treated it like it was an intimate buddy conversation that one might have when they’re falling in love.”

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