Screen legend Pam Grier is taking on a new role this spring — as a spokesperson for ActionAIDS‘ annual Dining Out for Life event, which takes place in Philadelphia on April 24th. She called me this week from her home in Colorado to chat about why she decided to team up with DOFL, what it was like working on The L Word, and a new project helmed by Philly Fresh Prince of Bel-Air creator Bennie Richburg.
G Philly: How did you get involved with Dining Out for Life?
Pam Grier: I was asked to be a spokesperson because of my awareness of the fact that there’s a large community across the country of people who are fighting AIDS. When [Dining Out for Life] provided me with the concept … I didn’t know how much I could help, but if I can get the ear, and the pockets, and forks, knives and spoons going to raise awareness, then so be it. … I’m not Angelina Jolie, who has 30 million followers, but if I can make a difference in my own way with my legacy, then so be it.
GP: Any personal reasons? Have you known anyone with HIV?
PG: I have. I’ve known several people who have expired from HIV/AIDS, in the early-’80s and ’90s. I know Irvin Magic Johnson, who's living with it, but I have some close friends who didn’t make it. One was my hairdresser. … I was so saddened, because he was so alone at the end. To lose him really hit home. And I didn’t want to see other people suffer as he did. I don’t like to see suffering. After being in that position and losing friends, I thought, “What can I do? How can I bring the light?” And the universe brought me this organization.
GP: I’ve seen you as a superhero in the animated promo ad. What did you think about that?
PG: I have great hips. [Laughs] I like the fact that they drew hips on my character. It’s quite sweet and profound.
GP: Let’s talk about your career for a bit. I know most people ask about your blaxploitation roles, but since this is a gay blog, can you tell me about your experience playing bi/curious on The L Word?
PG: I had to do this show, because I wasn’t aware of the LGBT community and the discrimination they experience. When I became a cast member of that show and met the crew, and started hearing about how unfairly people of the LGBT community were treated, I was appalled. Being on that show — being able to teach and bring awareness around that — was the best experience of my life.
GP: Who do you think is carrying on your legacy as the queen of blaxploitation films?
PG: At one time Halle Barry had optioned Foxy Brown. I thought she would have been a perfect younger me, but it went into turn-around and she ended up doing Cat Woman instead.
GP: Big mistake!
PG: Yea, I think so, too. Politically, cinematically, there were disadvantages, because Michelle Pfeiffer played [Cat Woman] only 10 years prior.
GP: Beyoncé used Foxy Brown as inspiration when she played Foxxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers in Goldmember. What did you think of that?
PG: I saw in a magazine that the day of her audition she channeled me, picked up my dialogue, the hair, the shirt tied at the waist. She went in channeling me. I thought that was just great, that she would use my character as inspiration. And she landed the role.
GP: Any new projects in the works?
PG: Yes. I have a one-hour drama series, Blackhawk, that I created with writing partner Bennie Richburg — who’s from Philadelphia. He was a writer and producer of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a good friend of Will Smith's. The series is about an independent woman designed to kick butt and be smart. It’s Homeland on steroids. Strike Back with more culture and sexuality. [Laughs]
GP: Think you’ll ever take on any Jackie Brown-type roles?
PG: Quentin Tarrentino … it was such a gift for him to write that for me. The character in Blackhawk would be like her, but for television.
GP: Do you still find it easy to slip into that role?
PG: I don’t know. For the time, it was timely and it was new. I don’t know if I could achieve that level today, because there’s so many women doing what I did then. It’s not so unique. I don’t know that it would work today.
This year’s edition of DOFL comprises 150 restaurants and a host of food trucks that will donate 33 percent of that day’s earnings to local HIV-fighting organization, ActionAIDS. For more info on participating restaurants and to make reservations, go to diningoutforlife.com/philadelphia.