Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. In Episode 2 of Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy,” that indeed is Tommy Lee, played by Sebastian Stan, having a deep, honest conversation with his talking penis — voiced by Jason Mantzoukas.
It’s unlike anything that has ever been seen on television. Granted, it’s something that couldn’t have ever been seen on over-the-air television, at least without a hefty FCC fine and the threat of losing a broadcast license. But not even premium cable has done this — at least, to the best of anyone’s memory. “I think it might be a first, it might possibly be,” said executive producer Rob Siegel.
Despite all that, Hulu execs were surprisingly chill with the scene.
“It’s a show that takes advantage of the canvas of television, which is different than it was 10 years ago,” said Hulu Originals president Craig Erwich (who is also president of entertainment for ABC, the network that famously caused a frenzy in the 1990s for showing a man’s rear end on “NYPD Blue”).
In the episode, Lee has tracked down Pamela Anderson (Lily James) at a syndication retreat in Cancun, and the two embark on a four-day romance that ends with a quickie wedding. After their first night together, Tommy is alone in the bathroom, and he confesses to his penis: “I think she’s the one. I do.” To which his penis responds: “I hate those words, ‘I do.’ Fuck. We’ve been down this road before, and it never ends well!”
Tommy says it’s different this time: “You saw her, she’s fucking perfect!” When his penis brings up ex-wife Heather Locklear, Tommy says, “Heather was too conservative. Pam knows how to have fun. she can be wild, we can be wild together. I have to change who I am as a person… it’s how I feel. I’m in love, bro!”
The exchange is inspired by Lee’s own use of his talking penis as a narrative device in his 2004 memoir, “Tommyland.” Said Stan: “If you read Tommy’s book, or if you watch any of the interviews that he did when the book was coming out, he speaks very openly about his penis being a character in the book. And, obviously, Rob, and [fellow executive producer D.V. [DeVincentis] read the book and wrote the scripts and kept that in mind.”
Siegel confirmed as such: “As much as I’d like to take credit for that, I was simply adapting a chapter from his memoir,” Siegel said. Added DeVincentis, who originally provided the temp voice over for the penis until Mantzoukas was hired: “Nobody really pushed back on it.”
Siegel clarified: “Gentle push back, just because you’ve got to push back a little when a talking penis is presented to you. But Hulu was extremely supportive.”
DeVincentis credited Stan for “being a real trooper about it. You’re standing there naked as an actor with this prosthetic on you, that unseen to the camera has wires running out of it — under you, behind you. And there’s a guy on the floor with toggles and he’s remotely controlling like a drone apparatus. It’s kind of wild.”
Stan compared it to essentially “acting with myself. It’s always easier when you have another person there to work off of. But I guess I got to do this, to some extent, with myself. But then it was sort of like having a partner, actually, by the end of it. And I treated it like it was an intimate buddy conversation that one might have when they’re falling in love.”
Director Craig Gillespie also credited Stan with being able to “walk that line being completely emotionally invested in the conversation that he’s having. And it shows you this facet into his mind and what he’s thinking and what his concerns are. But in this oddly comedic way, which was part of the tone of the show. But you had to have an actor of Sebastian’s caliber to be able to really command the audience to be emotionally engaged.”
From a technical perspective, Gillespie said the challenge of shooting the scene was “just awkward. You’ve got like four puppeteers working with an animatronic penis. So there’s that, and then trying to find the voice for it that doesn’t take us out of it. And then, how much is too much, and do you start to lose his emotional torment of what’s going on and how committed he is? So there’s all those considerations going into it. Hopefully, it works.”
The fact that it’s clearly a prosthetic penis and it’s a lighthearted moment, also allowed for showing more than what you might expect. “I think part of the animatronic nature of it was to be able to cross that line where you can be like, ‘OK, this has got that whimsical feel to it. And obviously we’ve stepped out of reality,'” Gillespie said.
Executive producer Sue Naegle gave props to “a lot CGI and a lot of cooperation with Hulu” for making the scene happen.
“They were so supportive the entire time and I think were of the mind of, ‘Just tell the story as uniquely as you can and go for it,'” she said. “And so we did. I mean Rob really latched on to that story in Tommy’s book and was very committed to finding a way to bring that. I think you have to have a variety of tones. The truth is [Pam and Tommy] did have [an] incredible amount of fun, they were on top of the world, just running around in love and crazy. And I do think you have to capture the happiness in order to really understand what was then lost. So having Tommy talk to his penis is a part of that. It’s in his own words in his book. So that is his relationship with his penis.”
As “Pam & Tommy” carries on in future episodes, that early romance slips away and the violation of having their sex tape stolen and then released to the world takes its toll on the couple — especially on Anderson. But in Episode 2, the courtship and quick marriage of Lee and Anderson features plenty of intimate scenes, and an intimacy coordinator was employed to make sure both James and Stan were comfortable with the shoot.
“You always have to approach those scenes with caution and make sure that you really trust the people involved,” James said. “So first point of call is the script, do we feel it’s necessary? Do we feel that it’s progressing the story, is it crucial to the character? Then you work with the director and how you’re going to block it, and with the intimacy coach. I felt very supported in all those aspects. It was very collaborative, we really spoke through each choice of what we wanted to show. And Sebastian’s a great partner. I felt real trust. With Pam and Tommy, and those crazy four days, we wanted to revel in that passion and explosion of their relationship. But also didn’t want it to feel sensational.”
Stan agreed that trust and open dialogue with both James and Gillespie was key. “For me, it was more really understanding Lily and how she felt and taking my cues off of her, essentially,” he said. “And with Craig, it was to understand what it was that we really wanted to get out of the scene. I think everybody approached this to the best of their ability to make sure we just focused on what was essential.”
Read Variety‘s cover story with James and Stan on “Pam & Tommy” here.