How Sebastian Stan Transformed Into Tommy Lee For Pam & Tommy

Romanian-American actor Sebastian Stan got his start on television with a guest appearance on "Law & Order" and recurring roles on "Gossip Girl" and "Kings." In 2011, he was cast in the role he is arguably best known for — superhero sidekick James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes in "Captain America: The First Avenger." Stan would reprise the role in the next several "Captain America" and "Avengers" films, culminating in the 2021 Disney+ miniseries "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," co-starring Anthony Mackie.

In between Marvel movies, Stan has made a name for himself as a supporting player in the indie film world, working with such esteemed directors as Jonathan Demme ("Ricki and the Flash"), Steven Soderbergh ("Logan Lucky"), and Craig Gillespie ("I, Tonya"). On February 2, 2022, Stan reunites with Gillespie for the Hulu miniseries "Pam & Tommy," a satirical look at the late-1990s scandal involving "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson, husband and Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, and the honeymoon sex tape that was stolen and copied around the world. Stan plays Lee opposite "Downton Abbey" and "Cinderella" star Lily James as Anderson.

The famously debauched hair-metal drummer is a far cry from Bucky Barnes, both physically and personality-wise. Let's take a look at how Stan prepared for the role.

A long development

Sebastian Stan was not actually the first choice to play Tommy Lee in the miniseries. In fact, it wasn't always going to be a miniseries at all. In 2018, the stranger-than-fiction saga of the Tommy Lee-Pamela Anderson sex tape — detailed in a 2014 Rolling Stone article by Amanda Chicago Lewis — was brought to the attention of Point Grey, the production company run by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Variety reports. The pair began to develop the story as a feature film vehicle for their friend James Franco, who would direct and star as Lee. As development continued, however, the project was reconceived as a longer piece of storytelling.

In December 2020, it was announced that the series would be produced for Hulu, with Stan and Lily James cast as Lee and Anderson and producer Rogen playing Rand Gauthier, the disgruntled electrician who inadvertently discovered the sex tape inside a stolen safe. Robert Siegel — writer of "The Wrestler" and "Big Fan" — would pen the script, and Craig Gillespie, whose "I, Tonya" similarly dealt with a misunderstood 1990s tabloid sensation, would direct.

Mixed reactions

When Sebastian Stan and Lily James' casting was announced, reactions were mixed. Neither actor seemed to be a natural fit for the role. Online critics' skepticism was directed more toward James, in an unfortunate echo of the kind of double standard that the real-life Anderson faced when the sex tape leaked. But Stan also took some hits for lacking a certain rock 'n' roll quality that fans felt necessary to play Lee. Alternate casting options abounded in the days after the announcement, with some pointing to Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly (who played Lee in the 2019 VH1 adaption of the Motley Crue memoir "The Dirt") being popular choices. It was clear that Stan would be facing an uphill battle to establish credibility in the role.

Stan himself was unsure that he was the right person for the job when it was offered to him by his "I, Tonya" director Craig Gillespie. As he would later tell Variety, "I don't have a single tattoo on my body. So I was like, 'What exactly is making you think I can play this man?' But I was intrigued enough to want to see why [Gillespie] was calling."

A journalist ...

Despite his reservations, Sebastian Stan accepted the role and began researching the man he was going to play. For him, playing a real-life person involved as much reportage and recreation as it did inspiration. "The story is there," he told Variety. "You're a journalist at that point. You're really researching all you can and trying to understand the best you can."

To that end, it must have helped that Tommy Lee's life has been so well-documented, often by Lee himself. Born in 1962 in Greece, Lee joined Motley Crue when he was 18. He has co-written two books; the first, 2002's "The Dirt," is credited to all the members of Motley Crue (plus co-author Neil Strauss) and is the history of the band in all its glorious, sometimes gag-inducing excess. The second, 2005's "Tommyland" (co-authored with Anthony Bozza), is a memoir by Lee with an audacious stylistic conceit: the book is narrated from the perspective of Lee's penis. Amazingly, "Pam & Tommy" dramatizes this idea in its second episode with a scene in which Stan as Lee speaks to his penis about his love for Anderson. The organ is apparently presented as an animatronic puppet voiced by comedian Jason Mantzoukas. 

... But not a drummer

Reading books on his subject and studying videos is one thing; learning a musical instrument is something else. Tommy Lee is regarded as one of the greatest rock drummers in history, and Sebastian Stan had to learn to play before taking the role. He took drum lessons for three months leading up to production and worked hard to master Lee's signature drumstick twirl. "It's not easy to do," Stan told Variety. "My fingers were swollen for a good week and a half. I kept hitting myself in the head with it."

Lee is known as a consummate showman behind the kit and prone to eye-catching theatrics. A concert tour in the mid-2000s saw him employing three different drum sets that he would reach by flying via wire rig. But "Pam & Tommy" appears to have a more down-to-earth approach to its Motley Crue scenes, as seen in on-set rehearsal footage that was leaked to TikTok in July 2021. Stan is seen in character behind the drum kit, playing along to a backing track.

Tattoos and piercings

Pyrotechnic drumming and rock star hedonism were not all that Sebastian Stan would need to become Tommy Lee. Lee's gaunt frame, dozens of tattoos, and multiple piercings are central to his image in the popular imagination, especially during his 1990s heyday. Since Stan had none of those things, the task of creating the character of Lee from the outside-in fell to the show's team of makeup artists.

Stan fasted in order to shed his "Winter Soldier" bulk. In order to recreate Lee's body of ink — most notably the gothic-styled "Mayhem" written across his stomach — the team had to reapply his temporary tattoos every couple of days, keeping Stan in the makeup chair for upwards of two hours before filming could begin. Lily James' process to become Pamela Anderson was even more daunting — her makeup and prosthetics took over three hours to apply daily. As for Lee's famous nipple rings, Stan opted to let the makeup team do its job and fit him with prosthetics rather than get his own pierced.

His own hair

Recreating the mid- to late-1990s look of the series meant head-to-toe makeovers for not just Lily James and Sebastian Stan, but the rest of the cast as well, including Seth Rogen as electrician-turned-pornographer Rand Gauthier and Nick Offerman as his sleazy associate Milton "Uncle Miltie" Ingely. To turn back the clock on top of everyone's head, hair department head Barry Lee Moe crafted a total of 25 different wigs for use for different characters, as the show spans several years. Some looks, such as James', are iconic, while others — like Rogen's — are somewhat less flattering.

Of the main cast, though, the only actor not to appear in a wig is Stan, who grew out his own hair for the role. Moe and his team gave his hair a keratin treatment and would color it every few weeks. It's a familiar look for Stan, who wore his hair long (plus extensions) for most of his turns as Bucky Barnes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Like the MCU, the "Pam & Tommy" production kept a tight lid on spoilers and secrets — particularly the look of its two leads. For Sebastian Stan, that meant keeping himself under wraps, literally, both on- and off-set so as not to attract attention with his Tommy Lee tattoos. After a while, the pressure of keeping his appearance a secret began to wear on him. "I was walking around in these hoodies and hats ... just paranoid of being seen,"  he told Variety. "I was like, 'God, I hope they're finally going to release something, so you know what we look like, so we can go on with our lives.'"

His wish came true in May 2021 when British tabloid the Daily Mail published leaked photos from the set showing Lily James as Pamela Anderson filming a scene from "Baywatch." Soon after, Hulu released the first official images from the series, which included a screen test shot of James and Stan recreating a famous photo of Anderson and Lee. After months of secrecy, Stan was relieved to have people finally see him as Tommy Lee: "Honestly, it was freeing," he told Variety.


The release of the official photos of Lily James and Sebastian Stan caused an immediate sensation, with news outlets and fans alike amazed at the actors' transformation — particularly James, who is nearly unrecognizable as Anderson. If there were any remaining doubts as to whether these two could pull off such well-known figures, the sight of a bleach-blonde James chomping on a shirtless Stan's nipple ring laid them to rest.

Writer Robert Siegel already had tremendous faith in the duo, and the outpouring of public support simply proved him correct. "Pam's smart, shrewd, kind of wholesome,"  he told Variety, all qualities that James shared with the character. Siegel noted a certain physical resemblance between Stan and Lee (at least, more of a resemblance than James and Anderson share) but added, "He is just a straight-up chameleon. He's one of those guys that disappears into characters."

Stan, in turn, gave all credit to the show's hair and makeup department, telling Entertainment Tonight, "They deserve whatever awards that are given. We couldn't have done it without them."

Tommy Lee's blessing

"Pam & Tommy" comes on the heels of FX's "Impeachment: American Crime Story" from 2021, another modern-day examination of a 1990s sex scandal that dominated headlines, inspired countless late-night TV jokes, and destroyed the reputation of a woman while leaving the man more or less unscathed. The major difference between the two shows, however, is that "Impeachment" was made with the input of Monica Lewinsky, the woman at the center of its scandal, while "Pam & Tommy" was made without the cooperation of either Tommy Lee or Pamela Anderson.

Lily James attempted to reach out to Anderson before production began but was unsuccessful. Sebastian Stan, however, was able to contact Lee, though he hasn't revealed what exactly the two discussed. "He seemed touched and appreciative that I took the time to even reach out and connect," Stan told Variety. When asked about the series by Entertainment Tonight in September 2021, Lee appeared to be supportive. "From what [Stan's] told me, it's a really beautiful story," he said. "The story's actually cool; what actually happened wasn't."


Still, there are some who take issue with the show's very existence. In November 2021, writer Hayley Maitland published an editorial in Vogue objecting to the series based on what she had seen in the recently-released teaser trailer. She feared that the series' semi-comedic tone and the presence of a well-known and liked film actor in Sebastian Stan meant that the series might gloss over or entirely ignore the fact that Pamela Anderson brought spousal abuse charges against Lee in 1998. She also feared that the show, by virtue of airing at all, would bring too much attention to the sex tape itself, introducing it to a new generation and re-traumatizing its victims — Anderson in particular.

So far, Pamela Anderson has yet to directly comment on the series. In May 2021, British tabloid The Sun published an anonymous source claiming to be a "close friend" of Anderson, who was said to be deeply offended by the show. Around that same time, Anderson's real-life friend, rocker Courtney Love, published a scathing rebuke of the series on her Facebook page. In the now-deleted post, she called the show "f***ing outrageous" and called out James by name: "And shame on Lily James, whoever the f*** she is."

At this point, Stan, James, and the rest of the cast and crew can only air the series as it is, confident in their research and artistry, and hope that it finds an appreciative audience, whether they were around in the '90s or not. As Stan told Variety, "All we can do is just sort of wait and see how people perceive it."