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Pam Grier, Still Kicking Butt

Legendary blaxploitation actress tackles life's challenges.

Pam Grier

In her new memoir, "Foxy: My Life in Three Acts," Pam Grier revisits a career that took off in the early '70s when she became blaxploitation cinema's first female action hero. — Todd Heisler/New York Times/Redux

Pam Grier can still put up a fight. Every morning, on the Colorado ranch she shares with her three dogs, the 61-year-old actress rolls out of bed at 5 a.m. to get in her daily workout. "As a cancer survivor, I cannot be undisciplined," she says. "I have to drink pure water, eat well and exercise."

It's been nearly 40 years since Grier rose to fame as the sexy, shotgun-wielding star of blaxploitation flicks such as Coffy and Foxy Brown. She has appeared in dozens of movies (Jackie Brown) as well as on stage (Fool for Love) and television (Smallville), and in a groundbreaking cable series (The L Word). Her recent best-selling memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, covers her influential career and makes public, for the first time, the details of the sexual abuse and racial prejudice she suffered as a child. We recently caught up with Grier to talk about her glory days as a female action hero, why she never married, and her plans to turn her "loneliness into laughter."

Q: Your memoir stages your life so far in three acts. What are your plans for an encore?

A: [Laughs]. Well, an artist never retires so I will continue to be an actor, whether it's in theater, television, film. I've written two screenplays. Foxy [her memoir] is being considered as a film by various companies, and I have book tours and signings through March of next year. I'm also working on behalf of literacy, trying to get people to read to seniors, not only my book but others too. I'm working with farmers to get solar-powered greenhouses built that are supported by the government so that in the winter they can grow organic foods for the farmers markets in the city.

Q: Next year you're starring in the big Hollywood comedy Larry Crowne, with Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks. You play Roberts' bff [best friend forever].

A: In the film, I support Julia and we are professors at a city college, where Tom Hanks goes to reinvent himself after losing his job. The character I play is an independent, modern woman. She's well-read and political. She defines herself, like I do, by her energy, not by her age.

Q: This is your 40th year as an actress.

A: Oh my god! Yeah, 1970 is when I got my SAG [Screen Actors Guild] card.

Q: To what do you attribute your longevity?

A: I think it's my passion for the work, and developing my craft and not being afraid to be silly. It's not about fame or money for me. I'll do regional theater for $300 a week. And I do low-budget movies like Jawbreaker for first-time directors.

Q: Your name is synonymous with blaxploitation. Can you talk about the impact movies like Coffy and Foxy Brown had when they opened?

A: It was the first time audiences got to see a black woman who could be fun and dangerous and physical as well as a leader. I think men liked that, and women enjoyed seeing images of what they could be on screen. Psychologically and politically it really ruled.

My film Black Mama, White Mama set the tone, and then Coffy gave me the platform to show what I'd learned about courage growing up. I'd been traumatized as a little girl and I was able to draw on that experience to reenact scenes of abuse and pain realistically. People said, how could she have her clothes ripped off in a scene? I wanted to show what women had been going through in society, and I thought maybe if I humanized it, people would stop hurting and oppressing women.

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