ONSCREEN OR OFF, PAM GRIER knows how to clean up the 'hood. As the fierce, sexy star of 70s blaxploitation films like Coffy and Foxy Brown, her weapon of choice against drug pushers was a shotgun. In real life, on the mountainside ranch near Denver where Grier lives today, she favors a chain saw and hammer. "My life is hard work," she says. "I'm into cutting trees and putting up roofs and fences."

Still, you can't take the city out of the actress. In the new urban action movie Original Gangstas, opening May 10, Grier, 46, stars as an avenging mother with a blaxploitation Who's Who, including Fred Williamson {Hell Up in Harlem) and Jim Brown (Riot). Costars say Grier still has her intensity. "I loved playing off Pam," says Brown. "Shegoes for it!"

And has all her working life. Grier, born in Winston-Salem, N.C., came to Hollywood at age 19 from Denver, where dad Clarence's career as a U.S. Air Force mechanic had taken him, his wife, Gwendolyn, and their three kids. In L.A., Grier studied acting and worked the switchboard for B-movie king Samuel Z. Arkoff, whom she persuaded to cast her in the title role of 1973's Coffy as a nurse turned vigilante. Such films may seem campy today, but Grier is philosophical. "Those parts," she says, "broadened the spectrum of roles for women being demonstrative."

If Grier herself got only small parts through the '80s, lately things are looking up on all fronts. She has never wed but is now "involved with someone I care for very much." While she won't identify the person, the stars of her upcoming Z movies need no introduction. Grier will appear with Kurt Russell in Escape from L.A. and is now filming the sci-fi thriller Mars Attacks, starring Jack Nicholson. To Grier, such high-profile gigs are just desserts. "I've honed my skills," says Grier, looking for a moment like Foxy Brown. "I bust my butt."