Being Bad Is Wicked Fun for Superman's Seducer
updated 07/25/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 07/25/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Usually Stephenson doesn't need specially designed props to display her considerable assets. In England she first attracted attention in 1979 as a television comedienne, praised for her impersonations on the popular satirical series Not the Nine O'Clock News. Stephenson's canny talent for imitation was put to a dazzling range of tests on the show, which had a three-year run. She appeared as Barbra Streisand, Margaret Thatcher and Amy Carter. Those characterizations convinced director Richard Lester to cast her in Superman III. Says Pamela, "I do have a reputation for being outrageous."
The principal quality needed for Lorelei was the right kind of voice. Pamela studied American women in London modeling agencies, airports and hotels, looking and listening for the perfect dizzy-blonde diction. She finally found a California travel agent who quit her job to help Stephenson on the set. "She ended up a liability," says Pamela. "She had never been on a film set before and was very talkative." So was Stephenson's unconventional speech coach for her part as a Dallas con artist in the upcoming John Gielgud comedy Scandalous. Says Pamela, "I needed an authentic accent. So I dialed a telephone operator in Dallas and asked her to call me back in London and chat. She did. I listened as she went on for an hour into my answering machine."
Not that Stephenson has ever been the quiet, retiring type. In London she is as celebrated for her offscreen hi-jinks as her on-camera cutups. At a luncheon last year, she shocked some of Britain's most conservative women with a salty speech. And in another infamous incident, she and a male dinner companion decided to wreak revenge on a pesty paparazzo by diving under a restaurant table and tossing up their clothes, item by item. "The place was in a complete uproar," she recalls. "We had carnations in our teeth, sunglasses on, the tablecloth over our bodies. The guy's hands were shaking. He didn't know where to point the camera. It was a load of good fun."
Stephenson is much more guarded when it comes to her personal life. Although her agents try to pass her off as in her early 20s, the London press pegs her at 30. Born in New Zealand, Stephenson perfected her bad-girl routine at an early age. Her parents, distinguished cell biologists, maintained a "very strict" household in Sydney, Australia, where Pamela spent most of her childhood. Pamela recalls being "a dreadful show-off, an appalling child." She cites one unclothed dance—at age 3—"on the wrong side of the curtain around our bay window for the benefit of all passersby."
Not even the uptight Sydney Church of England Grammar School for Girls blunted her flair for performing. She learned dance to rehabilitate her legs after a brief attack of polio. Then she studied mime, tap and finally theater at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney. In 1975 she left Australia to see the world. Within a year she had gotten as far as London—and there she stopped. Several TV and theater bits later, she was en route to recognition, but not romance. "The stage was never a thing to attract boys," she maintains. "I didn't date until very late. I guess I sublimated my frustrations into acting. Nothing's changed."
Well, not exactly. In 1979 she married British actor Nicholas Ball. "It was a no-big-deal thing. I got married in a pair of jeans," she says. But a couple of years later she scandalized Britain by taking up with U.K. stand-up comedy nightclub favorite Billy Connally, who left his wife for Pamela. They met when she sang a dreamy love song to him on Not the Nine O'clock News. "He played the Ayatollah and I was in this nightclub version of an Israeli Army uniform. I sang, 'Ayatollah, don't Khomeini closer, I'll fall into your arms.' " Their romance has been a hot topic in the British press, which still hounds the couple. That kind of attention has taken its toll on Stephenson, who says, "I got so suspicious about everything that I even began watching our friends to see if they were selling stories about us all over the place." Not yet divorced from Ball, Pamela shares her pad—a converted fish factory in southwest London—with Connally. She calls her man "brilliant, the best in England. He does three hours of comedy at peak energy. And I know for a fact he has walked onstage without the slightest idea what he'll do. He just plucks the stuff out of the ether."
Although Superman III has introduced her antics to American audiences, Stephenson isn't gung ho on Hollywood. She has her heart and sardonic fast-wit set on a one-woman comedy-and-magic stage show in London later this year. "The major part of my life is established in London," she says, "but if appealing American film roles come along, I'll do them."
Whatever the future brings, at least Pamela's star has risen among her family. "I have two sisters, both younger and prettier," she says. "One sings opera in Zurich and the other is a commercial pilot and town planner in Australia. Stage has always made me the black sheep in my family. But now that I'm semifamous, I've sort of become a faintly gray sheep."