She’s done Shakespeare in New York City’s Central Park—as well as the requisite highly regarded off-Broadway play. She’s been a tough housekeeper on TV (Grand) and famed outlaw Belle Starr in the movies (The Long Riders), as well as supported some of Hollywood’s hottest leading men. Fifteen years of honing her craft and. for Pamela Reed, the biggest exposure comes with her role as comic foil to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the box office smash Kindergarten Cop.
In short, she gels to throw up repeatedly, walk around without makeup, get drenched in a rainstorm and have a ferret crawl all over her. Oh, yes, and at the end of it all, Reed gets to be hit by a car.
Can you hear her grousing? Hardly. “It was something I really wanted to do.” she says of her queasy turn as the undercover detective Phoebe O’Hara. “They don’t write roles like that for women very often, where you get to be the partner instead of a love interest or wife. And it’s fun to let it all hang out. I was so comfortable doing ‘the vomiting montage.” I didn’t have to worry about how I looked.”
Then again, Reed, 41, has never let mere appearance get in the way of a juicy part. The actress the Los Angeles Times praised as a “husky-voiced scene-stealing wonder” may stand a mere 5’5″ and weigh a measly 110 lbs., but she was more than capable of holding her own with Schwarzenegger—even, in the film’s most memorable scene, mimicking his accent and swagger. “To be in a film with Schwarzenegger and get to tease him is heaven,” says Reed. “He’s funny and kind, an absolute gentleman. Arnold is now like my adoptive brother.” Adds the devout liberal Democrat, half-jokingly: “For a Republican, you can’t beat him.”
Schwarzenegger likes her too. “She’s smart, she’s talented, she’s pretty, she’s game for anything, and she has a great sense of humor,” he says. “It was like doing Twins all over again, and I had my female Danny DeVito there.”
In the three-bedroom, 1,800-square-foot Hollywood Hills contemporary house Reed just moved into with her husband, television director Sandy Smolan, 36, and their mostly Border collie mutt. Josey, she seems more thrilled about the skylight in her bedroom than with limelight. “Last night I was lying in bed looking up at Cassiopeia, just looking at the stars,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever in my life lain in bed and looked up at the stars. I feel like I’m in a Steven Spielberg movie.”
But until they met on the set of 1987’s Rachel River, in which Smolan directed Reed. Pamela had little concept of domestic pleasure. “I was the queen of the 2½-year romance,” she says. “And I never wanted to get married. Then I met Sandy.” Accompanying Reed to Africa for a film shoot. Smolan proposed on a boat as they drifted past the Rock of Gibraltar. They were wed in Manhattan in 1988. “Suddenly,” says Pamela, “it was important to stand in a room with my peers and family and express not just my love but my commitment to the relationship.”
Behind the house with expansive views of the hills and canyons, the once-maverick star has now taken up such mundane domestic occupations as gardening, and a second sink has been installed in the kitchen so that she and Sandy can cook in tandem. (His specialty: roast loin of veal; hers: pasta putanesca.) They also keep a small apartment in New York City. “We are both passionate about what we do, and we need to be with other passionate people.”” says Smolan, who is currently directing an episode of Eddie Dodd, an upcoming series starring Treat Williams. “Our feelings about our work fuel our life together.”
Reed’s life began in Tacoma, Wash. Her father, W. Vernie Reed, who died 11 years ago, was a labor organizer who bequeathed to his daughter his passion for left-of-center politics, while her mother, Norine Geistle, was a cook and a waitress. When Pamela was 11, the family moved to Silver Spring, Md., where her father took the job of secretary-treasurer of the Laborers’ International Union.
The household was unstable: Her parents married and divorced, she has said, “several times,” but Reed doesn’t talk about it. Her adolescence appeared more normal. “I was kind of a popular kid, a cheerleader and all that,” she recalls. “Then in 10th grade I gained a lot of weight—about 20 lbs., which really showed. I think that was the year my thyroid went nuts. I was no longer cute, so I got funny.” Later, helped by thyroid medication, Reed lost the excess pounds.
The sense of humor, though, was by then ingrained—as was the ambition to perform. She studied drama at the University of Maryland, then at the University of Washington, financing her senior year there by working for six weeks as a cook’s helper on the Alaska pipeline, 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. “My dad had paid for the previous 93 years I was in college, so I thought I would pay for the last one,” she says. Moving to New York. she worked as an exercise instructor and waitress while waiting for her break. Theater work came quickly, and in 1979 Reed snared a Drama Desk award playing an incarcerated teen in Marsha Norman’s acclaimed drama Getting Out.
Out of the spotlight Pamela reads voraciously, obsesses about politics (“what I think about in the shower”) and contributes to various charities. (Before Christmas she was looking for 50 robes to give to Penny Lane, a Los Angeles shelter for abused children.) She regularly visits her mother, a dialysis patient in Washington State. “Have you ever been in a dialysis unit?” she asks. “Oh, wow! I kiss those machines when I see them. And the nurses and the doctors…it’s just a room filled with heroes.”
For her next project, “I want to be a mommy. Now!” says Reed. “And one way or the other I will be.” To hedge their bets, Reed and Smolan have hired an adoption lawyer. If a child necessitated a career hiatus, Reed wouldn’t object: “I think for a change I’d like to be the director’s wife—come on the set and have everybody be nice to me and not have to get up at 5.”
But don’t worry that she’ll ever stop performing. “My heroes are those actors working past the age of 71,” says Reed. “And I have no fear of growing old. I’m going to be a great old lady.”
Tim Allis, Marie Moneysmith in Los Angeles