As the head of the Pfefferman family on Amazon Studios’ Transparent, Jeffrey Tambor helped create TV history the past year. His portrayal of a retired academic father of three perpetually self-involved adult children—who late in life embraces his true transgender identity—won him the Golden Globe for best TV comedy actor in January. The Jill Soloway-created show also won best comedy series at the Golden Globes, the first time a streaming service has taken that prize. Tambor’s Maura additionally has sparked a greater conversation and awareness in the culture about the transgender community. Acclaimed before its full first season debuted on September 26, Transparent was re-upped for a second season in October, which is set to launch later this year.
You’ve had a long career and played several iconic roles, from Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show to George Bluth, Sr. and Oscar Bluth on Arrested Development. What has the role of Maura meant to you?
It’s the most transformative role I’ve had, and I’ve been very lucky in my career. Maura and I are the same age, and we met each other at exactly the right point. So I feel it’s a real gift that I’ve been given; it’s wonderful. I’m starting season two in a month and I’m so excited.
Season one ended with an unspoken dramatic revelation at the Pfefferman dinner table. Will season two pick up right after?
I’m not even being coy, I have purposely asked Jill (Soloway) not to tell me. First of all, she’s not telling us too much yet anyway. Also, I like not knowing. I know one thing, it’s a tone more than anything, but I think they’re going to probably take a little more layers off of Maura—take the safety wrappers off of her a little bit.
You sound so connected to Maura, like you live and breathe with her. Do you feel that way?
There’s a wonderful adage in acting that you’re stuck with the character but the character is also stuck with you. Obviously, in casting me, Jill saw something in me that I can bring to Maura, and indeed it has been a real delight for me. I thought the real trail for me as an actor was going to be an external one, such as we think of quote, feminine, unquote, but indeed that was not the case. The real road, to me, was within the actor, within myself, within my own personality. How much Jeffrey can I find and how much of Jeffrey could I access? What parts of Jeffrey have I never used for Hank or for George or Oscar?—and that was a delight. And it continues to be a delight as well as a real thrill for me as an actor. Maura’s authentic pursuit comes with finding her real self, and that’s emblematic of something that’s really happening in the world—something that needs to have light shone on it and needs to be visible. It’s part of the conversation now. It’s incredible.
Does that thrill extend to finding yourself in the streaming world once again, now at Amazon?
Well, it’s quite daunting to push a button on a Friday and then on late Saturday get a whole bunch of emails or texts saying, “I’ve seen them all,” and “Where’s season two?” But I kind of love it. I also think that streaming is where lot of writers, a lot of actors and a lot of directors are coming over to, so it seems to be where storytelling is going. I can’t say enough about the guts and the talents of Amazon. They’re so agile, they’re so nimble; they picked us up two weeks after we premiered and their whole attitude is, “Go, go, go, go,” so I’m very, very impressed.
They put a lot of trust in Jill, you and the show.
Yes, and I’ve said that working with Jill is one of the safest steps known. There is no error, there is really no such thing as the bad take. It’s a real joint effort partially because Jill is not only a great director and a real writer, but she’s a real alchemist, in the true sense of the word.
Transparent not only has been the breakout hit for Amazon but, as you said, it’s part of a much larger social discussion now in America about gender, the transgendered and identity. What does that discussion mean to you?
When people come up and talk to me about this show, they always talk to me ultimately about their family and some secret in their family. Sometimes it’s a story about transition, sometimes it’s a story about a relative who is a part of the transgender community, sometimes it’s just about their family and their secret. Watching that, I’ve sort of come up with this theory that our show asks a very basic question of, “If I change, will you still love me?” A gentleman came up to me on the plane a few months ago, very corporate, very manicured, very hair just so, and he just grabbed my hand and he said, “Thank you for introducing me to a subject that I had no knowledge of.” I remember saying, “We’re in. We’re making a difference. We are communicating.”