Jeffrey Tambor is best known for his delightfully offbeat characters, from the fawning sidekick to Garry Shandling’s late-night talk show host on “The Larry Sanders Show” to the head of the dysfunctional Bluth family in the recently revived cult favorite “Arrested Development.”
For his latest role, Tambor will get in touch with his feminine side.
On a recent September afternoon in the Pasadena hills, Tambor sported long, shoulder-length blonde hair, palazzo pants and chunky jewelry over a white blouse -- the wardrobe favored by his character in “Transparent,” in which the paterfamilias reveals to his grown children that he is exploring a new identity as “Maura.”
“Transparent” is one of three comedy pilots put into production by Amazon Studios as the retail giant deepens its investment in original content. Customers will be invited to watch and rate these shows, a process which will influence which pilots should be produced as series and made available exclusively on Amazon’s Prime Instant Video and on LoveFilm in Britain.
The pilot, written by “United States of Tara” and “Six Feet Under” producer Jill Soloway, finds humor in the awkward exchanges between characters (but is not the least bit camp -- this is no cross-dressing comedy in the vein of ABC’s canceled “Work It.”)
Tambor sat down with the Los Angeles Times to discuss his role:
Q: How did you learn about this project?
I was coming out here [to Los Angeles] to do publicity, and they sent me the script. I read it literally before I got to the hotel. I said, “I need to meet on this.” I was so taken by it. It’s so different, so wonderful, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. And yet it’s so human.... Everybody can relate to this. It’s about families. It’s about boundaries. It’s about love. And it’s really funny.
Q: How did you prepare for the role?
I said to my wife, “What if I’m not pretty?” It’s such a male thing. I was so worried about that. But I love this. I’m a lot less nervous than I thought I would be. This exploration is the same exploration my character Mort is going through. That’s the real saving grace, is that he’s young in the transition -- or she’s young in the transition -- and I’m young in the transition.
I’ll tell you one thing that’s very odd. If you have long hair, you eat differently. I find myself going like this (he brushes back his curls with a sweeping gesture). It’s right there. It’s not even an affectation.
The only uncomfortable moment I had, was when we took her out one night, and I walked through a lobby -- a group of us went sort of on a field trip. I was nervous about going through the lobby. What was odd was, there was nothing.
Q: No reaction?
There was nothing. I thought, “Well, that’s interesting, because a lot of this, then, is in your head.”
All my creative life, I’ve tried to go to things that make me alert, things that make me stand up and pay attention -- and this is one of them. “Arrested” was one of them. “Larry Sanders." I want to enter into this world. And I feel I’m in the same area. [Show creator Soloway] is a genius -- genius with a capital “gene.”
Q: Is there anything different about this platform? Are the projects different from the ones that come through more traditonal TV outlets?
The answer to that is yes. I love this side of the fence. This side of the fence really excites me. We’re sending it a different way, and there’s a different audience.... The envelope is different, and they go, “This envelope is mine. This is my generation. I understand this. Thank you for sending it this way, without a laugh track, without a commercial.”
It’s sort of like off-Broadway. It’s a little like the tightrope, but that’s why I’m in this business. Who went in to stay off the tightrope?
Q: What was it like going through the process of hair and makeup? What happened to you as watched your physical transformation?
The first day I did hair and makeup, they put the wig on me and i liked it. I liked hair. You know one of the big perks of this job is? I get to go to hair! I haven’t gone to hair in 50 years.