Jeffrey Tambor talks about finding his way into his ‘Transparent’ character

Jeffrey Tambor
Actor Jeffrey Tambor plays Mort, the head of a self-involved, dysfunctional clan in Los Angeles who very much wants to reveal something to family members in Amazon’s dramedy “Transparent.”
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

For Jeffrey Tambor, a hotel lobby was the first obstacle in taking on his role in Amazon’s newest original series “Transparent.”


The half-hour dramedy, which hit the streaming site Friday morning, explores gender identity, with Tambor playing a man who late in life is ready to live his true life as a transgender woman named Maura. The series has been met with praise from critics, particularly for Tambor’s performance.

The transition for the 70-year-old actor, best known for his turn on “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Arrested Development,” came with plenty of nerves.


Tambor, in a recent sit-down with the L.A. Times, talked about getting acquainted with his inner-Maura with the assistance of the show’s transgender consultants Jenny Boylan, Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker ahead of shooting the pilot:

“They came to the hotel and we had a long, long talk. They taught me a little bit about makeup and things like that. Then we put on our wardrobe. I put on makeup. I put on a wig. And I can remember my legs were shaking, literally trembling—not so much because we were going to a club, but I was so nervous about the walk through the hotel lobby. And I remember telling myself: ‘Remember this. Don’t forget this. Let this instruct every single one of your shots and your days.’ And it did. It has nothing to do with the entirety of what being transgendered is, by any means, but it informed me.

“The psychology is what’s imperative. The other stuff—hair, wardrobe--is facile. When I went to have my nails painted, I just walked into this manicure place and did it. A couple of people, though, in there had a problem with it and they were looking at me, but I had no problem. And maybe that was odd, I don’t know. But the real thing is to look within and find your own, for want of a better word, femininity.

Another thing I wanted to do was go grocery shopping at Gelson’s. I wanted to figure out what her life would be like alone, in transition, and what would she buy, how she would interact with strangers. I know it sounds method-y, but actually, it was just a way to get to know her. Afterward, we went to lunch and there were a couple of people who looked at me: And I couldn’t figure out—'are they looking at me because I look odd, or are they recognizing that I’m Jeffrey Tambor?’ But I said, it doesn’t really matter because whatever I’m feeling and the way I’m being looked at is something that makes me feel judged. Then we went outside and there were no tables available! And so that meant we had to sit with people. We sat with this man. He looked up casually, kept texting, looked up, kept texting. Then he walked away and said, ‘Have a nice day, ladies.’ And I beamed.”


For a fuller version of the conversation, check out the Sunday Calendar section on Oct. 5.

Twitter: @villarrealy

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