Things are run a little differently on the set of “Transparent.” For as fast as traditional television moves, Jill Soloway and her team are focused on slowing things down. But more than that, they want to make sure everyone knows this is a group effort, and in that idea lies a beautiful experience. Kathryn Hahn — whose turn as Raquel, the rabbi, displayed extraordinary depth, vulnerability and humor in Season 2 — recalled what it was like filming “Transparent” in a recent conversation with Indiewire, digging into a unique tradition you’ll want to adopt for your own day-to-day life.
We hear great things about what happens on the set of “Transparent.” What was your initial experience when you came on for Season 1?
I read Jeffrey Tambor say this in something, and I think it sums it up perfectly. He always talks about how sometimes on a usual set, you will go through your scene, you’ll do coverage and at the very end, the director will say, “Okay, this one can be for you guys.” And that’s the starting place for “Transparent.” That feeling of complete autonomy and freedom is where you start. I don’t think I had ever felt that comfortable in front of a camera because there’s so much trust.
I’ve worked with Jill before, on a movie called “Afternoon Delight.” And I remember she also had the same director of photography, Jim Frohna — who is a huge piece of this — and in that, I could see them start to establish a methodology, or a lack of methodology, and just an openness that felt incredibly revolutionary. It felt like you were kind of playing; like back to that same feeling when I was a kid playing pretend — that complete immersion. Knowing that the eyes behind the camera are looking at you with such empathy and such love and is as invested emotionally as you are… It just gives you such freedom. I hope that makes sense.
Oh, it does. How did that “lack of methodology” develop from “Afternoon Delight” to Season 1 and through Season 2?
I had never been in something that had that kind of effect, or that had that kind of attention on it so immediately [like “Transparent” did]. I have to be honest, I was not expecting “Transparent” to feel so similar [to “Afternoon Delight.”] Just that that noise had not infiltrated [the set] where we are looking for the truth and trying to play. It really didn’t. I was stunned by that. I mean, except for Jeffrey Tambor. It really went to his head. He just became a total asshole.
I’m kidding. He’s the best. He’s the goddamn best. But no, I think the one thing that maybe had changed, which was incredible, is that every day, there’s a moment where a crew or cast member is tapped on the shoulder to basically get on a box and talk. There’s an energy behind it. Sometimes you walk in and it’s an intense scene, and the actors rehearse it separately and then the crew comes in, but they’re not that invested in it. And that way of bringing us all together at the beginning of the day has been just common sense. We’re all making this together. Like, “Of course! That’s exactly what you should do.” And not in a douchey way, [laughs] but in an honest and, “Let’s all pay attention and be on the same page to get this work done the best that we can, together.” I was like, “Of course that’s how you do it!” Why would you do it any other way?
How do they go about choosing who’s going to be speaking and what they talk about?
I’m not sure. I don’t know who does it! [What they say is] personal or funny or someone will sing a song. It just puts everybody on the same playing field. I think that’s a great equalizer. It’s very democratic. Our amazing prop person will get up and sing a beautiful song and you’re like, “I didn’t know they could play guitar.” You start feeling a little bit closer. I think the work becomes richer because you feel that much safer. It’s not just you, you’re not the only one sharing your soul. Because everybody does. You hear those stories about people being like, “I’ll do the scene naked, but only if everybody behind the camera is too!” I guess it’s like that, but emotionally.
Did you ever get tapped on the shoulder?
No, I haven’t yet.
Have you thought about what you might say or what you’d do?
It’s really random! Oh God, I probably would just start bawling like a baby, just with crazy gratitude; just for being invited to this amazing party. Really, really, it’s so crazy. They just trust it. We know these people really well by now, and it just doesn’t feel like hype. None of it does. It just feels very open, loose. It always feels so embarrassing talking about it because I sound so, like, embarrassingly actor-y. But it does. It is such common sense to me.
Was there a piece of advice you got or a direction, in Season 2, specifically, that you’re going to remember from this season?
For some reason, I’m such a swayer when I’m standing, maybe because I’m a mom with two kids. When I’m off-camera, wherever, I sometimes just sway. [laughs] Maybe because I’m so used to rocking my baby to sleep — I think a lot of moms would say the same thing — but I just remember being gently reminded to just maybe stand still. It really ended up being kind of a rooting thing for Raquel, for me, into that part — to be still. I know it sounds so tiny and simple, but it was really big.
No, that’s great!
My energy’s usually a marvel. I’m usually all over the map, so to just kind of root it to the earth was a big one. I am a little bit of an energetic spaz.
There does seem to be a moment — sometimes it’s just a casual piece of advice or something that others notice — but that’s what clicks. “Oh, I get it. I know what I need to be.”
Yeah! I’m so used to just pushing in that place — the ham in me. I have learned a ton about myself, too, through Raquel. Not pushing has been really — at 42 — a great thing to realize. “Just hold steady” has been a real big thing. There’s so much listening from Raquel, and I just want to be a better listener in all of my life, I think. That sounds so douchey, but you know what I mean.
“Transparent” is streaming now via Amazon Prime.
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