Less a show about Maura’s transition than a rich story about family and personal change, the Emmy-winning dramedy delves into the complicated lives of the Pfefferman family after its patriarch comes out as transgender. Tambor plays Maura Pfefferman, whose coming out serves as a window through which the viewer can understand the situations of each of the Pfefferman children, Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass), and Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), as well as their mother Shelly (Judith Light).
Speaking to Indiewire before the event, Hoffmann said, “I see all of us as a sort of constellation. Certainly Maura is the North Star, but I see us as this moving entity where we’re all the same and we’re all each the center of our own universes, but we’re also made of the same stardust.”
Tambor offered a similar sentiment, telling Indiewire, “I’m not the leading character. I’m the gateway and what has happened to Maura has sort of started everyone on their journey, which is exactly what it should be.”
Check out the highlights of the panel below.
Being on “Transparent” is a Little Like Being in a Really Good Cult
When describing the incomparable feeling on set cultivated by Soloway, Duplass said, “Jill has this way about her where she gives you this confidence and this knowing. Honestly, it was when Jill brought me into the room to read with Gaby and Amy that, I don’t know, we were just fucking with each other in this primal brother and sister way.”
Duplass continued, “There’s something about this show that with everything you do that you have this thing in the back of your head where you’re like, ‘Who am I to deny this? This force is just so much more powerful than all of us.’ I mean, this sounds crazy. It sounds like we’re in a cult… We’re in a fucking cult, okay? And it’s a great cult, guys. It’s a really good cult.”
Following the comparison, the whole cast then erupted, demonstrating the same riffing talent that lends the show it’s organic and spontaneous quality.
Speaking to the audience, Light joked, “You guys would really like it.” Landecker then added, “Lock the doors,” as Tambor beckoned, “You’ll feel better. Come with us.” Holding up her water bottle, Hoffmann drolly asked, “Anybody thirsty?”
Duplass concluded by saying, “They’re joking, but we were just crying and groping each other in the hallway, and I’m seriously not kidding.”
Soloway on Creating Season 2 in a Post-Caitlyn World
In making this show, Jill Soloway has always felt the responsibility to be an active ally of the trans movement. Speaking to Indiewire, Soloway described how she constantly sought to educate herself, recounting that, “Right before the Emmys, I was confabbing with Laverne Cox in the days leading up saying, ‘What’s the statistic? What are we repeating on the red carpet? What are pieces of information that we need to get out?’ I think there are so few people who have the opportunity to speak that for the moments that we do we have the chance to speak we want to get it right.”
In between Season 1 and Season 2, the cultural landscape has changed tremendously as the trans movement has grown and increased public awareness. Soloway mentioned how the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner relieved some of the pressure on Maura to carry the cultural mantle of the trans movement and allowed “Transparent” to take new risks in its second season.
“We felt like once Caitlyn came out that America kind of had its ‘Trans 101 Education,’ and we were really getting the opportunity in Season 2 to go deeper into the stories of these people and to really let people know about a whole bunch of ways to be trans.”
Soloway clarified that, “There’s the Caitlyn way and the Maura way, which are sort of similar: upper middle class white person transitioning with a whole bunch of privilege, later in life.” But she went on to stress that, “We wanted to tell a bunch of stories, including one from Berlin, including the stories of Maura’s roommates, Davina and Shea, and we hope to be able to keep that going in Season 3 for more kinds of trans people.”
Jeffrey Tambor on the Responsibility and Honor of Playing Maura
When asked about how he approaches his role as Maura, Tambor began by noting, “It’s the safest set I’ve ever been on. […] I don’t think I’ll ever lose the tapping of responsibility. That is with me every day, and that’s a good thing. It’s sometimes a little scary because it’s a huge responsibility. I’m a cisgender male, and I have this huge portrayal to do and I want to do it right. And the way to do it right is to do it human and to make the mistakes that she would make and that keeps me going.”
Tambor elaborated on the amount of careful preparation he takes. “I followed the breadcrumbs [pointing to Jill], that’s the template and that seems simplistic, but that’s true. I was given trans consultants to study with — Jenny Boyland, Zachary Drucker, Rhys Ernst, Van Barnes — my learning goes day-to-day, but I would say I’ve been given the opportunity to plumb more of Jeffrey than I’ve ever been able to.”
“I thought I was going to daunted by the exteriors and all of the exteriorization, but I actually kind of liked that, and I like a mani-pedi and I like all of that,” Tamber continued. “I do. I had no problem with that, and they had such a vision and the great Marie Schlay had it down so terrifically. But I think the interior– There’s an old adage in acting that you’re stuck with the part and the part is stuck with you, and I was able to bring more of Jeffrey than I’ve ever been able to. That’s been the real revelation, and I’m surprised by it too, but I really like Maura.”
“Maura’s very real to me and when she first came out — no pun intended — when she first came out in makeup at the hotel that night, she looked exactly like I thought she was going to look. And as I was watching her in the wedding tonight, I went, ‘That’s how she looks.’ She’s a friend.”
“I always imagined that acting felt like what we’re doing. You get to use all of yourself rather than just the male part or the part that’s accepted, so I think that what you’re seeing is something that I didn’t even know about or don’t even know about or can’t name, which is great. This whole thing is about connecting. I get to connect to Maura Pfefferman and she gets to teach me,” Tambor concluded.
Amazon Prime is a Showrunner’s Paradise
Soloway and the entire cast were eager to note that the culture of creativity fostered on set would not be possible without the amount of trust and support shown by Amazon. When asked to describe the relationship between the show and Amazon, Soloway responded, “When I think about Amazon, I think about this person named Joe,” referring to Joe Lewis, the Amazon executive and creative consultant who has seated in the front row. Soloway continued, “He’s like a brother to me, so it’s very intuitive, very creative, very much, ‘So what do you want to do?’”
“Amazon Prime is the wind beneath our wings,” Light added. “They are extraordinary. They come to the set just to hang out with us.”
Tambor then reiterated how important it is to be allowed such freedom on set, saying, “You don’t notice it, but not to be noted or to have chairs on the deck and to have people sitting there, we are free and we are supported. […] I think the secret of life is to work with people who get you and you get, and I think that’s why we’re all very, very excited to be working with Amazon. And Joe is a genius, we have the same therapist, I think that might help. [laughs]”
Hoffmann verified the unconventional nature of the relationship with their streaming partner. “I haven’t done a lot of TV, but I think it’s probably weird to have an executive who’s not wearing matching socks. That’s our boss [pointing to Joe Lewis], one red, one blue. That’s how free and easy it is.”
“Is it a cult? No, it’s just feminism.”
Toward the end of the discussion, Soloway blew up Duplass’ well-intentioned metaphor, saying, “There isn’t a cult, I’m not doing nothing. I think the unspoken thing that we are experiencing is the power of feminism.”
She first encountered this feminine style of leadership while working under Alan Ball as a writer on “Six Feet Under.” Soloway recalled the way in which producer Alan Poul described Ball’s feminine leadership style, “…meaning that you stand behind the troops and push them all forward, rather than stand in front and go ‘We’re going this way.'”
Soloway then elaborated on how she brings feminism to the professional setting when making her own television now. “I bring to work a feminist and feminine way of leadership where I’m not trying to get my shot, I’m not trying to get my words said right, there is no right. I’m not trying to capture something.”
Soloway continued, “I’m here to let everybody know that I know we think we’re here to make a TV show, but what’s most important is that we have fun and treat each other well, that there are no excuses to treating each other poorly.”
“I think there’s something about a feminine style of leadership that is a little bit inspired by what Mom would do if her kids brought their friends home and they were going to put on a play in the backyard. She would just make sure that they all had fun and had enough to eat and were treating each other well and knew when they needed to take a break,” Soloway concluded.
Jay Duplass on Why People in the Industry Hate the “Transparent” Team
Before he began acting on the show as Josh Pfefferman, Duplass was primarily known for being a prolific director and producer with his brother Mark, with whom he runs the HBO show “Togetherness.”
Duplass compared his own process with Soloway’s. “Jill and I are really similar in how we make things. There are so many profound differences if you know how things are typically made in TV or in film. The show is just inherently opposite of that. The feeling is that we are making something together and the positions are not as hardcore defined.”
“You will go on set sometimes and you will walk into what you think will be a really easy scene, and you will be there for six hours trying to figure out what the fuck it is that we’re trying to do, and no one really knows and not knowing is okay. You may walk into a scene that you think is going to take all day and you pound it out in an hour and 10 minutes and you go home and that’s okay,” Duplass described. “I don’t know how surprising that would be, but for people that are in the industry that is wildly surprising. They all hate us. [laughs]”
How to Cultivate an Environment of Play, Trust and Respect
When an audience member asked for advice on how to create a nurturing environment like “Transparent” has when there are so many practical concerns that go along with production, Soloway bluntly stated, “The practical concerns are bullshit because they really harm the work. One of the most important things to remember is that we’re doing acting and the word is play.”
Soloway then continued, “Anybody who would come from a network or a studio and who would stand at the monitor with their arms folded and watch it as if it needs to adhere to their standard is harming the work. They are harming the work by acting like there’s a standard that they know.”
She went on to reveal what she learned from working as part of a theater company in Chicago. “If you prioritize the process, whisper, whisper, you will have a better product. It will actually make a better product for those people who love the product to prioritize the process.”
On “Transparent,” Soloway noted, “I’ll hold hands with the actors and I’ll say, ‘We are gathered here to connect over gratitude.'” Drawing a powerful contrast, she noted, “On most sets, they say, ‘We’re running out of time, we’re running out of money, we’re running out of light.’ The mantra here is, ‘We have plenty of time, we have plenty of money and we are the light.’ And it’s cheesy, but it fucking works.”
“People are dedicated and people are really getting this on every single level, in the production house, in back of the camera, in front of the camera,” added Tambor. “And there is no reason it has to be otherwise. There is no reason except fear, male superiority, and horseshit,” concluded Tambor with a stamp of authority.
“Transparent” will return for Season 2 December 4 via Amazon Prime and has already been renewed for a third season.