Jeffrey Tambor Talks His ‘Transparent’ Transformation and Being a “Young Actor Who Was Bald”
“I was scared stiff, and we began the makeup and they did the hair, and I remember Maura just appearing on my face” – Jeffrey Tambor on ‘Transparent’
Actor Jeffrey Tambor is currently wowing audiences and critics alike with his performance as Maura in Amazon Prime’s, Transparent. Now in its second season, the show is a comedy series with real heart that follows Maura, who comes out to her ex-wife and children as transgender when she is in her 70’s.
The show doesn’t shy away from the struggle families have to adapt to such a change in their life, and Transparent examines the effect Maura’s transition has on her children and ex-wife, as well as herself. It is also really funny, and there are some real laughter through tears moments.
The first season was a huge hit for Amazon, and the second season is going the same way; just this week, Tambor has picked up SAG and Golden Globe nominations for his role.
Explaining that he loved the show from the moment he read the script, Tambor says: “I had never read anything quite like this. I loved it from the very beginning.”
He adds that the actual physical transformation wasn’t all that hard for him; instead, he found the internal transformation more of a struggle.
“That journey, that uncomfortability, that vulnerability, that transition, as it were, is very, very interesting to me. I loved playing that. Maura’s like a teenager. She doesn’t know where her friends are, she doesn’t know where her home is, she doesn’t know what to do at the LGBTQ center.”
“I find myself much more vulnerable and I find myself less protective. … That’s not to say that women feel more than men or anything like that, but I do know that there’s a different feeling in myself.”
Before filming began, Tambor needed a test run of hair and make-up, in order to see how Maura would be. It led to him going out in public in character, and in turn, gave him the tiniest glimpse of what it might feel like to be in her shoes for real.
“I was scared stiff, and we began the makeup and they did the hair, and I remember Maura just appearing on my face, and I went, “Well, that’s exactly how she looks.” And we dressed her up and we went out dancing at a place called The Oxwood, and I remember walking through the lobby of that hotel and my legs were just shaking, and I said to myself, “Never, never, never, never forget this moment, because this is exactly how it is to live as Maura.”
Tambor lost all his hair while still in high school; a hard fate to deal with when you’re still in your teens. Accepting that this was now his lifelong appearance, he says he resigned himself to being typecast.
“It was awful. It was terrible. I remember — my father cried, first of all, and that’s true. … He was very upset. The thing that turned out great was I would go to summer stock and I would play all the older men. When I was growing up, there was a character on TV, there was a character stereotype, it was personified by Mel on The Dick Van Dyke Show. … I was a young actor who was bald, but at that time there was a thing on television that, there was a prototype or a stereotype of a principal who was bald and mean with glasses, or there was … the angry boss who was bald. … So that was the sort of thing that I aspired to, I said, ‘OK, well, I’ll be the bald character man who will always be number 6 or 5 or 4 on the call sheet, and that’s where I will live my life.’ And literally that was my sort of career concept.”
Of course, that was far from the case, and fantastic roles in Arrested Development and now Transparent have finally brought him the recognition and acclaim he really deserves. Interestingly, Tambor credits his sobriety with helping his acting, enabling him to give more depth to his roles.
“I can only speak for me … but in my life, I find that in sobriety I feel much more, and I have much more depth. I also feel, not to segue, but as being a parent of five kids, I can bring much more to my acting, and so I’m all about anything that gives you more feeling and more depth. … In feeling more, the waters can get rough, but so what? Let the waters be rough. If I hadn’t been sober I don’t think I would’ve even been around for Transparent. Your resources are feeling, your resources are depth, your resources are learning, your resources are touching and feeling, and to me sobriety helps and aids all of that.”