Interview: Jill Soloway, Creator Of 'Transparent' Amazon Studios' Transparent features a slate of well-known actors playing a family dealing with the revelation that the person they'd known as Mort, their father, is a transgender woman.
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In 'Transparent', Transgender Issues Are A Family Affair

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In 'Transparent', Transgender Issues Are A Family Affair

In 'Transparent', Transgender Issues Are A Family Affair

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It's one of the peculiarities of our age that a show that's appeared on many critics' lists is one of the best new shows of the fall TV season isn't really a TV show. "Transparent" tells the story of a transgender person played by Jeffrey Tambor who comes out to her adult children.


AMY LANDECKER: (As Sarah) Are you saying that you're going to start dressing up like a lady all the time?

JEFFREY TAMBOR: (As Mort) No, honey. All my life, my whole life, I've been dressing up like a man.

RATH: "Transparent" is not a broadcast show. It's being released online by Amazon. All 10 episodes will be available on Friday. So if you're like me, you can binge.

The show's creator, Jill Soloway, is a veteran TV producer with shows like "Six Feet Under" and "The United States of Tara" under her belt. A lot of her work is focused on gender issues.

Soloway's father is transgender. So you might think that's behind her interest. But when she came by NPR West, Jill told me that her father only came out several years ago, long after she started writing about these issues.

JILL SOLOWAY: A lot of people sort of talk about art as a way that the soul expresses itself - that you can really learn a lot about your unconscious by just looking at what you create. It's the unspoken part of the soul, the unspoken parts of the self, that when expressed in art will often feel really resonant. You know, people will say it just wrote itself.

I think a lot of times those are expressing things that are there that we don't have words for yet. And so for me to find out that after probably three decades, if not four decades, of struggling with questions about gender, it was actually kind of exciting and kind of freeing to know that I had this legacy of gender queerness in my family.

RATH: Let's hear a little bit from the show. This is the Jeffrey Tambor character, Mort, who becomes Maura. He's in a group-therapy situation talking about something that he'd experienced.


TAMBOR: (As Mort) And the girl at the cash register said I need to see some ID with that credit card of yours. And you know what that's like, right? And I just knew this is going not be good. This is going to get ugly. And so she just kept looking at me. And then she said oh. And I didn't - I was like do not cry in front of this woman. Do not cry in front of this woman.

RATH: You're dealing with transgendered people. This is still an area which - where feelings are still kind of raw in a lot of ways.


RATH: There's still a very active debate where people can get offended.

SOLOWAY: Yeah, so much. I need to correct a few things you've already said in this interview.

RATH: Sure. Please.

SOLOWAY: No offense. But just so you understand when you said that the character was talking about his experience in a store and he was in a support group, that you could actually use the pronoun she or they, but not he, to refer to Maura. Even though the actor is male, the character is female. So we use the pronoun she or they for Maura. And then you just used the word transgendered, which is actually not considered the correct word. It's transgender - transgender people.

RATH: Gotcha. Well, this is an instructive moment about that exactly, so...

SOLOWAY: We're all learning. We're all learning. I'm learning every day and hopefully the audience - the audience will begin to learn along with the (unintelligible).

RATH: So how do you deal with this? Because I know that pretty much from the moment this was being conceived, you were under the scrutiny of a lot of people?

SOLOWAY: Yes. There is a very vocal trans-activist presence on the Internet. And thank God for them. And thank God for the kind of feedback, really, because the world knows so little about being trans. And I know very little about being trans. I just know what it's like to be the child of a trans person.

But there's so little trans representation. There's so few trans people who are creating content. So we really depend on the trans community to help us get it right. And, you know, we're happy to be corrected.

And we have trans consultants on the show. We had a whole bunch of trans people hired on the show. We're using it not only as, you know, a job and a comedy and a drama and a piece of TV, but we're creating our own little civil rights movement here in Hollywood.

RATH: Have you been getting a hard time from anybody by casting Jeffrey Tambor as a transgender character?

SOLOWAY: Yes. as a trans woman. And I really understand why. I think when I first wanted to cast Jeffrey Tambor, it was really because he reminded me of my parent. And I always had Jeffrey Tambor in my mind for this role as soon as I started conceiving of the show.

I think that was really from a very naive place, where I really didn't understand the grave grave problems of the lack of trans representation on television. There are just so few trans people playing trans people.

It's really a shame that there wasn't that trans actress that I could have cast in the role in that moment. So since then, I really did become educated and become politicized to the problem of what it means to cast a cis-male in a trans woman role. We did cast a bunch of other trans roles. We had 15 other speaking parts for trans people.

RATH: You know, there's been a lot of talk about the new production model where, you know, Netflix and in your case Amazon are directly producing work like this. Do you think you could've pitched this to a network and would it have worked in the old system?

SOLOWAY: I don't really think it would have. I mean, I don't think it could have. It feels very, very, very new. I think there are a lot of things about this moment that feel so perfect. For Amazon to binge release these - so it's all 10, you could take five hours and take it all in at once - is really just a great way to allow an artist to kind of go deep and make one really big piece of art that I can kind of put my hands around and go here it all is.

RATH: It's really hard just to watch one of these.

SOLOWAY: Oh, good.

RATH: I wasn't able to.

SOLOWAY: OK, yeah, you kept going. I love that. I'm hoping people will watch all 10 and then maybe watch all 10 again.

RATH: That's Jill Soloway. She's the creator and director of the new show "Transparent." You can watch the pilot show now on Amazon Prime and the rest of the series will premiere this Friday. Jill, thanks so much.

SOLOWAY: Thank you.

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