KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
At the center of the Amazon show "Transparent" is a transgender woman named Maura, who for decades was known to her kids as Mort, or Dad. Longtime TV and film actor Jeffrey Tambor plays Maura as she and her family deal with her transition. Here's a scene with Tambor as Maura, talking to co-star Judith Light about Maura's sister.
JUDITH LIGHT: (As Shelly Pfefferman) Well, was she at least cordial to you?
JEFFREY TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) No, is a lizard cordial? She's a filing cabinet with a hairdo. I mean, she hated me when I was male. And, you know, when she was little, she used to accuse me of wearing her clothes.
LIGHT: (As Shelly Pfefferman) Did you?
TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) Of course I did.
MCEVERS: The show's third season comes out tomorrow. And I talked to Jeffrey Tambor this week.
TAMBOR: When those roles come along, you don't run away. It's a perfect role. You know, I thought I was going to do Lear, but I'm going to do Maura.
MCEVERS: Tambor has just won his second Emmy in a row for playing Maura. Tambor is cisgender, which is another way of saying he is not transgender. And at the Emmys on ABC, he said more trans actors should be given a chance to play these roles.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TAMBOR: Give them auditions. Give them their story. Do that. And also, one more thing - I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television.
MCEVERS: You almost sounded a little nervous there. Am I wrong?
TAMBOR: Oh, did you hear my voice quavering?
TAMBOR: In the first sentence, I said, I'm not going to say this beautifully. And I didn't know I was going to say it. I had it sort of - first of all, I didn't think I was going to win. And I'm not being coy. There's not a coy aspect to me.
MCEVERS: Uh huh (laughter).
TAMBOR: And so I was very surprised when I won. And so I was very nervous about that. And I had this list, and I actually forgot people. And I forgot my wife. But I did want to say - I wanted to say that.
MCEVERS: The issue is, right - and it is a sensitive issue...
MCEVERS: ...Is that you are playing a trans woman...
MCEVERS: ...When you are not a trans woman. And so...
TAMBOR: That is correct.
MCEVERS: ...I am sure you have heard the criticism. Some people even call it transface...
MCEVERS: ...It's like a reference to blackface...
TAMBOR: Yeah. I must tell you, that has become lessened and less and less and less because I think Jill Soloway has proved her intention.
MCEVERS: She's the showrunner.
TAMBOR: Everything is done with love. But there is not a day that goes by that I don't go to the set where I have that, you know, that tap-tap-tap on my shoulder of, you are fortunate. And you have a responsibility. And do this right - not for 87 Rotten Tomatoes, not for the review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer - is there still a Cleveland Plain Dealer, by the way?
MCEVERS: Yes, yes.
TAMBOR: Oh, and - but to do it right for the community because - some people eye roll when I say this - but because lives are at stake. And that's the truth.
MCEVERS: Jill Soloway has recently said that, you know, if she were to cast this role now, she would make a different decision. She wouldn't cast a cisgender male in this role.
MCEVERS: I mean, in some ways, you know, are you kind of putting yourself out of work by saying that only certain people should play certain roles?
TAMBOR: I'll be OK. I'll be fine, you know.
TAMBOR: You know, I'm not 34, either. And - I'm 36.
MCEVERS: And a half (laughter).
TAMBOR: And a half, and - no, I just think the time has come. And I'm glad she said that, yeah. The revolution is here. And my kids and their grandkids will not accept this. There are talented people out there. They need a chance. Someone has to write the stories and give them a chance.
MCEVERS: How much did you know about transgender people before you got the role?
TAMBOR: I grew up in San Francisco, and - a very liberal community, but I must tell you I think I had - there was a capital-I on my ignorance. I really had to go to school and am continuing to go to school. I have the greatest trans consultants, teachers - but the fail-safe in this role, and it helps the actor Jeffrey Tambor, is that Maura is also learning as she continues.
TAMBOR: I did not know that you had to learn makeup. I just thought you went, oh, I'm going to put on some makeup.
MCEVERS: You just knew it - oh, no, so much to learn.
TAMBOR: And I'm sorry. This is why men are a - another species entirely.
TAMBOR: And this is why we've just - they've just assigned us hunting and gathering.
TAMBOR: But everything is new to me. And I had a big learning curve. But it's a wonderful learning curve. And it's changed my life. I think it's made me a better daddy. I think it made me a better citizen. I think it's made me more aware. I get to use more of Jeffrey than I've ever had to use and gotten to use in my acting. People say, do you get to use more, you know, femininity? I think I have femininity. I have masculinity. But I get to use all of Jeffrey. And that's very powerful. And this is what I always thought when I went down in my little basement in San Francisco where I grew up and daydreamed about being an actor. It felt like this, yeah.
MCEVERS: Yeah, it's interesting, you talk about you and Maura both learning what it means to be trans together...
TAMBOR: Yeah, yeah.
MCEVERS: ...Which makes me think if it were a trans actor, that would be different, right, as somebody who has already learned that.
TAMBOR: Yeah. And in my defense, and in Jill's defense, Maura's 70 years old. Maura's pre-surgery. Maura has made a decision. And so I think the casting is just. But we've learned. We've learned so much in the last four years. And I understand what Jill is saying.
MCEVERS: Were you thinking to yourself from the beginning, you know, are there certain things I shouldn't do, like certain sort of stereotypes you wanted to avoid, or...
TAMBOR: And I was absolutely exact about that, you know. And it wasn't - it was none of the accoutrement of that. It was none of the - the hair, the nails, the wig. I loved all that. And...
TAMBOR: ...I went and had a mani-pedi, and I went, well, I could have a mani-pedi every day. It's so wonderful. But the inner stuff, the inner part - that's the part I had to work on.
TAMBOR: I will tell you that I did a - oh, I guess they would call it a field trip. And I took myself to - there's a food store out there called Gelson's. And it's for the - well, it's for money. And I knew that Maura would go to Gelson's.
TAMBOR: And so I dressed her up, or we dressed her up. And we put on nice clothes and makeup. And I went - I took her shopping. And I remember picking out something. And I felt something. And I looked over and there was this man looking at me. Now, I don't know if he recognized me as Jeffrey. I don't know if he clocked me as an obvious transgender person. But it was not a pretty look.
TAMBOR: And there was a smirk on the face. And it was - that smirk had hatred in it.
TAMBOR: And I remember saying, don't ever, ever, ever forget that look.
TAMBOR: And I was out by myself while preparing for the role before we shot. And I was alone. And I have a family of four, and my wife Kasia I have been married for 16 years. And I was so lonely. And I missed them so much. And, I mean, was so scared about the role. And I went, this loneliness, this - just amp that about 100 times and you got every waking moment of Maura. That's the well you draw from.
MCEVERS: Jeffrey Tambor is the star of the Amazon TV show "Transparent." The third season is out tomorrow. Thank you very much.
TAMBOR: Thank you.
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