Unarrested Development: 'Transparent' stars Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light on their award-winning dramedy

By: Nelson Branco

It’s never too late to reinvent yourself – even at 70! That’s the powerful, transformative message of Shomi’s latest hit series, Transparent. The new Golden Globe Award-winning dramedy – which beautifully documents the semi-autobiographical journey of Maura/Mort, a 70-year-old father who decides to live life as a woman despite his family’s initial shock and resistance – also revitalized and inspired its stars: Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light.

“I feel like Cinderella because I don’t want the party to end,” enthused Judith to Hello! recently in L.A. “We’re the little engine that could,” Jeffrey Tambor added. “So to get all this attention is quite a reboot for the soul. We’re pleased with the success and reception of the show.”

We caught up with the two award-winning fan favourites to chat about reinventing yourself at any age, reuniting on screen after decades and how to attain world peace.

If you’ve finished binging Transparent and can’t wait to consume more hijinks, don’t fret: season 2 begins filming in June. Photo: © Getty Images

After headlining in such mainstream hits such as Arrested Development, were you worried about tackling such a controversial role, Jeffrey?
Tambor: No. Once I read the script, Maura stayed with me. I knew immediately I could play her. I’m so in love with this part. It’s my all-time favourite role. I’m so blessed. Remember, I’m 70 and I’m getting to stretch myself as an actor at this stage of my life and career – and I kind of get to play a teenager because Maura is developing from scratch as a female. It’s the role of my lifetime. Having said that, it’s a big responsibility to represent an entire community. I hope I’m doing it justice. I’ve never been more nervous to be play a role. My hands would literally shake [on set]!
Light: Jeffrey just sings in this role. You wouldn’t immediately think of him for this role, but that’s what is so brilliant about his casting! We’ve known each other since our theatre days, so we’ve come full circle now as co-stars. We’ve worked together a few times but this is the zenith. We’re all so proud of his performance. Jeffrey’s my guy. Or gal! [Laughs]… I remember telling Jeffrey on the phone, “I so want this part that I think I’ll move back to LA for it!”

What’s the toughest part of playing a transgendered woman?
Tambor: The heels! I don’t know how women do it. I can never feel my right foot! The best part? People come up to me and tell me their deepest familial secrets! I guess the public trusts me now.
Light: It’s because this is a transformative show. As a long-time LGBT and AIDS activist, this project feels like the next step, not only in my acting career, but in my advocacy work. The Trans community is a very powerful one – and they’re at the forefront right now about how society deals with gender identity. Gay communities taught us about sexuality and the Trans community is teaching us about identity. It’s remarkable to be a part of. It’s great to be a part of the TV world these days: there are so many shows – and films – that are outside the box and telling us stories we’ve never been told before. As Freud said, we need our unconscious to be free in order to soar and Transparent is one project that adheres to that philosophy.

Beth Dubber/Sony Pictures Television/AMAZON

How about dressing in women’s clothing?
Tambor: Now that was an adjustment. I’m not a fashion guy... When our costume designer asked me what Maura should wear, I said I had no clue! But at my age, it was an exciting new adventure for me. Apparently, style does make the woman. But as an actor, I had to concentrate on who Maura is as a person -- not what she was wearing. I do like sitting in the make-up chair, though, and seeing her come to life. It’s fun to play dress-up.
Light: My thing is jewelry. Whenever I play a role, I immediately think of what kind of ring she wears. I get that from my grandmother, whose pearls remain one of my most treasured possessions.

Do you prefer playing Mort or Maura?
Tambor: That’s a hard question to answer because they’re both very real to me. They’re the same but different. Of course, Maura is the most inspiring.

What’s your secret to aging so well? Staying in fine form?
Light: Physicality isn’t that important to me more than internal beauty is. I’m really healthy because I love my life and I love the work I get to do. I get to be out there [at age 65!]. A lot of women my age don’t get the opportunity so that keeps me moving.
Tambor: Like Maura, I think the spirit keeps you beautiful – and young. I know playing Maura has made me feel younger than ever. But raising two 5-year-old twins [Hugo and Eli] will keep you young!

Judith, are you sad that Dallas was cancelled? You were amazing as a villain.
Light: Thank you! I’m disappointed, of course. There was a fan campaign to try to get it back but right now there’s nothing to be done. But I’m a character actor… I keep moving on to the next part. Even when I was younger; that’s how I thought. I mean, I’m on Transparent now so it’s hard to look back, you know? My [debut Emmy-winning role] Karen Wolek on One Life to Live was one of the greatest character parts of all time.

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