It probably shouldn't surprise anyone to see Jeffrey Tambor star in another role as the head of a family. But in Jill Soloway's new comedy-drama, "Transparent," Tambor's character comes out as trans to his three children. Soloway says that she wants to examine gender identity and create a world in which gender binaries no longer exist.
Recently, Soloway talked with The Frame Host John Horn about being envious of "Louie" and "Girls," making TV for Amazon, and how she views "Transparent" as a part of the transliberation movement.
When you talk about the shows like "Louie" and "Girls," what was so surprising to you as a writer and as an audience member watching those shows?
Well, for example, watching "Girls," it was really angering for me at first because I really had spent decades hiding unlikable, unattractive Jewish girls in likable, attractive, non-Jewish actors and characters. Really trying to tamp down the otherness of my experience so that I could sell it and so that I could monetize it. And really in watching "Tiny Furniture" and watching "Girls" and seeing what Lena Dunham didn’t do, which is she didn’t apologize, she didn’t stress to create an imaginary persona, she just was. The ease with which she just showed herself, it made me so jealous. It was like, "Oh, all you ever had to do was nothing." You know, all I ever had to do was stop pretending. So, I set about asking myself the question of what does my world look like? Lena Dunham’s showing the world of 20 somethings. What does it mean to be a mom in a family in a relationship? Good sex, bad sex, adult relationships, life in Silver Lake and from there came "Afternoon Delight," my feature. That was really a response to me asking myself, "What would I do if I granted myself the same kind of artistic entitlement that Lena Dunham grants herself?" And then, yeah, with "Louie," he just goes even further. He seems to be following his own nose, his own heart, his own dick...And making himself laugh instead of trying to create a product, that was really inspiring, too.
You almost sound as if you are in this almost previous incarnation of yourself, holding your creative finger to the wind and figuring out which way it has to blow in order for you to sell something. And that you are having a kind of gradual epiphany about how you’re not that person and the characters you’re writing are inauthentic and you’re putting them in authentic situations.
Yeah, I mean, that’s absolutely true. I mean, everybody’s trying to make money, and I went on meetings as recently as two or three years ago where I was told, "Look, you have to have a rootable, attractive male somewhere near the center of this show for us to be interested." You know, these are shows at FOX or ABC or I’d be writing shows about women or unlikable women or groups of women or kind of screwed up women, you know? "What woman would do this? This woman can’t be a mom and also make all these kinds of mistakes. I’m wondering when I read your script, where’s her kid?" You know? These questions that people ask are really society’s expectations of the way women are supposed to be and I’m just super excited to be kind of revolutionizing expectations and doing it just in a way that feels so simple. It really feels like I’m dropping pretense, I'm dropping appearances just to reveal truth.
A lot of people have a picture of Amazon in their mind of being that kind of place that you buy socks, you get your free shipping, whatever. What sort of pressure or obligation do you feel to kind of change the way in which Amazon is seen by people like me and by people who watch television?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t feel too much pressure. There was a moment when I was shopping the script around and I— you know, Amazon didn’t really have a profile yet as a streaming distributor— so we kind of imagined. My agent had the conversation with me where he said, "You know, if you could be the "Mad Men" to their AMC, if you could be the "House of Cards" to their Netflix, it would mean everything.
That’s no pressure!
Yeah. [laughs] You know, I’ve actually never felt any pressure with this show. It’s interesting because we’re getting these great reviews and I’m not even having the anxiety of, "Oh, it’s hard for me to take in this positive regard." It’s not even overwhelming to me because I really see this show as part of something so much bigger. It’s always felt like a ride to me because I think there is such a moment happening now with the transliberation movement. It’s unbelievably zeitgeisty. I had so many people over the past year forwarding me articles and saying, "Did you know that this was going to be in the zeitgeist when it came time for your show to come out?"
Do you think audiences on the one hand who are kind of comfortable and familiar with the trans world and then audiences that have very little knowledge of and maybe a little bit of fear of that community are going to watch the show in fundamentally different ways?
Well, absolutely. We’re super excited that the trans community is behind the show right now. It’s really a big, big deal that we’ve managed to get enough things right that trans people feel that the show represents them. But I like to talk about something that I learned from the president of GLAAD whose name is Nick Adams. And he talked about what he calls the Moveable Middle. So, he feel like his job at GLAAD is not to make all of the queer activists happy because that’s really quite difficult, and it’s not really to change the minds of super right wing Republicans. It’s really to address this moveable middle, the largest group of people who are in between those two poles, who really just need information. And what I love about the show is it really is just a great family drama. It’s really funny. There are nods to shows like "The Cosby Show" and "All In The Family." Shows like "Eight Is Enough" and "Family," which I grew up on. It’s soapy like "All My Children" and "One Life To Live." Moira’s trans-ness is just one-fifth, one small part of this family’s story. So, I’m really hoping that audiences that just love great television and love that feeling of binging will jump in for those reasons. To laugh, to love it, to be part of it. And then the sort of by-product will be that they’ve gotten kind of an amazing trans education.
"Transparent" will premiere in full on Amazon TV on Friday, September 26.