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'Transparent' actress Judith Light 'had concerns' about portraying mature sexuality on TV

Judith Light stars as Shelly Pfefferman in Amazon's
Judith Light stars as Shelly Pfefferman in Amazon's "Transparent."

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The hit Amazon show "Transparent" follows the drama that unfolds when the Pfefferman family patriarch Mort, played by Jeffrey Tambor, begins to transition into life as a trans woman named Maura.

Veteran actress Judith Light plays his ex-wife, Shelly, who is navigating her own new relationship to the man she’s known all these years. It's not only Maura who is undergoing a transformation, but the entire family must reconsider their own identities and their own life choices. 

Created by Jill Soloway, the Emmy-winning Amazon series, now in its second season, has furthered the cultural conversation about gay and transgender people, a cause that Light has been passionate about for decades. 

The cast is about to start taping its third season in Los Angeles next month. When Light joined The Frame, she said viewers won't have to wait as long as they did between the first two seasons.

We're doing it earlier because we felt that we waited too long to drop the second season. The first season dropped in September and then this year we waited a whole year and three months until we dropped again in December. So it's going to drop earlier this year and I think that's a wise idea. People are very excited about it. 

Listen to the interview via the play button above, and check out some highlights from the interview below (but we really encourage you to listen!)

Interview Highlights:

This show is about a character's transition into a trans woman, but it's also so many other things, including a changing marriage and a changing family, isn't it?

The dynamics of a person making a transition is the major context for the story, but because this story and her transition doesn't just affect her, the transition that she makes is really about everybody else. And one of the things that is so important to the story is that Shelly has to question who she is...the complications in the marriage come not from Shelly having a problem that Maura is a woman, but that maybe Maura doesn't want to be there. And that's devastating to her. 

When Jill Soloway, the creator of "Transparent," approached you about your part, what were the initial conversations about who this character was? Did Jill know where it was going, or was it a mutual voyage of discovery that you shared?

That's such a great question, no one has asked me that yet. When I talked to Jill I was in New York doing a Broadway show. What we talked about was us both being LGBTQ advocates and how we wanted to make a difference in the world and that our art was a means to that end. That we could talk about these things and we could actually find ways to change the culture and open up people's minds and hearts. Not in that sort of New Age-y kind of way, but in a really defined way that gave people a story that they could understand and that they could identify with. So we didn't talk about where Shelly was going to go, it was really a mutual voyage that we took together. 

The show has become a cultural watershed moment. Is that something you've [experienced] in this way?

Not in this way. The closest I would say was "Ugly Betty," but this takes it up to another level...Also I've been an LGBT advocate for many many years, since the AIDS pandemic in the '80s, and I have a very powerful experience of that community and a community that has inspired me intensely. To get to do that work for so long, and then to have it be that I'm in "Transparent," really has been what my manager of 36 years, Herb Hampshire, calls "divine choreography." 

Does the advocacy stem from your involvement in "The Ryan White Story," which was a movie about the young boy who was diagnosed with HIV and treated as a pariah, or was it even before that happened?

It started before that. Early in the '80s, having been in the theater, I started reading about people that I knew who were getting sick. Then I heard that they had died, and I thought, Wait a minute, they're so young, what's going on? And I saw that the government wasn't doing anything and there was no relief being given to them. There was no attention being paid and I began to see that what was really holding the dynamic in place was that the society was monumentally homophobic. And I thought, I have to say something, I can't watch this go on. And that's how that happened. It's been a long time. 

One of the things that "Transparent" does beyond talking about sexual orientation and gender confirmation is the way in which it talks about sexuality itself. Particularly in a bathtub scene this season involving your character and Jeffrey Tambor's character, Maura. It's a very honest, straightforward, loving scene. Can you talk about your initial reaction when you read that scene?

My first reaction was, I can't do this. I can't do this. What are you doing? I can't do this. It's the young [actors], Jay and Amy and Gaby, they can do this. But I thought a lot about it and Jill and I talked about it ... You don't see, on TV, mature people's sexuality. What Jill did — because she knew that I was so concerned — was she cleared the entire set. Everybody was gone. Everybody was so respectful.

There were bubbles that needed to be made to cover me in the bubble bath, and they made all these buckets of bubbles and Jill would go out, get the bubbles for another take to make sure I stayed covered. It isn't just me who was nervous in this scene. Jeffrey had concerns as well. So we all took care of each other in this very beautiful, intimate way. Before we started filming the scene we just stood there and held hands and just connected to each other. And it was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life and my career. 

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