Image: Getty Images
At 72, Jeffrey Tambor is unquestionably at the peak of his career. He won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy for the second year in a row at Monday’s ceremony for his portrayal of transgender woman Maura Pfefferman in Amazon series Transparent, a role you can tell he genuinely cherishes and takes extremely seriously.
“I couldn’t even begin to describe what the feeling of [coming out as transgender] must be, I couldn’t even assume,” he told Grazia when we sat down a few days before his Emmy win. “But that’s our job, to assume and describe that [experience]”.
Transparent has been praised for bringing the story of transgender people and their families to the mainstream, and the responsibility of the portrayal of trans people to a wide audience is felt by Tambor and the show’s entire cast and crew led by director Jill Soloway. He used his Emmy acceptance speech to urge the television industry to give trans people roles.
“I’m not going to say this beautifully,” he told the room, becoming emotional. “To you people out there… please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story.”
He also used his moment in the spotlight to acknowledge the injustice of a cisgender man (cisgender is a person whose gender identity corresponds with their biological sex, unlike a transgender person) playing the role of Maura instead of a trans actor.
“I would be happy if I were the las last cisgender male to play a transgender female.”
This has been a point of controversy in the trans community, and Soloway has defended the decision but also acknowledged the issue in several interviews. She told the Daily Beast that a lot has changed in four years, since she cast Tambor.
“Back then … we had our reasons why we felt it was okay for Jeffrey to play Maura. Of course he was brilliant at the role. He reminded me a lot of my Moppa pre-transition [Soloway’s parent coming out as trans was the catalyst for Transparent].
“We felt that this was a story of a late transitioning person who looks a certain way, doesn’t necessarily have that passing privilege. None of those benchmarks would work for me any longer.”
Many are no doubt torn over the issue, because offensive or incorrect as it is, Tambor is a delight to watch as Maura, in both light-hearted and darker moments.
Ahead of the premiere of Transparent season three on September 24 on Stan, Tambor revealed that Maura continues to find her place as a matriarch in her family but isn’t as focused on her adult children’s live as in previous seasons. “Maura is selfish right now … she’s on her own mission right now.”
And as for how long he’s willing to tell the story of Maura?
“I’ll do this for as long as they ask me.”
Watch Grazia’s interview with Jeffrey Tambor and co-star Judith Light above.
Transparent season three premieres in Australia on Stan on September 24.