Jeffrey Tambor on 'Transparent': 'It has changed me'


Jeffrey Tambor hasn't just had one iconic television role -- he hasn't even just had two. He's had three.

With three career-defining roles on "The Larry Sanders Show," "Arrested Development" and "Transparent," Tambor knows that he's been extremely fortunate as an actor. "Few us of get one," he admitted over the phone to me this week.

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What makes the 72-year-old actor's accomplishments on the small screen even more special is the fact that "The Larry Sanders Show" didn't even start until the actor was in his late 40s -- something that a fortune teller actually told Tambor would happen decades ago. Seriously.

I recently caught up with Jeffrey Tambor on the phone from Houston, where he'll attend his first-ever Super Bowl to celebrate his first-ever Super Bowl commercial for Tide, to talk about his incomparable career, the impact of "Transparent" and, yes, what that aforementioned fortune teller told him many years ago about when things "would happen" for him.

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Check out my full conversation with Jeffrey Tambor below:

Is this your first Super Bowl commercial?

Yes, it is! It's actually my first Super Bowl -- I'm going on Sunday!

That's awesome! Surely that's a bucket list item for you?

Yeah, it's definitely on there.

But back to your first Super Bowl commercial. How did the opportunity for Tide's "a better way to clean" campaign come about?

I answered my phone, and someone said, "Would you like to do a Tide commercial? We heard that your mother used Tide." And I said, "Yes, she did!" And they said, "Do you know who Rob Gronkowski is?" And I said, "No..." And they said, "Well, do you know who the New England Patriots are?" And I said, "No..." And they said, "Do you know what football is?" And I went, "No!" And they said, "Perfect, come on down!"

So did you have to do your research on Gronk?

I actually am a fan of the New England Patriots, and I do watch football and I respect him as a player. What I did not know was that he's so kind, and he's a terrific comedian. It turned into a really lovely spot.

What was it like working together?

It was really great! He was charming and smart and funny, and we actually got along famously right from the start.

Let's talk a little bit about "Transparent." Your turn as Maura has obviously garnered you a ton of acclaim. Does the praise ever get old?

No! Praise is great. Praise is wonderful -- people's responses to the show has been great. It's a great time, and it's what I thought acting was always going to be. I'm so pleased. We started on our fourth season -- we had our table read yesterday! -- and I love to go to work every single day. Jill Soloway has given me the best role of my career, and it's the biggest responsibility ever.

I actually talked to Kathryn Hahn last week...

She is one of the nicest -- and most talented -- people in the world.

She truly is. And she was talking about how amazing the cast is on the show. Is it like a family at this point?

It always has been -- from the first moment. That's one of the things about Jill; Jill is a true leader, and her whole thing about the feminine gaze and toppling the patriarchy is real. It's just real. That's the safest set that I've ever been on.

You mentioned how big of a responsibility the role is. What have people said to you who have reached out from the LGBTQ community over the past few years?

First of all, my life has totally changed. I had the honor last year -- I don't know if you know, but I teach acting and I've been a teacher for quite some time -- to teach at the LGBTQ center. It was wonderful, and the talent in that room was through the roof.

That's pretty special that you've gotten to see the impact first-hand.

I think that the business has to change. I've gone on record as saying that I think more business opportunities and creative opportunities have to be there for this wonderful pool of talent.

Is there anything in your character, Maura, that you see in yourself?

Well, there is an adage in acting, "You're stuck with the character, and the character is stuck with you." I think it's been an opportunity to be more "Jeffrey" than I've ever been. It's not about being feminine, but it's just about using all of me. And it's wonderful -- I think that it has changed me, and I think that it has changed my whole life! Good things are happening to me. I had my fortune told many years ago, and the person said, "It's going to happen for you, but it's going to happen for you very late." And I guess that has come true. I'm very grateful.

Going off of that, it's pretty rare to have two truly iconic television roles -- people are usually so tied to that initial role that it's hard to garner a second career-defining project -- and you've been able to do that with "Arrested Development," and now "Transparent"...

Can I add one more? I sound like my own agent. [Laughs] But "The Larry Sanders Show."

Of course. But do you recognize how special that is?

I really do. You know, few of us get one. But, I also have to tell you, I'm also the same actor who did "The Love Boat," so let's not get crazy. [Laughs] I love acting -- I love that whole life between "action" and "cut" -- it's a wonderful way to live your life, and I'm very lucky.

What do you hope the lasting impact of "Transparent" is?

I think it's already occurring. I think people are changing their minds, I think the revolution is here and -- no matter what administration or politics [are happening] -- this revolution will not stop.

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