It's been about a week now, and if you haven't see director/writer/showrunner Jill Soloway's pilot, Transparent, you're fucking up. By far the most impressive and poignant new series in Amazon Studios' next line of potential pick-ups, Transparent follows the life of a suburban Los Angeles family after a revelation by its patriarch (played by Jeffrey Tambor) causes it to unravel.
As evidenced by her debut film Afternoon Delight, Soloway isn't one to shy away from stripping the paint off a perfectly manicured Silver Lake home for the sake of keeping appearances. Through the fictional family (rounded out by Judith Light, Amy Landecker, Gaby Hoffmann, and Jay Duplass), not only does the intimate series open the discussion about family dynamics, but also gender identity and privilege.
Complex got a chance to chat with Soloway about the idea for the pilot, character inspiration, and the response from the LGBT community.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
I must've watched the pilot four times. How did you come up with the idea?
I’ve had an idea similar to this kind of dancing around in my head since I left Six Feet Under. From Six Feet Under, this idea came out that rather than a family inheriting a funeral home and the notions around that, that they would inherit a secret about sexuality. The show would be about the inheritance of that identity, that gender queerness and sexuality and boundaries around bodies. It's a little more in my wheelhouse than death, which was a stretch for me.
How did you get the pilot to Amazon?
When I went to Sundance for Afternoon Delight, I came back feeling like I wanted to take my experience that I learned from directing and bring that in to a series. I knew that I would be able to guarantee a voice and a tone to that show based on my experience with Afternoon Delight, so I wrote the pilot then took the script to the usual suspects: HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon, FX, and a few other places.
What do you think about Amazon's method of putting the pilots out there and having the audience as a focus group?
It's been great. If you had asked me a week ago I would have said, “I hope it's going to be great.” I have a theory about how it would feel to have access to my audience directly as feminist and a woman and as somebody who is trying to potentially subvert the male gaze with my work. In the past, I would have thought, "This needs to get vetted by five different levels of politics," many of whom are men who may not have the same interest that I do in expressing something revolutionary about women, particularly in relation to sex, the body, and identity So, I was excited about the possibility of being able to directly share the pilot with an audience.
Have you gotten any responses from the LGBT community?
Of course. People are very aware of how it's a sensitive topic to have a non-transgender portray a transgender person. We have three different transgender consultants as well as other people involved in the trans community right there with us figuring these issues out.
But what's great is that the show is also about more than that.
Right, the show is about family and we want it to be relatable to anybody with a family, whether they are trans or not. Within that ability, we're going to be able to start and continue a conversation about gender queerness. It involves not only transgender people, but also different presentations of gender for lesbians and gay men. It involves people who are born inter-gender, cross-dressers, and so many different types of trans people—those who've medically transitioned, those who may never medically transition, and those who only socially transition.
We need to be sensitive and careful around the idea of somebody who hasn’t medically transitioned playing somebody who is trans. But honestly we are portraying somebody pre-transition and we haven't necessarily decided that medical transition is going to be Mort's (Jeffrey Tambor) journey.
The show is about family and we want it to be relatable to anybody with a family, whether they are trans or not. Within that ability, we're going to be able to start and continue a conversation about gender queerness.
The fact that you and I are having this conversation about all the nuances of gender around this pilot is, to me, one of the most exciting things. It proves that a single episode can open up so many different notions of gender to anybody and everybody through the lenses of comedy, family, and soap opera.
And in addition to Mort, his three children are so layered as well. How did you develop them?
My sister and I are incredibly close and we created together from childhood through the time we spent in Chicago at the Annoyance Theatre. There's something about the kind of unconditional wild joy of creating that you have with your siblings that I am always trying to get back to. I wanted all three of the kids to have this feeling of holding onto each other’s arms really tightly as a way of feeling safe in the world of a crazy family and narcissistic parents and the anxiety around growing up.
Josh (Duplass) and Ali (Hoffmann) who are two sides of the same coin. They're the masculine and feminine of the same side. In some way, their connection with each other, the ways that they love each other, makes it difficult for them to have relationships with other people. I think anybody who is really close to a sibling could attest to that.
When I was watching the eldest one, Sarah (Landecker), I thought of Afternoon Delight, where she's this very privileged yet uninspired housewife.
When I was talking to department heads about the story we're trying to tell with Sarah and communicating what the feel of her world should be, I'd use that movie as shorthand. She is Rachel (of Afternoon Delight) and this is a continuation of Rachel’s story. She has that same feeling of being lost in a world of where she has too much access. She longs for the intimacy of that secret middle-of-the-day life that nobody knows about.
What would you say Ali’s character wants?
Ali is trying to figure out how to be a human being. I love that shot of Ali in the mirror where she is looking at her body. There's this feeling that you get from Gaby refracted to Ali, of like her own relationship to gender and to gender queerness, like she just doesn’t feel like a girl, and she doesn’t feel like a boy. She's this unbelievably beautiful spirit animal.
Gaby Hoffmann lays it all out there.
Yeah! I love that there is a twitter account of Gaby Hoffmann’s bush. Gaby herself is not on Twitter, but her bush. Being able to give Gaby Hoffmann’s bush a great part is an honor, to say the least. [Laughs.]
She's a rock star.
Just the fact that rocking a full bush with, like, tons of people reacting against it is a hundred percent absurd, and so is the fact that femininity now is represented by women who look like children. If we only were able to do something about that with Transparent, I think it would have been enough.
What's the deal with Josh? I saw him with that older woman and thought, "Did I miss something?"
The mystery around his relationship with her and who she is and what that all means is part of what makes the "On the next Transparent!" exciting. We like exciting people with the intrigue of "Who is that?" and "What does that mean?"
Is the show getting picked up yet, do you know?
We don’t know! I speak to Amazon everyday, like, “Just tell me it’s time!”
Have you shot any more episodes?
Nope. I really feel like the characters are real and these five people are hanging out in some sort of unconscious world waiting for Amazon to say, “OK guys, come down and do these actors and these characters and these scripts.”