I’ve grown up with Gaby Hoffmann. 

Not literally of course, but Hoffmann has been on my movie and TV screens since I was an adolescent. She was in everything from Sleepless in Seattle to Volcano. But the roles that have always lasted in my mind were in the movies I grew up with and adored: Freaky Friday (her TV version is fire), Now and Then and All I Wanna Do—a little-known 1998 teen boarding school comedy set in 1963, that when I mention to Hoffmann over the phone that I loved as a teenager (I still have a VHS copy) all she says is “oh wow.” 

As she grew up, she took on roles in indies like Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and small roles on TV dramas like The Good Wife. Within the last two years though, it has felt like Hoffmann has been everywhere. She played best friend to both Jenny Slate and Reese Witherspoon in Obvious Child and Wild respectively. She (to my utter delight) showed up in the Veronica Mars movie and was the perfect foil to Adam Driver’s droll Adam, as his manic sister Caroline on HBO’s Girls, which she tells me she’ll briefly return to in the upcoming season. 

Where Hoffmann has really shone is in her role as Ali Pfefferman, on Amazon’s Transparent, a television show that more than greatly deserves all the hype and praise it is receiving. Jill Soloway’s family dramedy follows the Pfeffermans—an LA based clan—whose lives are completely changed once they learn that patriarch, Mort (an incredible Jeffrey Tambor) is transgender and wants to live fully as a woman, Maura. Season One had Ali in a constantly rocky place—unsure about what she was doing with her life—bopping around between career aspects, romantic choices and generally aimless to the point of self-destructive (Hoffmann received a 2015 Emmy nomination for her work). With the upcoming season two of Transparent, just days away, I spoke with Hoffmann about what’s in store for Ali in season two, the gawd Jill Soloway, sexual fluidity and her roles of yesteryear. 

So much of your life has been in front of the camera. Is there a project that you did when you were younger that has remained particularly important?
I don't revisit anything unless there's a really good occasion, like BAM screened This Is My Life, with Lena Dunham and Nora Ephron before she died. It also screened Uncle Buck, so I took my niece. I don't have a TV, so I don't happen upon old movies like you would if you had cable. I really really loved making This Is My Life and Now and Then.

Yeah which is so great.
Lesli Linka Glatter, who directed Now and Then, is now an E.P. on Homeland. She was just the greatest. I was madly in love with her. 

Christina Ricci and I became best friends making that, when I was 12 and she was 14. When you're that age and you meet your best friend, it’s like your first true love. I don't remember a lot of the other sets very well. But that one, I can almost remember the way that it felt because it was so full of emotion and fun. I was was not like Pollyanna already, but she introduced me to a lot of exciting stuff. Pulp Fiction came out that year and we went and saw it every weekend at the mall. I just remember it was a big time of awakening for me.   

So, I’ve watched season two of Transparent twice already. 
Oh my God, you’re a maniac.

I know! It was one of my favorite shows last year. Was there a pressure coming into season two because of the great reception you guys got with season one?
No not at all. I mean, I didn't feel it. I'm sure that Jill [Soloway] may have had a moment and Jeffrey [Tambor] takes the responsibility of being a male playing a trans woman very very seriously, so that responsibility weighed heavily. I think that for me, and this was definitely the feeling on set, was we just felt so much gratitude to be able to come back together again. We knew we were making something that we loved in season one. We love making the show, we love doing the work but we also just love each other—it’s a real family. So I think rather than feeling, “Oh this is a lot of pressure,” if anything it energized us. 

That’s awesome. 
It's quite a lot of work in a short period of time. We shoot a whole season in ten weeks. And we have really long days and we shoot a lot. And it can be tiring but to come in with this love and support, I felt truly energized by it. I was raring to go.  

Ali, your character, is in such a different place. Last season she was like very adrift and figuring herself out and this season she’s the most centered. How has it been discovering Ali?
It's really fun to play Ali and really interesting. I've never been on a television show as a regular before. I never had the incredible opportunity of inhabiting a character so fully and then getting to watch her grow. I am a very intuitive actress and I don't put a hell of a lot of thought into it before I do it. So I sort of do it and I look back and psychoanalyze the character. 

I think when we met her in season one she was in a long period of paralysis and had shut down. Maura’s coming out obviously jostled her out of this place and at first it seemed like a thoughtless acting out. 

So first it's just these wild flings in any direction, this self-destructive, thoughtless acting out. In season two, she has woken up. She is on that path that you just mentioned of self-discovery and investigation and it's certainly not without missteps and mishap but it's a hell of a lot more thoughtful and focused than we've ever seen her before, and it's not just in one area.

Her investigation into herself is not just her sexual identity or her relationship to her gender, but also her relationship to her family and her family's relationship to its history and religion. It's an intellectual and psychological and emotional and physical pursuit. She is barely self-aware and  certainly not that aware of the consequences of her actions. But she seems, I think so far, other than Maura, to be only the only person in the family who is really standing there thinking, “Okay. Who am I? What does this all mean?” 

I felt a tenseness this season that I didn't necessarily feel in the first, especially Maura and Sarah’s storylines. It just constantly feels like the other shoe is about to drop and then around mid-season things start to get a bit more chaotic.
Yeah I think we definitely felt that. We weren't all seeing each other a lot at work. There is that thing of like, “Oh I haven't seen you in a couple of weeks.” It needed to happen for the season and it really worked but that the family had to just fire all out into their own worlds a little bit. 

How do you think the Pfeffermans do that in this season?
These kids, they don't know what the fuck they're doing—they were not properly parented. They do not know what it really means to love somebody and to be loved because they weren't able to to experience that with either of their parents. For obvious reasons. And I feel like what happens with Maura’s coming out in season one, one person in a group of people changes, so everybody else has to react and thus change. 

I think in this season, they are reeling from that and they have to move away from the family unit. And it's suffering. Truly suffering and on their own, really on their own. That's sort of how Maura had to find herself and figure out who she was and what that means—she was doing it in secret her whole life, and now each of them are having to do that too. That dysfunctional dynamic, that culture of the Pfefferman family is so powerful, they're going to be coming back to it but I hope over this season, we’ll see that evolve. But they can't totally do it together. Each of them has to have to forge their own new path of self discovery.

A lot of Ali’s discovery comes through connecting with Cherry Jones’ character Leslie, who I think is like such a great addition to the season. What was it like working with her? 
When Jill told me that Cherry was going to play that part, I literally shrieked like a little girl who has just been presented a pony at her fifth birthday party. I think she is extraordinary. The first day she was on set I was like, she is the loveliest person in the world and just a true Southern gentlewoman. And she just infused me with a whole new injection of that energized, grateful feeling I was describing earlier. She was a fan of the show coming in and I couldn't believe that I got to play with her.

It was really cool to watch her respond to the culture of our set and she was so excited by it and energized by it. Everywhere I turn I'm working with such talented, remarkable actors and people. And I feel like I'm just sort of learning about myself as an actress for the first time. 

Your cast is insane obviously. But also it is a testament to Jill Soloway who seems like such a fucking force of nature. I can't even imagine.
Yeah she's really remarkable. We're all in awe of Jill. And we think of her as our mom and also a magical wizard who makes things happen that don’t make sense. She definitely has tapped into something with the show like, there is a sort of magical quality. I mean this word is really being thrown around too much these days but she truly has a genius for this. She's a very hard worker of course but this stuff just flows out of her.

How do you think Transparent has changed and affected how we look at transgender people?
Jill’s created an environment where we can explore sexuality and gender in a fluid way. There's nobody to answer to. She's not trying to make splashes in ways I think are controversial. She's just trying to explore what sexuality is. And I think because she's such a good writer and we have such a great cast, you can do that in a way that is grounded in reality. 

I think sexuality is fluid and we have such a strange relationship to it in this country. It's been so fixed and so controlled for so long. This is what all of these things are supposed to mean and how they're supposed to look and if you don't follow the rules then you fear. You are other. Or you are abnormal. This is the norm and everything else isn't. And that's totally a construct and is total bullshit. Jill is creating a world in which we can start to break apart these constructed ideas of what it means to be a woman, a man, sexy, a lesbian, straight. Thank God, finally. 

Is there anything in particular that you really want viewers to get from the season of the show?  
It's the same thing I always want people to gain from viewing anything, which is just more compassion and understanding and love. I think that the show is obviously incredibly funny and heartbreaking and really entertaining and that itself is valuable, to be moved, right? 

And I think that awakening feeling in one another is the point and is very valuable. This show is extra satisfying because there is a focus on the people that aren’t often in the spotlight in terms of gaining visibility and understanding and compassion. That's always what I'm after. Opening people's hearts and minds and hoping that this world can start evolving to be the more humane place that it could be and should be.