What drew actress Amy Landecker to her role on Amazon-backed show Transparent?">
Jay Duplass and Amy Landecker.
This award season has already seen its fair share of shake-ups, and the show Transparent winning the Golden Globe for Best TV Series, Comedy, was one of them—but not because of its quality or subject matter. What made it a surprising win is the fact that Transparent is an original series produced by and streaming on Amazon—a new player in the TV game. There’s no doubt the show, which centers on a father (Jeffrey Tambor) coming out as a trans woman to his grown children, is award-worthy.
One of those grown children, Sarah, is played by Chicago native Amy Landecker. We spoke with her about the show’s rise to the top, the changing face of TV production, and her Chicago roots that helped shape her successful career.
First of all, congratulations on being part of the Golden Globe-winning show.
AMY LANDECKER: Thank you! It was quite a moment—I keep replaying it in my head. Even though you know you have a one-in-five chance, you still kind of can't believe that it happened. I think we’re all still a little bit floating. We're still checking in with each other like, “Wow, did that really happen?” “Yeah, that really happened.” It was unbelievable; it was such a great moment.
Transparent seemed a bit like the underdog winner, not being as well-known as some of the other shows.
AL: Yeah, it’s so cool that the Hollywood Foreign Press actually found it and watched it. I feel like it’s the kind of show that if you’ve seen it, you feel really strongly about it, but because it’s on a new platform, it’s [a lot about] educating and getting access, and people being able to actually find it. I felt like this year, the [Hollywood Foreign Press] showed themselves to be pacemakers a little bit. They're definitely not the kind of voting group that goes with the herd.
[And] the speed with which this all happened...I mean, we shot the pilot a year ago [in] October. So, you have shooting the pilot, Amazon airing it, it being voted on, getting picked to series, shooting the series, releasing the entire season, and getting a Golden Globe nomination, and then a win in basically a year and a couple of months—it was a really fast ride. That was really amazing. We got an American Film Institute Award as well, and a bunch of [Writers Guild Award] nominations, and I know Jill [Soloway, Transparent executive producer] just got a [Directors Guild of America] nomination. We’re all really excited about the possibility of more eyes finding the show, and it really being seen more publicly and more widely.
Streaming TV is becoming more popular, with shows like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards on Netflix, but Amazon isn’t a name that typically comes up when you think of original television. Did you have any reservations about getting involved?
AL: I guess [so]; I’m not going to lie. When I tell people how to watch [Transparent], I say [Amazon is] doing what Netflix did. But Netflix was always a content platform; that’s what they started with. [With Amazon], you have a place where you order clothes and groceries going into content, and you have to decide if you trust them as a producing body. I think [what] made it possible is, they were really ponying up financially—they were working with a budget that was equal to anything network [TV] was doing, and they were willing to pay for talent that would normally be available on a regular network.
And also, I didn’t really choose Amazon as much as I chose Jill Soloway. That’s something where you follow the creator, and know that the rest will follow. [Amazon was] smart enough to give [Soloway] this opportunity. That’s what you really jump in with and you hope that Amazon is up to the task, and they’ve proven themselves above and beyond what we wanted. They've done an incredible job ushering the show in and supporting it, and going along with the speed with which it’s become popular. There’s a learning curve for everybody, and they've been really graceful under the pressure, so it's all worked out really great.
What else drew you to this role? The show, and your character, are so complex.
AL: I was a Chicago theater actress until my early 30s, so I got to do a lot of meaty stuff in theater. The writing of [Transparent] was similar to me. Jeffrey Tambor often says the show feels like an off-Broadway play. It has that meat and complexity that's hard to find in regular television, and even a lot of film writing. There's just some incredible writing going on and this is an example of that, where you have this really rich, complex human being who doesn’t have to be understood in the first episode—[and] who’s probably not going to understand herself or even be completely identifiable anytime soon, because she’s a human being. To have the opportunity to play someone so flawed but compassionate, and selfish but selfless…I could relate to that.
I was going through a divorce when I got the pilot to read, and I knew all of the emotions that go along with that and what happens when you’re going through that process and so it’s really easy for me to feel connected to Sarah [Pfefferman, Landecker’s character]. It’s probably the easiest role I’ve ever had in terms of access, and I think that’s just because in so many ways she [is] me. I mean, I’m not bisexual and I haven’t had that kind of experience, but I've certainly experimented with identity and who I am and what I am as a woman, and dealing with kids and divorce and new relationships and all of the stuff that [Sarah] was going through emotionally.
Season 2 is premiering sometime this year. Is there anything you can share? What can we expect from the season or from your character?
AL: I hesitate, because I do have some ideas of things that might happen, but I hate to spoil. I think there will be more romantic confusion; I’ll just leave it at that. The writers are going back into the room now, and we don’t even start up until May, so I think that they’re starting to figure out where everybody's going. It’s so great to know that you have such wonderful writers—I really have no concern at all. There’s no, “I want this to happen” or, “I want that to happen.”
Judith Light, Kathryn Hahn, Transparent creator/director Jill Soloway, Amy Landecker, and Melora Hardin.
Shifting gears a bit...you’re a Chicago native. Where in the city did you grow up?
AL: I was one of the rare children who grew up off of Michigan Avenue in the McClurg Court building. We moved to Chicago when I was 2; my dad [radio legend John Records Landecker] got a job at WLS on Wacker Drive, so WLS put him up in a high-rise near the office. So, my sister and I grew up in a high-rise and we would take the 151 bus to school on Michigan Avenue to Francis Parker, where I went to school from kindergarten to senior year. When my parents got divorced, my mom moved to Lincoln Park, so I was raised downtown and [in] Lincoln Park. I loved being a city kid. I loved riding the bus, and going to Water Tower Place; it was awesome.
What were some of your favorite places to go?
AL: McClurg Court was a complex. It had a White Hen Pantry, it had a health club, it had a dry cleaner. We were like little Eloises, my sister and me. We would run around [the building] and we knew our doormen really well; we could go to White Hen Pantry without leaving the building. I loved where I lived. And I was obsessed with Water Tower Place. Every birthday we had, instead of presents, my dad would take us to The Ritz-Carlton for a night and give us $20 dollars. We could go to Water Tower through the Ritz-Carlton hotel, and go see a movie and go get stickers at some store. [Those are] my fondest memories of growing up. Going to the top of the John Hancock building was [also] really cool—I used to go watch my dad on the air all the time. That was the heyday of [WLS], and we would run around the station and say hi to the fans and hang out in the studio. I thought I was so cool.
?It sounds like every kid's dream.
??AL: It was! It was pretty cool. I got to go backstage to all the concerts; Shaun Cassidy sang “Da Doo Ron Ron” to me on stage. It was very cool.
?Did the fact that your dad worked in radio influence your decision to go into entertainment?
AL: Yeah absolutely. My mom’s a yoga teacher and my dad is a disc jockey, so I was never really brought up with the idea that I had to get a regular job. I was [also] lucky enough to spend a semester abroad in college, and really learned there that you have one life. I think that when you travel you get perspective of how much there is in the world. This is it—enjoy it, live it fully. So, I always felt like [acting] was a possibility. I also really was lucky that I had my last name when I started to try to get commercial work...there are a lot of ad agencies in Chicago, and they knew my last name and associated it with a microphone, so it really helped me in the beginning. I was very blessed to get some inroads into a very challenging business.
How did growing up and living in Chicago shape you and your career?
AL: I think it keeps you really grounded. You find Chicago actors do really well in L.A. In my class alone from [Francis] Parker is Paul Adelstein (Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, Private Practice), Anne Heche, and Tim Griffin, who works regularly in television all the time. I think there’s something about the work ethic of Chicago and your motivation behind what you do, which isn’t about becoming famous but about actually working. It's not like you’re flying out to L.A. because you’re pretty and you think you might be famous one day. You do theater because you love doing theater, and you act because you love acting—not because you’re going to get discovered. That kind of hardworking Midwestern mentality really serves you well out here [in L.A.] because it’s a place where you could easily lose your center and lose what it’s all about, and I feel like we [Chicagoans] all are pretty grounded. You’ve got those Midwestern roots, which I think just keeps you solidly on the earth.
If there is one thing you can do when you come back to Chicago, what is it?
AL: Well, it’s so funny: It used to be Potbelly and now Potbelly is everywhere. I went to the original one on Lincoln Avenue; it was walking distance from where I lived and walking distance from my school, and that was my favorite thing. I have to get Giordano’s pizza—or Ranalli’s, which I also love. And I love to go to Millennium Park. I still think that’s such a romantic part of the city. I love walking down Michigan Avenue; it’s such an alive, vibrant [area], especially so near the river, with the wind coming across and the bridges and the architecture. And Wishbone is a big favorite restaurant of mine that I like to go to.
And I go to the theater. I always go to the Goodman or Steppenwolf. I think the best theaters in the world are in Chicago. I [go] to a show every time I come in and it's almost always way better than anything I've seen in New York or L.A. It’s exceptional, there’s just no doubt. The best actors are there, doing the most incredible work. It’s really unbelievable.
And now there’s an increasing number of TV shows and movies being shot in Chicago, too.
?AL: It’s so great. My first chance to have any real on-camera experience was on Early Edition when that shot in Chicago. It’s so important for Chicago actors that shows shoot there so they get a chance to learn and build a resume. I actually have a script in development that I'm writing that takes place in Chicago, and I would love nothing more than to bring the show there and hire all of my friends.
?Is there anything you can share about the script?
AL: It’s a lot about my dad and me; I’ll say that. We have a very unusual relationship. We are very close, we’ve gone through a lot together, and we have a very funny, rich relationship that I felt was ripe to be tapped.
Aside from that, do you have anything else in the pipeline?
AL: I’m in a movie called Project Almanac that’s going to premiere at the end of the month, and I also just finished shooting a movie called Hunter’s Prayer with Sam Worthington in England last month. I’ve still got a couple months [before returning to Transparent] so in the meantime, just trying to get the next job before I go back to work. If I do nothing but sleep, I'd be happy with that, too.
?Oh, and I’m coming home in May to chair the AIDS Foundation of Chicago's annual gala. I used to work there; I used to plan this event and now I’m going to come and chair it as the celebrity, which cracks me up. That is a very full-circle Chicago moment for me.
AL: ??Yes, [it’s] May 16 [and] it's their 30th annual gala. It’s huge—a wonderful event. I’m so thrilled and honored to come back in this capacity. I always felt guilty quitting that job because I thought it was way more important than being an actor. [But] I’m part of a show that’s a great advocate for the LGBT community, and now I can help raise money, so all good. It all worked out.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF FRAZER HARRISON/GETTY IMAGES; JEROD HARRIS/GETTY IMAGES FOR AMAZON STUDIOS
January 22, 2019
January 22, 2019