Amy Landecker Talks Transparent, and an Evolving Sarah Pfefferman

TV Features Amy Landecker
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Amy Landecker Talks <i>Transparent</i>, and an Evolving Sarah Pfefferman

Amy Landecker is positively ebullient on the other end of the telephone line. The actress, who plays Sarah, the eldest of the perpetually lost Pfefferman kids on Transparent, is in the middle of a press tour for the show’s third season on Amazon. Cast and creatives have been out promoting the show at the Toronto International Film Festival, New York, Washington D.C., and in Los Angeles during Emmys weekend. (The show took home three trophies in total, including wins for creator Jill Soloway [Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series], Jeffrey Tambor [Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series] and Outstanding Art Direction).

Despite doing back-to-back timed phone interviews to promote the highly acclaimed Amazon series about a dysfunctional L.A. family, led by the transgender Maura/Moppa (Tambor), Landecker was frank, funny and warm during Paste’s time slot. She was game to talk about a wide range of topics, from celebrity event etiquette to directing a 17-year-old Michael Shannon, meeting “First Dog” Bo Obama, and of course, Transparent’s Season Three.

Paste: Are you calling from the White House, by chance? We saw an Instagram photo of you and your fellow castmates Kathryn Hahn and Trace Lysette at the White House.
Amy Landecker: No, no I’m back home. I was just there this week. It was so fun. I got to meet Bo. I got to meet the dog, which was unbelievably fun. I’m like, ‘Why does this feel like I’m meeting Mick Jagger?’ The dogs [Bo and Sunny] came in, and we were all screaming. It might just be Bo’s white paws, which are like the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. They’re iconic, you know, they’re cool. You get to pet them. You don’t get to pet Obama.

Paste: What were you doing in at the White House?
Landecker: We were having a premiere of Season Three at the [U.S. Naval] Memorial. We had a screening of episode one and two and a panel discussion afterwards. It’s part of the outreach of Amazon. We were at the White House actually last year, part of a transgender intersectionality awareness day, where we premiered Season Two with The Danish Girl.

We like to keep our presence in D.C. because the show seems to appeal and communicate well a lot of issues that are being dealt with politically, so we had a little premiere there. We got a private tour of the White House and go to take some wonderful pictures, sit in chairs and pretend we were Michelle and Barack. We met a lot of legislators and congressmen and women at the screening and talked afterwards.

Paste: What kind of week have you had?
Landecker: I was just talking to my boyfriend [actor Bradley Whitford] about it. This is totally different this year than anything so far, and I think that’s a really good sign. We have felt like that the show was very beloved by the critics and sort of in New York and L.A., but we really wanted it to be seen and wanted viewers across the country to find it. I will say that this year, the interest and the enthusiasm and the amount of people coming to us saying that they’re watching and they’re fans, you can sort of feel that something has shifted.

I think that with these streaming shows, sometimes it takes a little time for everybody to— because they know they have time, you know it’s up there— you’ll get to it when you get to it. It sort of like, ‘Oh, it’s on my list.’ We all have our lists of things we’re going to binge. We finally are coming up to the top of the lists. It’s been really exciting.

We did a press junket in New York, and I know that Judith Light and Jeffrey Tambor did 75 interviews in one day. We’ve just been talking and traveling. We have another premiere next week in San Francisco, we have the Emmys this weekend. We feel like we are definitely having more awareness now and more interest, which is really exciting. Not just because it keeps me employed, which God knows I appreciate, but because I feel that I show is important for a whole lot of different reasons. It’s nice and people are going to see it.

Paste: This seems like a whole other world from your Chicago theater days.
Landecker: I don’t know what happened. [laughs]

Paste: Can you talk about how Transparent has changed your life?
Landecker: In some ways, things change a ton. I’m like ‘Wow…I just bought a little house in Santa Monica,’ and I don’t feel like I have to worry about the next job coming in, and I can breathe a little and be a little picky in my choices, so there are those very tangible differences. Then there’s the fact that I am very happily in a relationship with someone that I met on the show, so I feel that Jill [Soloway] didn’t just give me the best role I’ve had in my life, but one of the best relationships I can ever imagine having. And there’s this personal level of fulfillment that also comes from these amazing people. This cast—I’ve never seen it anywhere, I don’t know if I’ll ever have it again—like truly loves each other.

In a weird way, it feels very familiar because Chicago theater was a community and we had really fulfilling work there. In fact, Jill’s from Chicago theater. Her and her sister had a theater company there. My sister and I had a theater company there. Alexandra Billings and I have known each other since Chicago theater. The way that the show is shot is very feelings-based, performance-based and not equipment-based, so sometimes it can feel like a play more than anything that we film on camera. And also, I worked at the AIDS foundation in Chicago as my day job when I was an actress, so even the issues that are on the table sometimes feel very similar to what I used to work in. It’s kind of like the bigger, better, improved version of that with a lot more money…so I’ll take it.

We were in Toronto and my dad showed me that I have a picture in People Magazine and right below me is Michael Shannon. And I directed Michael Shannon when he was 17 years old, and it’s just funny. We’ve been friends forever, and so things change and they stay the same. ‘Oh there’s me and Michael, but now we’re in People Magazine at the Toronto Film Festival…[instead of] The Windy City Times or the Chicago Reader.

Paste: What did you direct Michael Shannon in at 17? Do you remember the play?
Landecker:It was a play by my boyfriend Jimmie Cumbie. It was in the basement of Cafe Voltaire, which I don’t even know if it’s there anymore. Our dressing rooms were like refrigerators, where the food was kept, where you changed. It was called 120 and Forever. It was a rock’n’roll play. And my sister was in it. Michael was in it. My two best friends [were in it] and I directed them. We thought we were changing the face of theater.

Paste: What did you do for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago?
Landecker: I was a fundraiser. I did event planning. So it’s funny, I go to these events now as a guest, and [when] the guy calls to tell me how the night’s going to go, I’m like, ‘I had your job. I know exactly what’s going to happen. I know how this goes.’

Paste: So do you make judgments if something’s not running smoothly at an event?
Landecker: No, If anything I have way more sympathy and empathy and am probably one of the more better behaved ‘quote unquote celebrities’ they have because I know what it takes. You would never hear me complain. I stay the latest and come the earliest and try to be the cheapest in terms of travel because I know what it takes away from the organization. Yeah, I don’t have a rider…there’s none of that going on with me. My publicist is like, ‘You have to let them fly you at least.’ I just feel so guilty taking from nonprofits. But you do realize that you would go broke if did everything on your own dime all the time.

Paste: That part of your work is admirable.
Landecker: Thanks. Everyone thinks that the Emmys are the best part of [this] but to be honest those [shows] can feel like high school with money. They can feel very empty in terms of the actual importance to them. Or at least, they make me feel very insecure. It just brings out the parts of me that I find the least fulfilling. But when you’re doing something that feels like it actually is doing something for the world, it gives you so much energy and you’re always awed that you’re doing nothing compared to other people. There are people out there every day really fighting the fight for equal rights, equal pay, equal treatment. They’re inspiring. It’s very fulfilling to be around.

Paste: So what can we expect from Sarah after her tumultuous second season?
Landecker:Sarah has an easier Season Three I’m going to say. She’s still her usual controversial self, but I feel like she’s a little bit happier, actually. She’s living with her ex-husband while they see other people so she kind of has her family back. There’s this sense that she’s lost some of the loneliness that she had in Season Two. She’s still Sarah, so there’s always destroyed relationships and awkward sex but… she’s a more enlightened Sarah, and I found it really fun this year. I found a certain buoyancy in performing her this year that I can’t say that I felt last year. Last year was way more intense and lonely, and this year she’s building up her life again. She’s figuring out how to reconnect.

Paste: Which season was more fun for you as an actor? Season Two or Three?
LandeckerThey’re totally different. I think if you did Season Two over and over and over again, you’d just be weeping all the time, so I think it’s good. To be honest, [Sarah’s] so well-written. Not one of us is not taken care of as an actor. In every season, everybody has a moment of pathos and thoughtfulness and an emotional sort of fallout. That’s always really fun to play. And then we have these ridiculous sexual exploits that are always fun to play, and you also have straight comedy. There’s just nothing more you could ever ask for. I cannot tell you how stupidly lucky we all feel.

Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.