Meet Amy Landecker, a recent actress-turned-director. She’s best known for playing the first-born child in “Transparent,” Amazon Video’s groundbreaking series about a transgender woman and her chaotic yet lovable family.
The Emmy award-winning show debuts its fourth season Friday, Sept. 22, and trailers show the Pfefferman family heading to the Holy Land.
We chatted with Landecker over the phone while she was in her Los Angeles home, where she dropped hints about her character’s new love interest, told us about the show’s “box” tradition and embarrassed her daughter with an animal call.
Carol Shih: What was it like the first time you read the script for “Transparent”?
Amy Landecker: You know, to be totally honest, I don’t remember reading it at home. My first memory is of the table read. That was probably one of the most intense, profound experiences I’ve had as an actor. Network cable reads are always kind of stressful because it’s the first time everyone’s read through it out loud … There are a lot of executives there; it can feel like an audition in a weird way. This one was like a religious experience. I feel like sometimes when I talk about “Transparent,” I’m in a cult. And in some ways, I guess I sort of am. Although it’s a cult that pays me, and I don’t pay it, so maybe that’s a really good cult. We were all weeping at the end, including these executives from the network, which is just unheard of.
CS: I read somewhere that you had this thing called “the box” for bonding.
AL: [Laughs] The box is literally a box. It’s a wood box that we’ve all signed and left notes on. I think the box became official in Season 2. Every morning the crew and the cast come around for something called “box” before we start. On most sets, everyone’s in a rush, everyone’s running late, people want to get to it as quickly as possible. [On our set,] we do this thing that’s so antithetical to that.
We chant, “Box box box box box box box. ” Somebody gets up on the box, and we all listen to that person share. It’s kind of like a 12-step-program share, where someone really connects and says what’s going on. They could say how happy they are to be there, they have an ill family member for us to think about or share something really exciting that happened. We do it until we feel like everyone who wanted to say something got to say something. It could be five minutes or a half-hour. It depends on how many people want to talk. It’s really a way for the crew to connect to each other. Everyone’s so used to taking care of actors and directors, but people in the crew are there the longest and working the hardest. It takes away a lot of the hierarchy that you usually feel on a set. I just love it.
CS: What was your favorite moment on set from Season 3?
AL: Going on the cruise with everybody was this amazing experience. We went on vacation together.
CS: Wait, it was a real cruise?
AL: Oh yeah, it was a real cruise. We went to Mexico. We went on an actual Norwegian Cruise Line, and I brought my dad and my boyfriend, and Gaby [Hoffmann] brought her daughter. We had family and friends and went on vacation together. There was no cell service. It was probably the happiest I’ve ever seen Jeffrey [Tambor] since I’ve known him. We were just all together and there was no work to do, except the show and hang out with each other. It kind of all blended together. Probably one of my favorite times was actually watching Judith [Light] sing in the lounge where that actually got filmed. All these people on the boat who love Judith came and watched in the back. They were incredibly great as extras in the scene, totally emotionally connected. And then we all danced on that set until 2 o’clock in the morning. It was kind of wild to see some of your mild-mannered hair-and-makeup people suddenly really letting loose.
CS: Speaking of Judith’s talented moment, I also know you’re a voiceover whiz. I’ve heard you do it. What’s another secret talent that you have?
AL: I can do a really loud monkey call. I can put both my legs behind my back. And I can stick my fist in my mouth.
CS: You rattled those off so easily. Most people stumble.
AL: Thank you, thank you. I’ve thought about starting a website of just parlor tricks or party games, but they’re just ridiculous things I can do. My Julia Roberts voice doubling has been talked about. It’s definitely one of my little tricks.
Do you want to hear the monkey call? I know it doesn’t translate to print. But I’ll do it for you.
Here we go.
CS: You did it. I’m speechless.
AL: My 13-year-old’s looking at me like I’m crazy right now. I’ve embarrassed her — beyond.
CS: That’s what family does: embarrass and love each other. Do you keep in touch with the Pfefferman family, during breaks?
AL: We email a lot. We’re very close. We operate like a family, and it’s just gotten closer and closer as the years go on. It’s funny, because Gaby, Jay and I are so close, like siblings, and we’ll bring in the “parents” when necessary. I know I’m very lucky. It’s not always true that on-camera chemistry on-camera translates to off-camera chemistry. But this is a very, very, very tight group.
We’re all wacky and we don’t struggle the same way the Pfeffermans do, which allows us, when we are playing the Pfeffermans, to have fun and go for it.
CS: And they all recently came and supported your directorial debut, “The Lost Sessions,” these 10 comedic shorts for Funny or Die. I know the episodes were inspired by “Transparent.”
AL: It was one of those perfect examples of everyone just showing up for me for no reason other than to be supportive and have a good time.
There was no money. … [director] Jill is really big on women directing and also supporting new directors because it’s such a hard business to break into, so they just gave me that opportunity. It was incredible.
CS: Why do you think there are so few female directors?
AL: [Women are intimidated and feel like] there’s some special magic there and we don’t have access to it or something. If anything, I feel like women have wonderful instincts for directing because you’re telling emotional stories, you’re telling something from your heart, and I feel like women have been encouraged to access that part of ourselves. Women have all the skills that are necessary to direct.
CS: I read something about you saying we need “Transparent” more than ever. Can you expand?
AL: Oh my god, it’s just so painful. It’s hard to not weep every day when I’m watching the news and what’s going on in the world. [There’s a] terrifying divide. People feel “other.” It’s like you have to take a side and it’s very binary. It’s pushing us to hate each other. We started in this climate where we had this president who was pro-trans rights, and we had same-sex marriage get approved by the Supreme Court. We launched in the most warm embrace this country could probably give to these LGBT issues, and now we feel like there’s this massive divide that we need to reach across.
This is going to sound very simplistic and ridiculous, but I really believe that the future of the world rests on us getting to know each other and communicating with each other. All you can do is try to make the best show you can and hope that people are drawn to it.
Even if it is just preaching to the choir, and it’s just watched by some trans kid, who’s in college somewhere and feels completely alone — that’s worth it too. To give that person the strength to say, you’re not alone. You’re normal, you’re okay, and you’re part of the fabric of America no matter what you feel coming at you from anywhere else.
CS: What are you most excited for people to watch in Season 4?
AL: One of my favorite things about this season is this underlying theme of Jesus Christ superstar, and I believe there will be a Pfefferman musical moment that I’m really excited to see. Sarah, [my character,] had a really fun year with Rob Huebel and this wonderful young actress named Alia Shawkat who is basically my lover this year. Sarah always gets pushed in interesting directions, romantically, so it was another year exploring her reality.