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Transparent's Jeffrey Tambor on Playing Maura Pfefferman: "This Is a Character That Changes You"

And why the role is a "learning process"

Liz Raftery

Jeffrey Tambor always carries a little part of Maura Pfefferman with him - literally. The Transparentstar, who's won two Emmy awards for his portrayal of Maura as she undergoes her gender transition, says he always wears the character's silver ring, even when he's not filming the show.

"Maura's not a character you just put down and walk away from," Tambor told reporters at a press junket ahead of the show's third season premiere. "She stays with me. ... This is a character that changes you. I think [playing Maura] made me a better dad, better husband. Certainly a better citizen. A better ally to the community. Better student."

In talking to Tambor, his desire to "get it right" - whether that be the story the show is telling, or the way he talks about the characters and their issues - is incredibly, immediately obvious. Before Transparent premiered in 2014, Tambor said he was aware of the responsibility that came with the role - as well as the backlash he might get for being a cis man playing a transgender woman. He's since used his visibility to become an outspoken ally for trans rights, including at the Emmy Awards earlier this month.

Transparent's third season is its best yet

There's an added layer of truth to Tambor's performance as Maura, whose initially tentative exploration of her new identity mirrors Tambor settling into the character. He cites one scene in particular, in which Maura dances at an LGBT nightclub, that was mostly improvised.

Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

"[Creator] Jill [Soloway] said, 'You know, if you want to get up and dance, dance,' and I remember saying, 'Oh, I don't know if Maura would get up and dance. (Laughs). I think she just might sit there,'" Tambor recalls. "Then I got up and danced and, well, there it is. It was a combination of Maura and Jeffrey sort of being afraid of that. And then I couldn't stop." It was so "It was a very, very powerful shoot and a powerful day, because that was a club that I first went to on my very first field trip," he continues. "There was these wonderful trans actresses, and I remember the feeling in that room, and it was just electric and warm and beautiful."

And in fact, Tambor says that in Season 3, which premiered Friday on Amazon, he felt most unnatural when he had to revisit the character of Mort (Maura before her transition) for a flashback episode. "I hadn't played Mort in two years," he notes. "And I had trouble doing it. I felt very actor-y. But I felt very, very comfortable as Maura."

Despite his comfort level with playing Maura, though, Tambor says he still considers the role a learning experience - albeit a less intimidating one than when he first started. "I'm more confident with the learning process. I'm more confident and more excited, even though my hand is still shaking," he admits.

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And he's not the only one who's gained a different perspective. It's not an exaggeration to say the conversation around trans people and transgender equality has undergone a sea change, even in the two short years since Transparent made its debut. For Jeffrey Tambor, the shift has been equally profound.

"I couldn't be more proud," Tambor says. "People just come up, and the way they're talking is different. Rather than, 'Hey, love the show,' there's something in it that I've never seen before. ... I was working in London and there was this big, burly, heavyset guy setting the light above me. And he sort of looked at me as I was sitting there and he went, 'I've just gotta tell you, I really like the show.' I didn't know he was even talking about Transparent. And then he said, 'I have to tell you, you're really helping a friend of mine.' And boy, does that make your day. That's the revolution, right there."

Transparent Season 3 is available now on Amazon.