Judith Light on Her Alanis Morissette Cover in 'Transparent' Season 3 Finale: "It's All Going to Be OK"
After revealing a deep-seated trauma from her past, Shelly (Light) moves her family to tears with her take on "Hand in My Pocket" during the debut of her one-woman show, 'To Shell and Back,' in the new season's final moments.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the third season of Transparent.]
Before the opening night of her one-woman performance in Neil LaBute's All the Ways to Say I Love You, Judith Light spoke with Billboard about her scene-stealing performance of Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket," which closed out the third season of Transparent (now streaming on Amazon). The season concluded with the Pfefferman family on a cruise ship and Light's Shelly bringing them to tears with the debut of her one-woman show, To Shell and Back.
She told The Hollywood Reporter that the debut of her real-life solo show, after her TV one, is "a total coincidence, unbelievably," adding, "Maybe there's a part of me that knew I needed to work on my 'voice' in this way. This play is possibly an extension of that 'putting myself out there' [as in Transparent]."
Her onscreen daughter, Amy Landecker (Sarah Pfefferman), also spoke to THR about the moving performance and how she and co-stars Jeffrey Tambor (Maura Pfefferman) and Gaby Hoffmann (Ali Pfefferman) were crying real tears in the scene: "Every time, we were blown away. We would have watched her do it 50 times."
Below is an excerpt of the conversation with Light about how that scene came about; the convincing she needed to sing from series creator Jill Soloway and her team; and what it came to mean to her personally in the end.
The final episode comes after a crushing revelation about your character, Shelly (who was sexually molested by her elementary-school music teacher), which reframes much of what we thought we knew about her in the past two seasons. Was "Hand in My Pocket" specifically written into the script for that episode when it was handed to you?
Yes. Faith Soloway, who is Jill’s sister [and co-wrote the episode], worked with me really endlessly, infinitely, religiously and generously on the song because I wasn’t sure that that was the song for Shelly. I wasn’t clear about it. Faith and Jill talked to me about it, and they explained to me what that was about, and then I understood.
Were you already a fan of Alanis Morissette?
Yes I was, personally, and I love that song, but I wasn’t sure that it was Shelly’s song. I thought she might have something that was even farther in the past. But in the first season, Shelly says, "You know I don’t like music." That’s the brilliance of this show. That is the brilliance of Jill and our writers. That is the laying in of pieces of things that you go back and you look at and you say, "Wait a minute. How did this get uncovered?" And they’re always thinking out of the box, and they’re relating to each of our characters. I say this is the season of the peeling back of the onion.
How did they finally convince you that "Hand in My Pocket" was the right song?
Faith and I had talked, and Jill and I talked, and they talked about it being a song that the kids knew and the kids played.
It easily could have been a song that Sarah and Ali would have played around the house.
Absolutely! And danced around to, swimming in the pool and singing that song and blasting it on a boom box. So it’s like the incorporation of what might have been her children’s thoughts, songs, generation. Shelly tried to catch up with that and is trying to reclaim her teenage years, trying to take that back, trying to find her voice, trying to find her lost self, which she gave up. There’s always this search to be with a person so that she doesn’t have to think about what happened to her. She shut those feelings down and lived in denial.
What I’ve been hearing from people, and I see it on social media as well and also from people that I know — and, mind you, I haven’t gotten to see it yet because I’ve been so steeped in this play, but I will! — the response has been, to a person, that they end up weeping. And I am so struck by that. The reason I am struck by it is because — I get emotional when I talk about it — we are all wounded. To whatever degree, we are. And I think it touches some place in people, that they have an experience, that they know whatever the content of their wound is — it’s obviously different than Shelly’s — whatever it is, it’s universal. It’s what Carl Jung calls the collective unconscious. We all know these things. We understand them at a very profound level.
And there’s also the notion of inherited trauma, which is very present in Transparent.
Inherited trauma is all over our children. Shelly has inherited trauma, and she has passed it on to their children.
But then to see Shelly singing a song whose chorus goes, “Everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine” — it’s also a kind of catharsis.
I think that’s right. It’s all going to be OK. We’ll make it through.
Do you know if Alanis has seen your performance?
I have no idea. I really hope she likes it. It’s such a genius song, I mean, really. It’s so incredible. And I’ve loved her for so long.
And it’s crazy to think that she wrote that song when she was only around 20 years old. It may have taken on even more meaning for her now, and I think to watch you singing it would just blow her away.
I hope so, and I hope she knows how deeply she has touched so many people by the song, when she wrote it, through the years and now to see this, how much it actually means to people. I really do hope that she knows.
This interview originally appeared in Billboard.