Emmys: 'Tranparent's' Gaby Hoffmann — "I've Never Been Asked to Play, Nor Have I Ever Wanted to Play, the Girlfriend, the Sex Symbol'
The twice-nominated star of 'Girls' and 'Transparent' talks child stardom ("my mom's solution to welfare"), awards shows ("very weird") and her happy place in Hollywood as its odd girl out.
This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Not all child stars have a rocky road — some simply choose their own path. Take Gaby Hoffmann, for instance, who first made her mark playing precocious moppets in such films as 1989's Uncle Buck and 1993's Sleepless in Seattle, only to drop out of the business and re-emerge a decade later as screen muse to everyone from Lena Dunham to Louis C.K. Now 33, Hoffman has two Emmy nominations this year for her layered performances in two of TV's most zeitgeisty series: She plays aimless daughter Ali on Amazon's Transparent and Caroline, Adam's unhinged sister, on HBO's Girls. Here, Hoffmann traces her path from a colorful childhood spent living in New York's Chelsea Hotel and going on endless auditions ("My mom's solution to not being on welfare") to her standing as one of TV's most sought-after — and darkly eccentric — character actresses. It's an arrangement that suits her just fine: "Hollywood and I have a mutual understanding that I'm not 'that' girl."
How does it feel to receive two Emmy nominations — your first ever — for two very different performances?
I'm tickled and grateful, and it's very, very lovely. It's also very weird. I don't have simple feelings about the awards thing. There are so many incredible actors who aren't even in the mix to receive this kind of acknowledgment.
Your resurgence began with great parts in independent films like Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime (2009) and Sebastian Silva's Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (2013). Is your TV work a continuation of that?
I was 5, 6, 8 when I was making big Hollywood movies. I wasn't making decisions about what kind of work I wanted to do. Honestly, I was working because we needed money. That was my mom's solution to not being on welfare. I didn't quite know how to pull it off — the balance of how to make money and getting to make work that you felt good about. Miraculously, I've ended up in this beautiful sweet spot. Transparent feels like an independent film set, but it's incredibly well-funded.
Hoffmann with 'Transparent' co-star Jay Duplass. “At the last table read, we were all in tears,” she says of rehearsals for season two.
What are the differences in working on the sets of Girls and Transparent?
Girls is, for me, mostly big humor. My character is so wild — I get to really stretch my comedic wings and be outrageous and play. With Transparent, I'm much more involved in every aspect of it: the storytelling, the writing. We all have our hands in the pot a lot. So it's more like Transparent is my family and Girls is like a barbecue with my friends.
With all the social impact it has had, has shooting the second season of Transparent felt any different from the first?
There's a pulsing heart at the center of our show that was always there. But certainly, the show has expanded in its depth and reach. We have a bigger cast, we have a bigger community around us — so you can actually feel it energetically when you step into the room.
Transparent creator Jill Soloway and Girls creator Lena Dunham each champion the notion of the "female gaze" in her work. How much does that inform your performance?
It's no accident that Jill and Lena, coming from that place, have asked me to participate in their work. I've never been the "object." Hollywood and I have a mutual understanding that I'm not "that" girl. (Laughs.) I've never been asked to play, nor have I ever wanted to play, the girlfriend, the sex symbol. It's not how I really inhabit my body as an actress. It's not how I inhabit myself in the world.
You had your first child, Rosemary, in November. Has motherhood offered any acting insights?
I feel more capable of tuning everything out and just being where I am. With my baby that's really easy because she's just the most extraordinary, interesting thing in the world to me. But that carries over. The more you practice a habit, the more present and available it is to you all of the time.
Did being a child actor help prepare you for the work you're doing now, or is it something you were just lucky to survive?
The fact that I got to have these two phases — and that I did quit and go to college and took 10 years off and had my difficulties and depressions and anxieties and identity crisis during my 20s outside the public's eye, in the woods, with my boyfriend, in private — that is the thing I'm most grateful for.