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Jeffrey Tambor is adding “author” to his long list of accolades.
In the Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner’s new memoir, Are You Anybody?, Tambor details his road to becoming The Larry Sanders Show‘s Hank Kingsley, Arrested Development‘s George Bluth Sr./Oscar and Transparent‘s Maura Pfefferman.
But his big break in Hollywood was met with personal and professional challenges. The now 72-year-old actor recalls being harassed for his Jewish faith and growing up in a household of abuse and addiction; his sister went “MIA” after becoming a heroin addict, his father and mother were alcoholics, and the latter attempted suicide twice. Tambor battled alcoholism (and developed gout during production of 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas), but has been sober now for 15 years.
He writes of how his mentors, like the late Garry Shandling (whom Tambor learned passed away 15 minutes after completing his tribute chapter on the comedy legend), guided him in his search for love and self-acceptance.
At one point, Tambor turned to the Church of Scientology and took classes for two years. He recalls, “I felt that love, I inhaled it. … I was totally willing to accept Scientology — if it would fix me.” Despite liking the “edginess” of it being frowned upon and being treated to celebrity privileges within the church like private doorways and deluxe classrooms, Tambor left the church abruptly. He did not cut ties after being conned out of thousands of dollars, but when he was pressured to leave his second wife.
In his book, Tambor decided to record the memorable moments of his life for his five children: “fortysomething” Molly from his first marriage, adopted preteens Gabriel and Evie, and 7-year-old twins Hugo and Eli with wife Kasia. Some fun highlights:
— He was high during his bar mitzvah.
— Farting during a teenage date inspired him to be a character actor.
— A wig once saved his life.
— He has yet to book a Coen brothers gig after a disastrous audition with them.
— Jane Fonda and producers fired him from 9 to 5.
— He adopted the life motto “F— ’em,” meaning “I don’t care if you like me. Here I am.”
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Tambor about his tell-all, which hits shelves May 16.
I want to start off by giving you permission to call me back after this chat, since you mention in your book of having a fear of being clear in interviews and a tendency to want to correct yourself.
Oh, isn’t that funny? You picked up on that! I’ve actually gotten better at that. But I’ll probably call you back. A habit that I’m trying to get rid of.
I’d like to begin with a bold question, in the spirit of your memoir’s motto. What was your most recent “F— ‘em” moment?
I stopped the orchestra at the Emmys. That was a “F— ‘em” moment. I said to the orchestra, “Stop! Stop!” The orchestra actually stopped. (Upon accepting the 2016 Emmy for best actor in a comedy series for Transparent, Tambor cut the “play off” music to share, “I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television.”)
In your book, you write of working with and listening to members of the trans community. What three key changes would you like to see for the trans community in Hollywood in the near future?
The depiction of the community. Accuracy in the humanity. I want more creation of roles and opportunity in the trans community. I want those stories and that talent to get out!
It’s amazing that your daughter Evie at 9 years old had such a clear understanding of your character Maura on Transparent, describing her simply as a character who is “more comfortable a woman.”
That came from the mouth of a babe. All that other stuff is learned — all that phobia and hatred and fear is taught. Evie got it in a second. And she’s been on the set twice, and it’s quite something to watch her observe and soak it all in. I’m very proud.
I was also really moved when you wrote about your mom. You write of the pain of her addiction and verbal abuse throughout different periods of your life, and yet, by the end of the memoir you seem to reach a place of gratitude and forgiveness. You thank her when you discuss your 15 years of sobriety — and congratulations by the way!
And you pay tribute to your mom through Maura on Transparent. How did you make peace with that and reach this place of gratitude?
I’m 72 years old, and you just put down that luggage of blame and regret, and you get to the humanity of it. My mom was trying her best, and I know that. This is why there’s a circle in geometry, nature and the world.
Despite the organization’s financial scams and pressure to remove yourself from your wife, you say you hold “no hard feelings” today toward the Church of Scientology. Why is that?
Yep, no hard feelings. Because what’s the use of hard feelings? In that chapter, I tried to be as fair as I could. It was me looking for love. I actually had a very good time. And I met a lot of very nice people. A magazine wanted to do a chapter on it as a stand-alone piece, and I said, “No.” Because it could have sounded like I’m blaming. It’s not about that. It’s about me. That chapter is not so much about Scientology, as it is about Jeffrey. I meant that. Thanks for the memories. All experiences work, and they add to the paint. I don’t think hard feelings help anything.
I thought Garry Shandling taught you a beautiful lesson: “Let it happen.” Earlier in your book, you present your own mantra: “Performing your life: What’s keeping you?” How do you find that balance between “letting it happen” and pushing yourself to “perform your life”?
I think they’re dissimilar; I find a lot of what we do is a performance. Sometimes I have to perform the best dad I can perform.
I teach action. I was taught action by my teachers. From [Garry], you can’t plan everything. And actually, it sort of saved me. I was the guy who over-rehearsed, over-prepared and knew everybody else’s lines. Garry just said, “Let it happen. Make a mistake! It’s OK. I gotcha.” And he did. I would watch him prepare his monologue, and I went, “Oh I see.” It was a big lesson and a big relief.
All three directors that I’ve worked with or executive producers — Garry, Mitch [Hurwitz] and Jill Soloway — that’s in their DNA! It’s all “let it happen” in the moment. It really changed me. Garry took me to school on it. It was something I needed to hear, and it was the right time. I was 45 years old. I wasn’t a kid when I heard the news. [Garry] was very special. He was the kindest of geniuses, and I am so thankful.
If you could be a teacher to others who have become parents later in life, what advice would you give to them?
I don’t think you could err on “attaboy.” At my dad’s funeral, people came up to me and said, “Your dad was very proud of you.” And my whole thing is, “Say it.”
Over the weekend, my kids came up and showed me their art projects — I go wild with enthusiasm. I just go, “Attaboy. Attaboy. Attaboy.” Praise is huge in learning. That doesn’t mean giving a trophy to everybody who participates or shows up for a practice. But praise works. I’ve seen it on the set. I’ve seen it in rehearsal rooms. I’ve seen it in the creation of this book, where people are giving me praise. People have read it and said, “You got it! Keep going!”
What have you learned through your 12-year-old son Gabriel, who battles Vater syndrome?
Gabriel has actually taught me and inspired me. He inspires me every day. His coping, humanity and empathy is so vast that we have switched places on the marquee. Indeed, he is the teacher and I am the student.
[THR calls back with one more follow-up question, ironically since Tambor admits to usually doing so.]
So you’re calling me! Thank you for breaking the curse. (Laughs.)
What is the backstory behind your memoir’s trailer, in which your four young children interview you about your career?
The genesis of that is [manager] Rebecca Miller pitched, “What if we had a sort of Q&A with the kids?” And it was just genius. The kids just took it and ran. What I like about it is it’s so attuned of the book. It’s so human. And that part where — forget the “debutt,” which is funny — but the part where Eli is helping Hugo to read the card is heartbreaking to me.
I wrote this book for the kids because basically, I don’t think they understand what I do for a living. For many years, I think they thought their dad ate lunch for a living because I would invite them to the set for lunch, and I think they thought that was my employment.
You have to understand they get a little confused because they see George Sr., Hank Kingsley and Maura. They know I’m the voice of a burrito. So, I wrote the book with that in mind.
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