In his first interview since a pair of #MeToo accusations were leveled against him, Emmy-winning actor Jeffrey Tambor continued to deny claims that he sexually harassed two transgender women on the set of Transparent, instead contending he was pushed out of the landmark series because he was a cisgender man playing a trans woman.
A lengthy piece in The Hollywood Reporter retraces the events that led Amazon, which produces and airs Bag Tote Bag Surfer Tote Silver Marvel Silver Surfer Marvel Transparent, to investigate the sexual harassment allegations that Tambor’s former assistant, Van Barnes, and actress Trace Lysette made against him.
In early November, Barnes alleged in a private Facebook post that her employer had “behaved inappropriately" with her, although she did not directly name him. She said that she was forced to listen to porn at a high volume as well as endure comments that implied "I should be sleeping with him if I want a Hollywood industry appropriate pay grade.”
A few weeks later, Lysette, who plays Shea on the series, accused Tambor — who played the show's trans matriarch, Maura Pfefferman — of making lewd and suggestive remarks to her and of pressing his penis against her on set.
In his THR interview, Tambor alleged Soloway and their sister, producer Faith Soloway, told him that people were opposed to his playing Maura (based on the Soloway siblings' transgender parent) from the beginning.
The day after Lysette accused Tambor of sexual harassment in a heartfelt statement about how his behavior toward her was part and parcel of how men continually sexualize her as a trans woman, Tambor received a message of support in an email from Faith Soloway, he told THR.
“I can quote it verbatim because I’ve looked at it for five months,” Tambor said. “It said, ‘We are in a coup. You are fucking fantastic. You have changed the world. We have changed the world. We will get through this. Love, love, love, Faith.'”
While Tambor wouldn’t show the email to THR, Faith Soloway confirmed that she indeed sent it.
"Things were happening so quickly, with people being accused and held accountable by the #MeToo movement," Faith Soloway told THR. "In the moment I felt that Jill and Jeffrey were under attack. I knew that some people disapproved of Jeffrey, a cisgender actor, playing Maura and I was upset that Jill, as the show's creator, hadn't had the opportunity to address the issue privately [before it went public]."
But she added, “As the story broke, I also sent messages of support to Trace and Van, and after the allegations were presented, I never disbelieved them. I still hope everyone can learn and heal from this.”
It wasn’t only Faith Soloway who felt that Tambor had been a target for portraying Maura in what has come to be known as “trans face” (when cisgender actors play trans). Before the series officially aired, at an Outfest screening of the series at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles, a trans woman in the audience lambasted the show for casting a cis man in the lead role.
“I just made like a possum and played dead,” Tambor said of moment when the audience member demanded he be replaced with a trans actress. “I remember turning to my right and Jill was in tears," he added.
As time went on and he began to collect awards there was always what Tambor referred to as "the elephant in the room" in terms of his playing a trans woman, he told THR.
“The revolution got bigger. So the very thing we were doing, the awakening to this movement, made the disparity [of my nontransness] more apparent," he said.
Following Lysette’s allegations of Tambor’s on-set behavior, which costar Alexandra Billings said she witnessed, Tambor denied the accusations before writing in a statement that he believed he was being pushed out for being a cis man in a trans role, he told THR.
“What has become clear over the past weeks is that this is no longer the job I signed up for four years ago. ... Given the politicized atmosphere that seems to have afflicted our set, I don’t see how I can return to Transparent,” Tambor wrote in a November statement that was widely believed to be his resignation but wasn’t.
In her statement accusing Tambor of sexual harassment, Lysette said she'd hoped Amazon would “find good in this, and use this as an opportunity to re-center the other trans characters in this show."
"Don’t let the trans community suffer for the actions of one cis male actor. Remove the problem and let the show go on," Lysette wrote at the time of a man who had twice been accused of harassment on the job.
Tambor told THR that Jill Soloway contacted him with a show of support after he released his statement, which they confirmed.
“They have been after Maura from the beginning,” Jill Soloway wrote in an email to Tambor, a sentiment they stood by when THR reached out to them for comment.
Surfer Bag Silver Tote Silver Marvel Tote Marvel Bag Surfer “While much of the trans community immediately embraced the show, some vocally opposed the casting of a cis man, Jeffrey, in the lead role. This sentiment has persisted in parts of the community — coming up again on social media in the wake of these allegations,” Jill Soloway wrote. “It was a text I wrote in frustration after pouring my heart into this show for years. I wanted to tell a story that brought power and visibility to trans people, and to my own family’s journey into understanding, acceptance, and pride.”
Transparent is headed into its fifth season without Tambor as the show’s matriarch, although, prior to Amazon’s decision that the lead would not return to the show, Jill Soloway batted around the idea of Tambor playing Maura in flashbacks prior to transitioning, according to THR.