Amy Landecker is just getting started.
The 46-year-old actor worked in theater in Chicago for years. Supporting roles in “A Serious Man” and “Dan in Real Life” gave her on-screen cred, but it wasn’t until she landed a starring role in Amazon Studios' “Transparent” that she came into her own.
The “traumedy,” which has won eight Emmys since first airing in 2014 — including three during last Sunday's ceremony — tells the story of an L.A. family adapting after its patriarch (Jeffrey Tambour) comes out as transgender.
Landecker plays Sarah Pfefferman, the oldest of the three adult children (alongside Gaby Hoffmann and Jay Duplass), whom many perceive as the most self-indulgent of the gang—which is saying a lot.
“People say, ‘Oh she’s a hot mess.’ I’m like, they’re all hot messes!” says Landecker. “I have a lot of sympathy for Sarah. She’s the oldest daughter of two parents who are incredibly narcissistic. She hasn’t exactly been given a great set of tools.”
We spoke with Landecker about how much she relates to her character, her crush on co-star Kathryn Hahn and the merits of finding career success in her forties.
Season 3 of “Transparent” premieres Friday on Amazon Prime.
Last season showed your character picking up the pieces after her divorce and non-starter second marriage. What can we expect for Sarah in Season 3?
Last season felt like I was doing a lot of dating and smoking (weed) and acting out and being alone. It felt very divorce-y to me, like how my (real-life) divorce felt. There’s this year after that is just sort of flailing around and feeling sorry for myself.
This season felt very light for me, more buoyant, because she’s going through a spiritual exploration.
Wherever Sarah goes, there’s some wreckage. It’s sad, and I love her, and it breaks my heart, but there’s just something about her that for whatever reason can be toxic to other human beings. And the one person who gets her, and is there for her no matter what, oddly, is Len (her ex-husband), so (this season) there’s a coming home, not in a romantic way, to the partnership and the family she has with him.
Where do you think her self-loathing comes from?
I know in my own self-loathing, it’s that in the pursuit to make myself happy, I hurt other people. Part of self-realization is there’s usually some collateral damage, and I think whenever you break up a family, whether it’s for good or bad, you have a tremendous sense of failure and guilt.
I think she’s also felt very isolated and alone — one of the storylines this year is about Ali and Josh, how close they are. My mom’s the oldest of three, and when you’re the oldest child you get a lot of the responsibility. You also get the brunt of whatever the parental dysfunction is. And you try to protect your younger siblings from it. They don’t know it, but you’re the wall between that so they can stay playful and happy together, and you’re sort of out there on your own.
You went through your divorce at the same time as Sarah does in the show. Could you tell us about that?
Yeah, it was kind of uncanny to me that pretty much every storyline that we’ve done has somehow coincided with some part of my life at the time that it’s happening. I’ve never identified as bisexual in my life and I’ve never been in the BDSM community, but I‘ve definitely pushed my own boundaries of what I wanted to do and what I’m interested in.
I’ve explored a little after divorce: you go out in the world and you date and you try different things, like going through a midlife crisis and then coming back to wanting to heal that rift. I’m really good friends with my ex now and his girlfriend and we have this very sort of easygoing blended family dynamic, and I’m also very happy in my personal life. It’s funny because I date Bradley Whitford, who was on the “West Wing” (and “Transparent”) and I know Sorkin really wrote to the people who they were. I feel like Jill (Soloway) is also very intuitive about the people she’s writing for. I feel like there will continue to be some mirroring.
How has the culture of "Transparent" influenced your sense of openness, in general?
I was always open. Jill intuitively knows people who are open, and I think if they’re not they’re not going to last long on our set. I worked in the LGTB community in Chicago and fundraising for years and I come from theater and the theater is sort of the home of the misfit toys of our culture. I might be not considered gender queer or outsider but I have had that sensibility and openness and liberalness and a real desire for equality. Some people just come to this world wanting social justice. I was marching for the ERA when I was a kid. I think Jill finds those people who are politically active and alive and feminist and care about this stuff.
Does the cast of “Transparent” feel like a family at this point?
It’s like a family without the dysfunction. I had one little fight with Gaby (Hoffmann), Bernie vs. Hillary this year. It was interesting, I was Hillary because I’m the older woman and she was Bernie because she’s younger, it was a generational difference. And I was making this point that as a woman who’s been protesting and fighting for women’s rights since I was a kid, it was so monumental to me that we could have a female president. And for her that was beside the point and kind of accepted, 'well, let’s not settle.' We got into it and then we immediately called each other and apologized. There’s the potential for friction but honestly, there’s also a tremendous amount of love.
We’ve gleaned from social media that you’re pretty close with Kathryn Hahn.
I lobbied for Kathryn to work with me! I basically did this show because of “Afternoon Delight”— I was so blown away by Kathryn’s performance. She also happens to be one of the warmest, funniest human beings on the planet, and I feel like she’s just starting now for people to understand the depth of her abilities and how incredible she is. We all on set are like, clapping and in awe.
You found success as an actress later in life. What’s that like?
I just feel like we have a bunch of statistics and information, that if we live by it, we’ll feel crushed and we’ll never leave the house. And I think what’s so great about my story to tell is that there’s an exception to every rule. I was struggling working in theater and voice-over and the fact that my on-camera career found a life and footing at this amazing job in my forties? You can’t have hope if you don’t have an example of the possibility, whatever it is you’re trying to do. I think not knowing what you want to do until later in life is lovely and should be celebrated more. It’s important to see.
I had agents who when I moved to New York in my mid-thirties said, you’ll never work here, you’re too old, you don’t have a pedigree. You kinda just can’t listen to everybody. If people did, the amount of things that wouldn’t have happened….I just want to be the plug for patience and persistence and then, until you’re dead, whatever you wanna try, try it. You don’t even know what you’re capable of if you don’t explore. We’re just so afraid, especially women, afraid of failure, afraid of risk, afraid of upsetting people. I think we just have to encourage each other to go for it.