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'Are You Anybody?' Jeffrey Tambor Chronicles A Lifetime In Acting

Jeffrey Tambor has been a professional working actor since the early 1970s — and he says that's all he's ever wanted to do.

He's done Shakespeare, Avis commercials, Hollywood Squares, Arrested Development and La Cage aux Folles. He's still often remembered as Hank Kingsley, the self-adoring announcer on The Larry Sanders Show. Now, he stars as Maura, a divorced, transgender parent of three in the Amazon series Transparent.

Tambor's new memoir, about his life as an actor, is called Are You Anybody?

Interview Highlights

On his childhood home life, and how it led him to acting

It just wasn't warm and fuzzy. It wasn't the Ozzie & Harriet show. ... I had a theater that was right across the street from me and I would just go there after school and just hang out and watch ... and everything seemed calmer there, and nicer there, and warmer there. ... But my book isn't casting aspersions and making any parent evil. It was a tough learning curve. But it made me an actor.

On doing repertory theater across the country for 10 years

Milwaukee for five [years], Actors Theater of Louisville, San Diego Rep, Seattle Rep. Everywhere ... I loved it. I had my little Greenbrier station [wagon], my wife and two cats and tchotchkes and we moved around. I think I made $55 a week and it was bliss. ... I was doing theater. It was all I ever wanted to do. It was so much fun, and you got paid for it, and you met people, and it's the greatest education in the world. And in my little Greenbrier station wagon I felt very much like a troubadour.

On playing Julius Caesar at a reparatory theater in Detroit ... and finding out he was allergic to the stage blood

They had this blood — and I don't know what they use for this blood — but I was allergic to it, and every time Caesar died, I would just puff up into this puffball fish and I'm completely unrecognizable in my curtain call in Act V.

On the role of Maura in Transparent

It's life changing. I almost should have a shirt made: "Jill Soloway has changed my life." ... Not only changed my life with the opportunity to play Maura, but the opportunity and the responsibility of playing Maura. ...

I think it has made me a better daddy. ... I think it has made me strive to be a better actor. ... I think Maura is so beautiful, and a great teacher. I think Maura is funnier than I am, wittier than I am, more intelligent than I am, and I think she's just floating me at this point.

Radio producer Ravenna Koenig, radio editor Jordana Hochman and Web producer Beth Novey contributed to this story.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.