Frisky Q&A: Gaby Hoffmann Talks “Transparent,” Selfishness And On-Set Good Vibes

Amazon’s “Transparent” – a show about self-awareness, about learning how to be a different while still holding on to the person you were before – returns for a second season tonight. It’s a finely wrought character study, featuring some of the most well-written characters on television. The first season pulled back the curtain on a family doing their very best to maintain composure as various life changes, including dad Maura’s coming out as a trans woman, took hold. The second season will deal with the psychic fallout in very real and actual ways.

Each Pfefferman child handled Maura’s transition in their own way, but no one took it as hard as middle daughter, Ali, played by Gaby Hoffmann. “I like to think of Maura’s coming out as the family waking up from this decades-long slumber of being asleep to themselves,” Hoffmann told me. We talked about Ali’s path in the second season, the joys of working on set with people you truly love and whether or not there’s such a thing as too naked.

The Frisky: Do you think the kids are as selfish as they appear on the show? I came away from the first season thinking the children were unassailable monsters, but after watching the premiere, I have a little bit more of an understanding — they do care about each other, but in a way that can come off as selfishness.

Gaby Hoffmann: They’re all really flawed people who are actually really full of love and a desperate need to love and be giving of themselves. They were not properly parented and they were not loved as they should have been so they don’t really know what that means. I don’t think that they are fundamentally truly selfish people. I think they’re poorly equipped due to improper parenting. I have a lot of sympathy for them, they’re totally infuriating and yeah they can be fucking jerks, but I think that they all have such huge hearts and they’re fun of love and they’re just beginning to figure out what to do with it.

I realized that yeah, they don’t know any other way to be. It’s a very real portrayal of people. There are tons of people like that in the real world. People are like that every day.

It’s kind of what the show is about. It’s not a show about a group of lawyers who happen to be selfish assholes and we just have to accept them and concentrate on this other thing that they’re doing, the show is about investigating who these people are and why they are they way they are.

Let’s talk a little it more about Ali. She’s one of the most infuriating characters by far, but also the most real, I think. The end of the first episode of this season seems to promise that her relationship with Syd develops beyond just friendship.  What else is Ali going through this season?

She’s starting an investigation into who she is — who she is in relationship to her parents, to her family, and who the  family is in relationship to their family history, to their Judaism and to the history of their people. It’s an academic, emotional, intellectual and psychological pursuit. She’s on this investigatory path. In season one, there was that jostling awake and Ali expressed that with this sort of thoughtless acting out. This season, there’s little more focus.

Syd is the one person who has loved Ali for a lot other life, and she seems like the only person outside of the family that does love and know Ali really well, Ali, in her dysfunctional, messy, fucked up way is trying to love Syd too. But, she doesn’t quite understand what loving someone is. She’s self-centered in her attempt at exploring what it means to love Syd. That becomes problematic.

As one can assume it might. How is it working with Carrie (Brownstein)?

This is pretty true across the board on our set — it’s really easy. She’s so good and we have really great chemistry. There’s very little that we have to do to access this relationship between Syd and Ali because it was sort of just there from the day we met.

And is it like that with the rest of the cast? The way the show comes off to me as a viewer is that it feels very natural and real, from the staging to the dialogue. Is the rapport with everyone else on set the same?

It’s a little ridiculous. We all truly love each other and consider each other family at this point. We talk about it as being a little big magical and about Jill [Soloway] as being sort of the mama witch or the sorcerer because the second we were all in the same room it truly felt like we’d all deeply known each other forever. It’s an embarrassment of riches. We’re in the environment of real generosity, curiosity, there’s no ego, nothing, no bullshit.

Is that common in your experience?

I’ve never bee on a television show as a regular. I bop into “Girls” once in a while, but I’m just a visitor. I get to show up at a friend’s party for a couple hours, drink the beer and leave, whereas “Transparent” is like the family. From what I know and from what I understand, it’s incredibly rare to have this kind of freedom.

What was your favorite scene from last season to either watch or to shoot?

There’s a scene where we’re all together at the end in Shelly’s (Judith Light) living room. It’s kind of a hard scene. Ed is dying and there’s a lot of flying pieces that we were contending with and it wasn’t quite working. Everybody was having their own individual little issues and it just wasn’t gelling, but we got to the point where Jill realized that it was about the chicken. This scene’s about the chicken. There was something about her centering us around this chicken carcass that people were picking at that just broke open something for each of us.

You seem to be pretty chill with the idea of nudity, in general, but especially on film. I think its shitty and gendered the way that we speak about bravery in regards to nudity — why is it brave to show what you body looks like? How much of the nudity is in the script itself and then how much of it comes out of further discussion actually on set?

I’m just a comfortable naked person. I always have been. I grew up in a real naked way. For me, it’s not a big deal. I think that the way that we view nudity — especially female nudity — in this culture is completely limited and perverse, frankly. For me, being comfortable with my body and not representing the typical sexy female body as its been shoved down our throats – if I get to maybe play a small part in dismantling what our feelings towards nudity are, then great.

It’s all scripted. We’re interested in representing what is real and human and being naked is a part of being human and being real!