Transparent’s Amy Landecker Had to Reschedule a Sex Scene Because of Poop

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Amy Landecker. Photo: Getty Images

Amy Landecker, the actor who plays Sarah Pfefferman on Transparent, was feeling relaxed and silly at the end of a long press junket for the Amazon show’s fourth season. In other words, she was ready to unload. “I get frustrated a little bit with how much sex Sarah has,” Landecker said. “Every year I’m just like, ‘Oh my God. What is up with her?’”

It’s a new season of Transparent, which means new sexual territory for Sarah, the eldest and arguably most neurotic of the Pfefferman siblings. After leaving her husband Len (Rob Huebel) for Tammy (Melora Hardin) and then leaving her, she’s back again with Len — only with a twist, because nothing can be easy with Sarah. The couple brings in a third, their kid’s preschool teacher Lila (Alia Shawkat), who makes it clear that she’s into both of them and has experience with this polyamory business. In the interview below, Vulture talks with Landecker about her experience with threesomes and open relationships, how getting diagnosed with diverticulitis made scheduling the show’s sex scenes, um, messy, and why she asked her partner Bradley Whitford to talk to her as his character Josh Lyman from The West Wing.

Do you ever get frustrated with Sarah?
I’m going to be honest because we’re at the end of the day. I get frustrated a little bit with how much sex Sarah has. Every year I’m just like, “Oh my God. What is up with her? Why does she have to be so nutty all the time?” It’s hard to go in and know we’re going on this big journey, and it takes a lot of energy. And it’s also the greatest gift in the world, because as an actor you want to be pushed with the best writing and the best character on the best show. But sometimes it’s exhausting — emotionally and physically.

What was it like shooting those sex scenes with Rob Huebel and Alia Shawkat? I assume they’re logistical. 
They’re exhausting. We were just pointing out to someone who was like, “Whoa, you have a ton of sex this year,” that I am actually clothed the whole time. They’re not logistical on our show, I will say. We’re very free, but there’s nothing actually happening. Not that there usually is, but a lot of it is more vibe and movement. There’s not actual tons of like, “We’re watching people have sex.” If you look for that, there’s very little bumping around.

There’s a lot of pre, there’s a lot of post, but it’s a lot of vulnerability. As actors, we’re so used to emotional vulnerability, but you feel physically vulnerable at the same time, and luckily Rob [Huebel] and Alia Shawkat, I could not pick better people to play with. But you get a little zonked. It’s interesting, especially if you act stoned at the same time. Even though we’re not actually smoking pot, you are tricking your body into thinking that you’re making out and high for 12 hours, which sounds really fun, but you want to take a nap afterward. [Laughs.]

Do you think Sarah is a sex addict? 
I think she might be a love addict. I think Sarah’s into drama. I don’t think she’s a sex addict, per se. I don’t even think the sex act is what she’s interested in. I think she’s interested in drama, passion, connection, and dominance and submissiveness, and wanting someone to control what feels uncontrollable to her. Getting high that much, that’s how she tries to connect to people; that’s how she lets go. So I think there’s addictive tendencies all over the place with her, but I don’t think she should get well, or I think we’re going to have boring story lines. [Laughs.] I want her to be a sick puppy.

I wonder if she’s capable of finding inner peace, or if she thrives on neuroses and conflict.
I think she thrives on chaos. And I really don’t think that people who are well make for as fascinating characters. Some of the greatest stuff that I watch, that I’m drawn to, is deeply flawed human beings. Because they’re representing a part of us that might not be all of us, but the part we’re most afraid to look at, and so we get to vicariously experience it through this character. I think it’s important that she be this, because a lot of people have this in them. I mean, I know I do — not to any extent that she does, but it helps me accept parts of myself. I see it and I know I’m not alone.

Do you believe that polyamory can work?
No. [Laughs.] Not for me! I am just jealous. I tried something one night. I can’t do that shit. I just was like, “I don’t want to see my boyfriend or someone I love touching anything else.”

You brought in a third?
I did once. Oh my God, why am I admitting to this? Once a long time ago.

We’re all adults. 
I was younger. It didn’t work. I don’t do it. It’s not my thing. I’m way too possessive. I’ve made that very clear to the man I love. We will not be doing anything that I do at work.

I know people who try open relationships, people I really care about, they’re fine with it. That’s a personal decision. If you’re a jealous, insecure, formerly pudgy high schooler who had terrible boyfriends, you’re not really open to the experience. I think Sarah has a lot more self-esteem than I do, in that regard. And actually, a lot of women that I know who are into that have more self-esteem, because if you’re insecure it’s like, “Come on!” I mean, I could take two guys. I’ve never tried that. [Laughs.]

The polyamorist would argue that jealousy exists in all relationships. It’s just a particular negotiation in an open one.
Yeah, I have some friends who are into it. They’re all young, sweet women, and I’m just like, “Good for you.” It is more common now in younger people to say, “This is possible.” And you know what? More power to them. I love the idea that we’re going to be genderless and boundaryless in the future. I think that probably is the future, but I’m an old lady, so … [Laughs.] I’m not there.

I mean, the only reason this worked for me as an actor in the story line is that Len loves her so much, and it’s actually Sarah who wants this. It would be very difficult for me to play without feeling insecure about it.

But then Sarah does have a moment where she gets worried.
Yeah, she does, which is probably inspired by my own insanity that the writers picked up on. They’re like, “She feels old and insecure. Let’s write that in.”

What’s the most difficult emotion to channel in your work?
I find rage to be the scariest emotion as an actor, for me personally, to tap into. I don’t like anger, and I don’t like conflict particularly in my life. I like everybody to be nice and things to be easy. To bring up that part of Sarah, like when she was really abusing Pony last year, when she was yelling at her kids, that was wrenching and hard for me. This was like hanging out with two of the funniest people, the coolest people, the kindest people, and then seeing my family on this trip of ours. It was actually a really lovely, pleasant season. I know there’s deep stuff that goes on, but it didn’t tax me emotionally in the same way.

Except for the sex scenes!
Exactly. I was like, “Oh my God.”

Oh, I had diverticulitis! I haven’t talked about this yet. This was the most taxing thing of the year. I got diverticulitis, which is a colon thing that I now know I have and will have forever, and I got deathly ill. I was in the hospital, and it means that you have to go on a liquid diet, and you get really sick. I’m going to gross you out. I’m giving you a scoop of the day.

My parents talk about poop all the time.
Okay, so you literally could poop in your pants at any moment. I’m wearing white pants in the scene, and I wore a liner, and we were in Israel, and I was supposed to do the scene with Rob where we’re having sex with Lila by Skype and he’s behind me. We had to reschedule it twice because I couldn’t be moved like that with fear that I would have an accident in the middle of the scene. They had to rebuild the entire set on Paramount’s lot because of my diverticulitis. There, that’s the sexiness of the show. That’s how hot it was.

Wait, so what is it exactly?
Diverticulitis? Trust me, every grandparent you have has diverticulitis. There are young people who have it, too. It was one of those things where I found out I had it and everyone’s like, “Oh, my grandfather has that.” And I went, “Great. Just another sign of aging. Now my colon won’t work.”

I’m sorry.
It’s okay. It’s not a big deal. It’s totally fine. I’m fine.

You’ve done four seasons of Transparent and you’re going into a fifth. How has doing the show changed the way you think about yourself, sex, relationships, and gender?
Gender more. With sex, I think I’m deeply embedded in my own path. I mean, I joked that the first season, I thought maybe it would make me open to some stuff because I was meeting people and learning about different things. Kink, I’m not interested. Being bi, I’m not interested. I was open to seeing if it was something that maybe I hadn’t looked at. It’s been a funny journey of like, “Oh, no, no.” I’m decidedly in my lane, and that’s probably where I’m going to stay. But gender has been an interesting exploration.

Has it impacted how you think about yourself?
Like my gender?

Yeah.
No. [Laughs.]

That’s what I mean, though. Honestly, the first year I was like, “Hey!” but then I was just like, “Oh, no. I’m just a boring cis-gendered straight girl.” I’m obviously an open heart, and my closest best friends are queer and bi and trans, and there must be something in me that’s really connected, but it’s not my personal experience.

How do you go into those different veins of gender and sexuality as an actor?
You know, one thing I think that is true of me, I really love all kinds of people. That doesn’t mean sexually. I’m very open and I’ve always been very social. Every time even a new actor comes in, or there’s a new circumstance, it’s really fun for me.

And I guess I did find out that I’m much more fearless than I thought I was. As you get older, you learn who you are, and you didn’t even know that you had this type of personality — which is an ability to expose yourself, or be vulnerable, or not look attractive, or whatever it is you’re doing on any given day — that is somehow special to people. It inspires them or it means something to them. Sarah caused me to see that I’m a lot less judgmental than I thought I was. I like myself more than I did; I think I’m a better person than I thought I was.

Do you and Bradley Whitford stretch each other?
[Laughs.] We don’t need to because we can both put our legs behind our heads. Just keep that in your head.

[Landecker begins to put her right leg around her neck.]

Stretch each other? There’s no need to, we’re both double-jointed. I mean, I can’t do all of it now. I have a sprained ankle, but yeah, I can put my head … and so can he, which is really more rare in a male. He’s wildly flexible.

Were you a fan of The West Wing?
No. I will say this: I watched it after we started dating, and I had to stop watching it for a while because I started to fangirl, and I was like, “I can’t date Josh Lyman.” I would have him talk to me like I was Donna a couple of times. And then I got back into it and I did finish it, but it was hard. It’s hard to date someone, and I realize what the experiences of other people are of Bradley. Like my mom? That’s awkward. She’s a huge Josh Lyman fan, but he plays this incredibly smart, sexy person, and it was weird. I was like, “I am not worthy.” But anyway, yeah, I’ve seen all of The West Wing.

My God, Bradley’s gonna kill me.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Transparent’s Amy Landecker on Threesomes, Polyamory & Poop