Spoilers ahead for season two, episode two of Transparent, “Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump.”
Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light star as ex-spouses Maura and Shelly Pfefferman on Amazon’s Transparent, and in season two, their relationship gets more complicated. In episode two, we see Maura and Shelly in an intimate bathtub setting, in which Maura pleasures her ex-wife as she moans in ecstasy. “I had this hand-holding moment with Jeffrey and Judith and our cinematographer,” showrunner Jill Soloway explained to us. “It was just the four of us, stepping outside of the feeling of ‘this could be embarrassing to shoot’ and going to this larger question of ‘we’re showing something that nobody has ever seen before’ – mom’s pleasure, matriarch joy, the matriarch in joy, the matriarch letting go.” Eager to learn more, Vulture had Light and Tambor walk us through the scene.
How would you describe the relationship between Maura and Shelly in the second season?
Jeffrey Tambor: That’s a very good question. There’s a wonderful saying: “for now …” And for now, this is what this is. They are connected and always will be. I think she’s more evolved in season two than Maura. Maura’s still searching.
Judith Light: Yeah. And the longing to be with this person is “the want,” and that’s the love, that’s the connection. It’s not just having the three children; they have a very, very strong bond.
I’d love to discuss the orgasm scene.
JL: You’re the first person who’s called it that! Others called it the bathtub scene.
JT: With bubbles.
How did you two approach it?
JL: Somebody mentioned it to me and said, “Did you read the script for episode two?” I said, “No, not yet.” And they said, “You’re in a bathtub.” I said,“Oh, okay, great, how luxurious!” They said, “Uh, just read it.”
JT: What was your reaction when you read it?
JL: I thought, oh my god, I don’t know that I can do this.
JT: Oh, I didn’t know that. Because of your body?
JL: Yeah, because of everything. What it meant to do that, what the exposure was, the vulnerability.
JT: Exposure in the truest sense.
JL: Exactly. I said, I don’t know. And of course it’s like, I have to do it, there’s no question about it when Jill presents you with something like that. We’ve known each other a long time. Jeffrey was actually the first to bring it up in a discussion. I told Jill I was very nervous and I told him how nervous I was, and I never felt so protected and supported and cared for like that – ever. Not only on a set, but just in life. There were other people who were so empathetic, and I don’t know that we live in a really empathetic society. I think we’re all really focused so much on ourselves that we say we’ll give lip service to somebody’s fragility or their vulnerability, but not that kind of care. Jeffrey kept saying to me, “it will be alright. We will be alright.” And mind you, he’s just as vulnerable in that scene as I am. He’s just as exposed. He’s sitting there in a bathing suit and he’s the one who’s connecting to me in this way. It’s not just me doing that. There was no question I could say anything to him or to Jill at any point. And there were only four of us on the set. It was me, Jeffery, Jill, and our cinematographer. She sent everybody away.
JT: Completely off the set.
JL: Off, gone! The bubbles in the bubble bath, she brought them herself. The bubbles had been made and she put them on top of me.
JT: I can’t think of anything more emblematic than that to describe Jill. She went and got the bubbles. She protects her actors fiercely, like a real mother in the real sense of the word. She’s so fierce. It’s the safest set in the world. You also have to know that Judith is one of our premiere artists. In acting school we used to say, “How good were they? Oh, killer.” And she’s killer. After Judith does a scene, there’s nothing left to be done. She does a scene this season where something is brought up about the past that is very difficult. Jill came up and whispered something in her ear, and the next take, action, you hear this wail. Like, I thought when I heard it someone was farting. Because it was so low. Everyone was like, “What is going on?” Then suddenly there’s this intense wailing that’s coming from Judith. Take after take after take. And then she would talk normally and start laughing when they would yell cut, then they would yell action, and the wailing would begin again. [Both laugh] I was sitting next to somebody and I was like, “I can’t do what she just did.” She is so fierce. I think she was nervous — our bodies are exposed — but on action? Killer.
And how did you approach it, Jeffrey?
JT: In a very protective way. It’s funny – I was protecting my friend. It was a very odd scene because I was responding … Maura, Jeffrey, Mort, bathing suit, exposed, excited, fun. I wanted stay there forever. Eye contact, we were just there. And then it was over. I don’t even remember how long it took. At the end of the day I texted Judith and said, this is as good as it gets, it doesn’t get better than this. It’s a landmark scene in terms of gender equality and changing the binary. She’s yearning for the past and for affection. And when Maura gets to the end of that scene she says, “I’m good.” That’s interesting. That’s an interesting moment. One that I didn’t quite understand, but I was glad to participate in.
JL: It’s so interesting to listen to your perception of it because it’s the same as mine. And that’s what’s so potent about it. He talked about what was going on for him in terms of all of it, every bit of it. So it was a shared intimacy that was very profound.