If season one of Amazon Studios’ breakout Transparent was ultimately about how life-affirming it was for L.A. patriarch Mort Pfefferman to transition to Maura, the new set of ten episodes is a little messier. That’s especially the case for her children Ali, Josh, and Sarah, played by Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Duplass, and Amy Landecker, respectively. The trio spoke to us about their real-life preparations for the emotionally intense season ahead.
Some actors create elaborate backstories for their characters to help inform their roles. Given that you’re playing siblings, did you all do that for the Pfeffermans?
Gaby Hoffmann: That would have been a really good idea to do if I were a serious actor. I’m looking at Amy right now and thinking, Fuck, we should have done that.
Jay Duplass: We work with [acting coach] Joan Scheckel, and one of the ways that she gets into that stuff — without coming at us with a bunch of “intellectual” ideas — is by putting us in a room together for two days. We have these random physical and emotional interactions, and weirdly, what we get done in those two days feels like more than if Jill [Soloway, the show’s creator] had written a novel about us.
Amy Landecker: We knew right away at the screen test that we had chemistry. It was as if we’d known each other our whole lives. We lucked out.
What’s the worst thing your characters think about their siblings?
Hoffmann: Ali gives Josh a hard time for his inconsideration of his lady friends and Sarah for being out of it in the privilege-wealth department, even though Ali is just as privileged.
Landecker: Sarah feels Ali is superior to her in some way. And with Josh, she’s annoyed that he’s so close to Ali. She’s jealous that the two of them are cooler than she is.
Hoffmann: But it’s all shifting as the dynamics and culture of the Pfefferman family are changed with Maura’s coming out. In season two, Sarah and Ali have a stronger connection than before, and Josh is sort of out there on his own.
Do you get the sense that Maura’s transition has been inspiring to her kids? Or is it more conflicted than that?
Duplass: When someone goes to the next level like she has, they’ve thrown down a gauntlet. She’s going to do whatever the fuck she wants and be happy while we’re all suffering. The trickiest part for the kids is they’ve never felt parented. With Maura becoming someone else, Josh feels even more abandoned. And it’s connected to how Josh feels about his sisters. They’re so charismatic, and that’s part of his problem of why he can’t meet women. He’s always judging them based on the caliber of his sisters.
Landecker: Actually, in this case, Jay is talking about Gaby and me in real life.
Has the show made you think differently about your own siblings?
Hoffmann: We’re not answering that!
Transparent’s second season premieres December 11 on Amazon Studios.
*This article appears in the November 30, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.