Amy Landecker On That 'Transparent' BDSM Scene And Season 4

"I love that Sarah is so ‘hard’ that her dom has to quit."
Actors Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker and Gaby Hoffmann play the Pfefferman kids on "Transparent."
Actors Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker and Gaby Hoffmann play the Pfefferman kids on "Transparent."

Warning: Mild spoilers for “Transparent” Season 3 below.

The third season of “Transparent” debuted last week with even more Pfefferman family moments ― both the warm-fuzzy and the tearful kinds.

While Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) continues to navigate her new life as a trans woman, her ex-wife Shelly (Judith Light) and children are absorbed in their own struggles. Josh (Jay Duplass) examines his ties to his own small family while Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) plunges into a relationship with an older mentor. Sarah (Amy Landecker), meanwhile, tries to mend fences between herself, her ex-husband, Len, and her Jewish faith.

The Huffington Post talked to Landecker about Season 3, including that intense interaction with her professional dominatrix, exactly why the show looks and feels so true to life, and where it’s going next season.

Sarah starts out in a good place in Season 3, exploring her religious beliefs with Rabbi Raquel and her sexuality with [BDSM worker] Pony, but we see those relationships break down midway through the season. Where does Sarah end up by the end?

There’s this dinner with the family to celebrate Maura’s birthday. And ― in kind of the same way that you go home for the holidays and it sets off a regression ― for me, that was a turning point where the frustration underneath unmoors her a little. That satisfaction of going from Pony and having this transactional pleasure doesn’t really work — she’s kind of bored with it — which leads to mounting frustration, which then leads to this spiritual exploration. But whenever she’s driven by a selfish desire, [such as] going for Raquel when, clearly, her brother is still in love with her and she’s still in love with him, it sort of backfires on her. And once again, she’s hurt somebody in an effort to find personal satisfaction. By the end of the season, I feel like she’s really feeling that in a more profound way. She’s yelled at her kids, Raquel has fallen apart, and I think she’s really thinking, “I need to change how I’m doing this.” She wants to be close to her family. She wants to be close to Len. She wants to be close to her sister.

You mentioned one particular scene, where Sarah explodes at Pony and forces her to leave town.

I love that Sarah is so “hard” that her dom has to quit. 


It was funny, because it was pretty out there, right? And we have all these writers. We have gender-queer [people], we have people who have been in the BDSM world, we have people who are trans, a lot of different experiences. And I was like, “Who wrote this! Who wrote this line?” And it was Bridget Bedard, who is our cis-gender female new mom. And I was laughing my ass off. OK, Bridget. This is your line about ripping a head off …? It was really funny that it came from her head.

But it was intense to do. It was hard to do. Screaming at people is still hard to do even under pretend circumstances. I was worried that everyone would hate me, but so far people seem to think it was a pretty powerful scene, and funny and weird and everything “Transparent” is. So I’m feeling OK about it. 

You understand how she got to that point, after meeting the spinning instructor that her husband is dating. You get why she blows up.

They were really careful about the placement of it, too. A concern of mine, and that the writers were really attuned to, was the sequence leading up to the event. We have a lot of storylines, and sometimes you don’t have a lot of time to tell what leads to something. But I think people can relate to that. She’s upset about something else, but she’s given an opportunity to express it, and it just gets out of control. She’s using this poor person as a scapegoat.

Did you know much about the BDSM community before Season 2?

I knew nothing! Nothing at all. I didn’t go do research or anything like that. Jill [Soloway] and I talked about that, [the fact that] I was totally green and scared and not in my element when I first met Pony at the women’s festival at the end of Season 2. Jill knew I was worried about it. I was scared. I’m much wimpier than I am on the show. I read the pages and I’m like, “Oh, god!” So she had the great idea of hiring someone for that scene who was from that world, so there was someone comfortable and you didn’t have two actors trying to act something out that they weren’t familiar with.

She was brilliant ― brilliant ― to hire this gender-queer actor from the adult film world, Jiz Lee. They are gender nonconforming and they do queer porn ― another world I have no familiarity with. But our writers do. And what I learned was that it’s a way safer world than anyone could possibly imagine. It sets major limits. So what I did in that scene, in real life would be completely unacceptable. I would be banished from that world if I behaved like that. It is not a place where you let out aggression; it’s actually a place where you can freely enjoy a type of stimulation with safety so that you feel free. You’re loose because you know things can’t go too far. The people that I met through the show were incredibly thoughtful, incredibly kind, incredibly normal and not at all like my image of scary people into S&M. 

There is a “scary” image associated with that.

Yeah. But, I mean, it makes sense. We all like a little hair-pull. [Laughs]

So I imagine working in an environment like that, on Jill Soloway’s set, feels way different from other sets you’ve been on.

Yeah, it’s totally different. We talk a lot about the difference when you come from a feminine, female perspective. And I don’t think it’s just about being a woman, because I think there are very feminine men. I think if we’re just talking about the binary ― which is something we try to stay away from, but it’s hard to describe this without invoking it ― a “masculine” set is one that favors the equipment, and a “feminine” set favors the emotions.

We don’t really ever wait for lighting. We spend our time making sure the emotional truth is there in every scene. We don’t spend a lot of time in hair and makeup; we spend a lot of time making sure everything feels genuine and authentic. And it’s just a different approach than most television and film productions, which can spend a lot of time on the aesthetics and the pace and the action. You don’t do a lot of sitting around, and then acting for two seconds, because you’re not waiting an hour for the best lighting. People are kind of shocked at how “human” we all look, but that’s what people look like on camera. I did an NBC sitcom and there was literally an air balloon of light up in the sky to shine on my face. It’s a different aesthetic. It’s a different goal. So when you watch it, it seems like this intense experience, and that’s because the emotions are the primary focus. And that’s all Jill.

Has anyone been talking about Season 4?

We’re going to try to do another trip, because we found ourselves on that cruise having the time of our lives. We’re such a family anyway in real life. This is a very, very, very, very, very close group of people, so we found ourselves really enjoying that ― getting away together. We’re all lobbying for another Pfefferman vacation or some kind of travel. I do think there’ll be some more exploration with Len, and I think [Sarah is] finding her way.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

“Transparent” Season 3 is now available on Amazon. 



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