You may not know the name, but you know the face. Jeffrey Tambor has had a career most actors dream of: years and years of performing the classics in repertory theater and then roles on not one, not two, but three popular television shows: The Larry Sanders Show (“Hey, now!”), Arrested Development (“There’s always money in the banana stand”), and now, the role-breaking Transparent (“My whole life I have been dressing up as a man. This is me”). He is also a well-known acting coach, beloved for his “attaboy” approach to teaching (more on that later), and co-owner of a thriving bookstore, Skylight Books, on the east side of L.A. Now he adds author to his résumé. His just-published memoir, Are You Anybody? (Crown Archetype), draws from his formative childhood years, when he was raised as “a fat Hungarian-Jewish kid with a lisp and a depressive mother,” to explore his career path and creative process. BookCon caught up with the busy actor to discuss this new venture.
What inspired you to write this book?
I do a show called Performing Your Life, or What’s Keeping You? I go to colleges and corporations all over the nation. We have a Q&A afterward, and I tell them stories from my life. A number of times, people have said I should write this down, and now I have. I just wrote about things that have been on my mind and lessons I have learned. Maybe this will help others. Also, I have four little ones—ages 12, 10, and twins seven—and I’d like them to know a little about what Daddy did. I love a #2 pencil and paper. To me, that’s a good time.
Your theory of “attaboy” is that everyone needs encouragement in order to succeed.
It is the magic elixir. It gets things done. It’s a life changer. I found it instrumental in my life, as a teacher and on the set. Everybody needs to be supported. You can’t err on this. Right now, I am the cheerleader for my kids. When they play music by Pachabel, I am clapping as loud as I can.
You blossomed as an actor late and then went on to land three career-defining TV roles. [Tambor was 48 when he started on The Larry Sanders Show.] Do you think because you were down in the trenches so long, it helped you to keep your head on straight when the awards started rolling in?
A friend once read my hand and he said, “It’s going to happen for you, but it’s going to happen very late.” But he never told me how late. But I know I am the luckiest guy in the room. One of those shows would have been enough to look back on a career. Don’t anybody wake me from this.
You seem to have found your niche in ensemble comedies. What is it about having that group around you that you find inspiring?
A|Acting is not just what you send, but what you get. Yesterday, I was in a scene with the amazing cast of Transparent, and I thought, “Genius is holding the fort.” It can’t help making you better. All three casts had that, because all three had brilliant creators that are actor-centric. I am drawn to that kind of creator.
You are in the middle of taping the next season of Transparent. Any hints to what we can expect?
A|I can’t. I will tell you that Jill Soloway [producer and writer] and company don’t do just next season plus 10%. Every time she just does it, she knocks it out of the park. She is hitting out of the park again.
And of course, we have to ask, where are we with Arrested Development?
Today, 2:45–3:45 p.m. Jeffrey Tambor is spotlighted in Room 1 E12/13/14.
Today, 4:15–5:15 p.m. Tambor is signing in the Autographing Area.