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Emmys: Jay Duplass on Groundbreaking ‘Transparent’ Love Scene, Josh Pfefferman’s Spiral

”I live in this gender fluid world now,“ Amazon star tells TheWrap

The Pfefferman Family, of Amazon’s “Transparent,” are a beautiful bunch of self-actualizing snowflakes.

Or, more simply said, a complex and rewarding ensemble that makes it hard to choose a favorite child. If you pushed us, however, we’d say season three belongs to Jay Duplass’ Josh Pfefferman.

A “roving male id” according to creator Jill Soloway, Duplass draws a charismatic but troubled cisgender male in a family of powerful queer and trans women who dings his head on every rung of the ladder as he’s sliding down in his personal life and relationships.

TheWrap caught up with Duplass to discuss Josh’s rock-bottom moments like the loss of his babysitter and seriously questionable May-December lover Rita, another failed connection with their love child Colton and his unhealthy and magnetic ties to his on-screen sisters Ali (Gaby Hoffman) and Sarah (Amy Landecker).

Hi Jay! Josh is not doing well. He seems to be throwing a lot of s*** at the wall and nothing seems to stick. 

Josh is essentially a very lost person who keeps looking in the wrong direction for pointers. You have what Jill Solloway calls the roving male id, a very unchecked guy who really wants to be a good person and wants to do the right thing. He’s trying to figure out how to be a man who lives in a world of incredibly strong women.

How’s that going? 

He continually feels overpowered by them! The only women that Josh hasn’t been overpowered by are these little musician pixies he’s dated early on in the series. His sisters are so strong, his mother is so strong, the person he thought was his father turns out that she’s a really strong woman as well.  His relationship with his lover and babysitter is a one where obviously she was in charge, but he didn’t really know or realize it.

We keep coming back to this Josh-Rita relationship, and the show never says it, but the facts are that Josh was a preteen who was seduced by his college-aged babysitter. They carry on a long affair that results in a child she never told him about. Do you look at Josh as a sex abuse victim? 

The way that I work with Josh is more from a position of powerlessness in relationships. Every one is weirdly a power struggle for him, and that is rooted in his parents and the fact that he was unpainted. But it’s also very rooted in the Rita relationship. I don’t want to answer the question — because the question mark of was it abuse and what kind of abuse is it — it really raises maybe a more nuanced issue. That is, ‘What is abuse?’ and ‘What is free will?’ and ‘When do people learn how to have free will and autonomy?’

Aside from the his core relationships, we see two other meaningful storylines for Josh this year. One with his son Colton, but let’s start with Shea [Trace Lysette], a trans woman and friend of his own trans parent Maura.

It’s hard to know conclusively what’s been done on TV, but I’ve been told by a lot of people that it is the first representation where a cisgender male pursing a trans woman merely because he’s interested in dating her — not a sexual experiment or a fetish.

It was really exciting to pursue that from a life perspective. What’s also interesting is that I grew up very Catholic, I never dreamed I would be acting in a scene with a trans woman, having a love scene — what’s wild is that by the time it happened, it wasn’t even something that I noticed. Trace is a part of our world, and I live in this gender fluid world now. It was a really fun time to go out to the desert and shoot this fun, sweet and ultimately brutal scene.

Jill also felt it was an important story to share, and being out there [as actors] we talked through our life experiences and what each of us brought to the table.

Josh had one go-round trying to parent his strapping Midwestern son Colton, and takes another stab here by finding him and even accepting Jesus Christ as his personal savior.

The feedback we got after season two was, ‘That’s it with Josh and Colton?’ I think Jill heard that and when she said to me last year, ‘I think Josh is going to find Colton, and also find Jesus,’ I fell out of my chair.  It’s so Josh that he went out and tried his best and ruined that as well.

One of my favorite moments is when he knows that Colton is going to send him packing, and he allows Aly to see it. And says, ‘It’s ok that she stays and sees what is ultimately going to be one of Josh’s hardest life moments.’  There’s a little bit of sweetness in there that keeps people coming back.

Any favorite moments from season three before we binge the next one? 

The biggest thing was, I wasn’t there when Shelly [Judith Light] does her big show at the end. And it just blew me away. Its one of the things I have to work with in season four is that I didn’t see the show — and Shelly missed me there. But, personally, seeing it was so breakthrough and magical. I was kind of amazed at how much fun the cruise ship episodes were. It comes down to loving seeing the family together.

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