“I think for close watchers of the musical, they’ll realize that this family is mourning Maura,” Transparent creator Jill Soloway discloses of the gist of the September 27- debuting feature length end of the series. “The family is mourning the loss of Maura and the cast is mourning the loss of Jeffrey,” the nonbinary gender identifying director adds.
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“We couldn’t just do business as usual,” Soloway declares of the numerous sexual harassment allegations that saw Jeffrey Tambor leave Transparent early last year and put the award-winning series future on the line. “We couldn’t just do some more episodes, I think we needed a new way to look at this world, and the musical offered us just kind of a new way to come back.”
That new way in part means the de facto fifth season of the Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, Judith Light and Kathryn Hahn is now one big song and dance, with, in typical Soloway fashion, a whole lot more.
Before this morning’s Transparent TCA panel at the Beverly Hilton, Soloway chatted with me about the sometimes-uncertain road to the end of Transparent and working with her sister and long-time collaborator Faith on the finale. It also reveals how they got there with Amazon Studios boss Jennifer Salke and the way things literally and figuratively have settled after Tambor was cut loose from the series. Accordingly, the multiple Emmy winner discussed pushing the boundaries with the musical finale, the role of divided feminine in it’s work, tackling the new big screen version of sword and sorcery warrior Red Sonja, and that desire to bring Transparent to Broadway.
DEADLINE: Why say goodbye in song?
SOLOWAY: Well, Faith and I have been sort of writing musicals, in our imagination and in our real life, since we were little kids.
Before Transparent happened and even before my TV career happened, Faith and I were kind of chugging along in the world of improv and comedy, dreaming of creating a musical one day. As I’ve said in the past, when my parent very first came out to me, our first notion was to make a documentary musical, because art around Faith’s music has been our whole thing. In the past, we did plays with the Annoyance Theater in Chicago, called the Miss Vagina Pageant, and we did the Real Live Brady Bunch. Faith was kind of famous in the folk world for these other musicals she wrote called Jesus Has Two Mommies and Miss Folk America.
DEADLINE: So was this always in the cards as the way to end the series?
SOLOWAY: Sort of.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
SOLOWAY: So, the Season 5 that never happened, we were starting to think about Shelly writing a musical as a way to weave in some songs. At the same time, Faith and I had been dreaming about a Transparent stage musical on Broadway. Faith actually had been starting to workshop some of these songs at Joe’s Pub in New York, as a kind of cabaret act. In fact, she did a show there called Should Transparent Be a Musical? where we had some great singers try out some of these songs on stage. We put them in a rough order, so they sort of had a story. Then when Jen Salke said, what do you want to do, I said a musical. She said, what do you want to do, we need to make it a big event, and when she said big event…
DEADLINE: You mean in terms of making Season 5 a big event?
SOLOWAY: The finale. I mean, she knew that she wanted it to be a movie. She wanted it to be a movie instead of a regular season.
DEADLINE: Which was a distinct shift from how things had been blueprinted before the whole Jeffrey situation blew up, right?
SOLOWAY: Yeah. We had worked on it as a regular multi-episode season but then once everything happened with Jeffrey, the questions became does he come back, do we come back in a different way, what do we do? I think Jen’s idea was, let’s not come back in the same way. Let’s come back in a different way. How about a big event, she called it, and then, yeah, from there, big event meant movie, and yeah, I said, how about a musical?
DEADLINE: It’s been almost two years now since the first allegations of sexual harassment came out against Jeffrey Tambor. Obviously, there was an investigation, more allegations, he eventually left Transparent. You have said that the musical finale begins with the death of his Maura Pfefferman character and follows the fallout of that to some extent but where does that all stand for you now, in hindsight?
SOLOWAY: Well, I think everybody who is associated with the show has a lot of feelings of love, empathy, caring, concern, for not only Trace Lysette and Van Barnes, but also Jeffrey Tambor. Everybody who was involved in this, besides those three, including people on the show, we all went through a trauma, the way a family would go through a trauma, and I think making the musical was in some ways, like, a way of processing it.
DEADLINE: In that context, do you feel that you made the finale that you wanted to make?
SOLOWAY: I really do. I really do. I look at it and I feel that we got to mourn the character. I think for close watchers of the musical, they’ll realize that this family is mourning Maura. The family is mourning the loss of Maura and the cast is mourning the loss of Jeffrey. We couldn’t just do business as usual. We couldn’t just do some more episodes, I think we needed a new way to look at this world, and the musical offered us just kind of a new way to come back.
DEADLINE: To that end, with the years of the show and everything that went down, and pardon the cliché, but did it feel very cathartic?
SOLOWAY: (PAUSE) It really did. It really did.
DEADLINE: No spoilers, but you really pack a lot into the 100 minutes or so of the musical finale, both emotionally, in terms of sheer production and the big picture politics of it. How far did you want to go and were you worried it was too far?
SOLOWAY: Well, we really won’t know until people see it, will we? But our idea is that we do want to cross that line. I think Faith and I feel like we look at things like South Park, we look at things like The Producers and Mel Brooks. I think, all the way back when we were doing Season 2, and we were talking about Berlin, Germany, we’d always been wanting to kind of go to that place of Holocaust plus musical.
So, this has been something that’s kind of been coming. I’m really interested, actually to see Taika Waititi’s movie Jojo Rabbit because he has that kind of comedic investigation into Hitler. It might be a moment, like, a post Inglorious Bastards, post-Producer’s moment where the next generation of people is attempting to kind of re-claim how we’ve all been affected by this legacy of the Holocaust.
DEADLINE: There’s always been, In my opinion, a very Mel Brooks element to Transparent …
SOLOWAY: Thank you for saying that. I really can’t wait for Mel to see it, the finale. So, I look at things like South Park, like Mel Brooks, how Larry David can really get away with examining open racism on his show and Sacha Baron Cohen with the Running of the Jews.
I want to be able to jump out there as an artist in the same way that those artists do. I don’t want to have to be, oh, I have to be really careful, because I’m queer, or I’m a woman, or I’m nonbinary. I think the more vulnerable artists are even more vulnerable, Howard Stern can get away with things, really awful things, and people kind of go, that’s them. So, for me, if people come after us and say, like, we’ve gone too far, I think, you know, I would say, like, no, we are only doing exactly what a lot of our male contemporaries have done and nothing more.
DEADLINE: With that and with what you said before, is Transparent really going to Broadway down the line or is the finale truly the end?
SOLOWAY: It just might. Wink, wink. Wink, wink. Wink, wink. We have some great, great theatrical stuff happening, and hopefully, we’ll be able to announce it shortly.
DEADLINE: Speaking of other stuff happening. Clearly, you have a lot in development, and Deadline exclusively reported last month that you are going to direct Red Sonja…
DEADLINE: …which on first glance, seems a massive jump. I wanted to get a sense from you about going into that project with Millennium Films and about the scope of your ambitions for it as you move past Transparent in your career?
SOLOWAY: I can’t wait. I’m super excited. I get to write it as well, which is really a dream come true. I know it feels different when you compare it to Transparent, but for me, it feels just really very much like it’s coming from the same place.
SOLOWAY: Yeah, because I’ve always talked about myself as doing work that attempts to heal the divided feminine in our culture, the idea that women get kind of chopped up into wife or other woman or good girl, bad girl or Charlie’s Angels or all the women on Sex in the City, and that this idea of the divided feminine means that women get like a small slice to be.
So, Afternoon Delight was about the divided feminine. Transparent was really about the divided feminine. If you look at Transparent, it’s really about a lot of women becoming whole. It’s Sarah becoming whole. It’s Maura becoming whole. It’s Shelly becoming whole, and of course Josh as well and Ari who’s nonbinary. All my work is really about humans searching for some divine feminine, asking these questions about God and looking for meaning. So, for me to transfer that into the world of Red Sonja felt incredibly natural, because Red Sonja is a very different kind of superhero. She’s not really typical.
DEADLINE: What’s the plan?
SOLOWAY: I can really have so much fun with Red Sonja. I see her a little bit more like the first kind of bad girl superhero. Sort of like the Batman of The Dark Knight or Deadpool, you know?
The world is changing so much right now for superheroes, that I just really look forward to not only going to the edge of what I’ve ever written and directed before, but to the edge of the genre as well.
DEADLINE: Is that how you see a Transparent musical on-stage or would it be more like the finale but live?
SOLOWAY: I think it would be something different. I think if we make the Transparent musical happen, it would be something that would work for people who had never seen Transparent the TV series. So, I think it would be to be a play that anybody who wanted to see a Broadway play could walk into, and it would sort of start from the beginning there. Start from a parent coming out. That’s my guess.
DEADLINE: Back to the show, series finales are so hard…
DEADLINE: …did the way it really ended stay the same from what you envisioned when you started down the farewell road?
SOLOWAY: When we started writing the movie, we knew that we wanted to have that, 8 1/2 ending. That Fellini feeling of ending or just that feeling of here comes everybody. Oh, and there’s that person. Oh, my God, there’s, oh, my God, and that day that we were shooting in the park, and you know, it really was a reunion. It really was a reunion, that’s what we wanted.