The Arrested Development patriarch — and Transparent matriarch — pulls back the curtain on his life and process.
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Are You Anybody? by Jeffrey Tambor
Credit: Crown Archetype

Jeffrey Tambor has one of those faces — and voices — that sticks with you, whether you’re a fan of his work on Transparent, the newly renewed Arrested Development, The Larry Sanders Show, or any of his other appearances on stage and screens both large and small. In his new memoir Are You Anybody?, the actor shares more on his life as a thespian and comic actor, complete with private moments on set, family histories, and a hefty share of the lessons he’s learned.

Here is a brief list of highlights from Tambor’s memoir:

1. There’s a chapter in his book entitled “F— ’em”

In order to make it as an actor, Tambor posits, there is a need to say “f— ’em” — essentially, discarding any attention paid to the audience as an approving, or disapproving, entity. “It’s an attitude,” he writes. “Not of hatred or aggression — but of freedom from self-censorship and the need to please.”

2. …As well as one called “Bar mitzvahed at gunpoint”

Here, Tambor describes the nerves he felt before having to read his Torah portion, and how his mother gave him a Miltown, which he says was “the Xanax of its day.” Long story short, he continues, “I was high at my bar mitzvah.” Need we say more?

3. He gives us a candid look into what it’s been like to play Maura on Transparent

Tambor is keenly aware of the significance — and ramifications — of playing a trans character in today’s culture. He is open about how terrified he’s felt at the prospect of being able to embody, as an actor and heterosexual cis male, a transgender woman. He describes how that feeling even overwhelmed him while he was with friends at a restaurant, unable to speak or move, because he was suddenly paralyzed with fear about not being properly prepared to play Maura in the weeks leading up to the shoot for the Transparent pilot. Here is an actor who, accomplished as he is, can still be so overwhelmed with doubt as to whether he can actually pull something off, to the point of needing to shut himself away for weeks. Which he did.

4. His memories of Garry Shandling are intimate, and priceless

Tambor’s iconic role as Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show put him on the map in a big way, making opportunities like Arrested Development and Transparent later possible. When Tambor was going through the lengthy process of auditioning and later preparing for the show, he observed Garry Shandling with utmost precision, describing him as “the kindest of geniuses.” If the jokes weren’t hitting right, Shandling would take out a small deck of index cards — calling to mind Joan Rivers — and reshuffle them. Then, as Tambor tells it, “Garry killed.”

5. Two words: Arrested Development

Giggling under the sand, dressed as Saddam Hussein in one of George Sr.’s many harebrained survival plots, wondering, “Who gets a job like this?” Tambor readily acknowledges how lucky he is to have landed such a career-defining role. He describes Arrested Development as a series of happy accidents strung together, full of “electric spontaneity.” Like the time the actor was trying on a wig for a flashback scene for his character George Sr., but when show creator Mitch Hurwitz saw it, voila, the role of Oscar Bluth, George’s pot-smoking, hairy twin brother, was born.

6. Tambor takes on Scientology

Move over, Leah Remini. In a chapter called “Squeeze the Cans,” which is a reference to an obscure practice amongst Scientologists where pain and suffering can be measured and eventually erased, Tambor is candid about his initial enthusiasm for what the celebrity-centered religion promised. “As I was reading that pain and suffering existed in physical units that could be broken down and gradually made to disappear like a calcium deposit, I thought, Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were true?” Tambor writes. “I wanted it to be true. Apparently, I was not alone.”

He talks about the special, ego-feeding treatment he received within the confines of Scientology as a treasured celebrity, and recounts the startling about-face his religious mentors took when he started resisting further immersion (and further payment) into the organization. When a “Senior Ethics Officer” (who Tambor observes looked like Opie from The Andy Griffith Show) called him in to ask him to “disconnect” from his wife, Tambor responded with, “Guess what line you just crossed.” And with that, he was out, slamming the door behind him, never to return to Scientology again.

7. The folly of celebrity is not lost on him

Tambor recalls what it was like as a little boy in 1950s San Francisco, watching Tonight with Jack Paar, and Tonight! with Steve Allen, and thinking to himself, “I want to be on television” (which caused his entire family to laugh at him). Later, he recounts the sensation of being asked for an autograph for the first time, in Times Square after the series premiere of The Ropers, in 1979. While it may sound a little conceited to openly wonder, “Is that all there is?” as he envisioned Patsy Cline in the distance, Tambor is writing from a very authentic place: the perspective of that starry-eyed little boy.

8. He addresses the universality of fear

In one of the murkier portions of the book, the actor likens his sense of fear to a creepy old woman who lives next door, named “Old Mrs. Cohen.” She’s always there, lurking, staring at him from her window. Another form his fear and self-doubt takes is a gaggle of vultures that perch themselves on his shoulders. Tambor describes how his fear actually manifests in his day-to-day life, and it feels undeniably relatable: he is the type to always call back after having a conversation with someone, because he’s plagued with fearful thoughts of, “Have I gone too far?” “Have I been too much?” (Admit it: we’ve all been there.)

9. He gives us a blow-by-blow of what it’s like to win a Golden Globe

Tambor sets the stage for us: Beverly Hills, January 2015, at the Golden Globe Awards. He’s nominated for his role on Transparent. “I and the vultures are sitting in my seat, very, very nervous,” he writes.

As his category approaches, the cameraman comes over to his table and proceeds to put the camera right in Tambor’s face. “The Russian-Hungarian tag team of my parents are having a rap battle behind my eyeballs,” he writes, referring to the habitually denigrating way his parents addressed him growing up (he calls this his “story,” and mentions how its effects never leave you completely).

Then, despite the negative, self-deprecating thoughts coursing through his head, Tambor’s name is announced as the winner. Flustered, he proceeds to get lost on his way to the stage, eventually ending up face-to-face with presenter Jane Fonda, who had fired him from the 9 to 5 TV pilot decades before. “I looked into her gorgeous, shining eyes as she handed me the envelope,” Tambor writes. “The circle was complete.”

Are You Anybody? is on sale May 16.

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