Felicity Huffman's Big Change
By Calpernia Addams
In Out's December issue, trans activist and actress Calpernia Addams interviewed Desperate Housewife Felicity Huffman about Huffman's portrayal of Bree, an MTF transgendered woman in the road trip film Transamerica, which opens December 2nd. Here we present exclusive outtakes from the chat between Addams, who consulted on the film, and Huffman.
Transamerica is quite a departure from Desperate Housewives. What have people been saying about your portrayal of Bree?
So far only my family and film festivals have seen it, and you're preaching to the con-verted there. [Laughs] They loved the film in Toronto and Tribeca. I think it's been warmly received most everywhere. Maybe it's sort of an urban thing, but from the minute it begins, people start laughing. They go, 'Oh, it's not a hard issue movie like transgenders are people too, it's a warm-hearted comedy about people!'
Duncan [Tucker, the film's openly gay director] said he needed an actor who was transformative, and I think you really did that. What turned out to be different than your expectations once you started researching for the role?
Well, it sort of transformed throughout the spectrum of my experience, beginning with getting the role and ending with finishing the movie. I think, to tell the truth, I probably paralleled those casting directors that you've talked about, you know how they start going, 'Oh! It should be a man.' And I started going, 'Well, it's a small segment of society, and I'm going to play a really interesting oddball, and I've gotta figure out how to do it'' Of course, what it ended up being was finding Bree's emotional journey. And, you know, the truth of the human soul is the truth of the human soul, whether you're a guy or a girl or transgendered or anything. And once I went 'Oh, OK, she's just like me, her circumstances may be a little different, but she's just like me,' that changed it from I'm playing a small segment of society to I'm portraying a certain aspect of myself.
What you did with Bree's voice was especially amazing.
I worked with Andrea [James, Calpernia's business partner], and I also worked with a voice teacher here in L.A. and Katie Bull in New York. I came up with a few different voices, all of which got nixed within the first three or four days of rehearsal in New York because they were all really false. Eventually I learned to bring the inside out. Bree is coming from excruciating self-consciousness, self-loathing, and shame, but she's also coming from a place of bravery and courage. That's what we needed to find in the voice, the voice just can't be 'Oh, what a weird voice!' We tried to find a voice that portrayed all those things going on inside, and it wasn't just a guy going [in cracked falsetto] 'Hello! How are you?' It had to show her soul.
After Desperate Housewives, this movie is sure to add to your already enormous gay following. Did you ever think you might become a gay icon?
It's sort of a convergence, being on Desperate Housewives and doing this movie. I think it is no accident that Marc Cherry, who's a gay man, wrote a television show where 40-year-old women are viable, sexy, happenin' chicks. And there's something I feel that the gay community affords women that straight guys don't, which is, you can be 50 and a gay guy will go 'You're so beautiful, you're so sexy,' and they mean it! They're not just trying to sleep with you. They appreciate your femininity. And I think that's a real gift that they give older women. So did I ever think I would be a gay icon? I never thought I'd be an icon at all, but if it so happens, I'd be flattered and honored. The gay community has good taste and picks well.