If you’re an obsessive fan of Transparent, you may have heard that Josh Pfefferman puts on a few pounds in Season 4, which drops this fall.
But there's more to his travails than an expanding midsection, says actor Jay Duplass, who plays the son of transitioning parent Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) on the Amazon hit series.
“Josh really loses his edge in Season 4,” Duplass tells InStyle. “Everything just goes to sh-t—his body, his clothes, there really are no women, he just kind of like lets himself go.”
A relative newcomer to acting, Duplass famously got the part of the tortured but magnetic music producer while sitting next to Transparent creator Jill Soloway at a dinner party. She was trying to fill the role of the show’s “roving male id”–and somehow realized mid-conversation that the New Orleans-raised Catholic sitting next to her was the Jewish Californian she’d been looking for all along.
For Josh, the rest is, as they say, a convoluted trip through an overly attached and complicated family, an unexpected bout of fatherhood, a shattering suicide, and a series of curdled romances, including, most recently, an encounter with a trans woman. And what's with the uncomfortably close relationship between Josh and his sister Ali (Gaby Hoffmann)?
For Duplass, a 44-year-old married father of two, the unexpected turn on one of the buzziest shows on TV has upended his quiet life as half of an indie-directing duo with his brother Mark. In addition to their directing projects, Jay stars alongside Salma Hayek and Chloe Sevigny in the just-out Beatriz at Dinner, a dark class comedy.
Here’s more from Duplass on Josh’s disappearing mojo and a “politically very explosive” plot twist coming this fall on Transparent.
What can you say about the fat suit Josh wears in Season 4?
You have to be careful when you talk about fat suits.
It’s more Joshy plus-size. This is a pretty skinny family, so he gains weight in the way that I would gain weight: He gets pregnant. He’s wearing a maternity fat suit. It’s a physicalization of all of the trauma and stress and pain that he’s gone through, which peaks in Season 3.
Josh is chubby and he’s living with his mom Shelly in Season 4 as the Pfeffermans tend to pair up and cohabitate with one another because nobody else to can stand them and they can’t stand anyone else. It’s driving him crazy but in the back of Josh’s mind, if he can help his mother get through the world, maybe there’s hope for him too.
I wonder if Josh being chubby is going to impinge upon your status as the crushiest non-Jewish Jewish guy on TV. Do you worry about that at all?
I’m super worried about it! It’s not just the chubbiness. He really loses his edge in Season 4. Josh been written up as one of the few straight men on TV that have a sense of style with their wardrobe and everything just goes to shit in Season 4: His body, his clothes, there really are no women, he just kind of like lets himself go.
Wow, I’m really going to have to think about watching next season. So will Josh and his sister Ali finally start dating?
[Laughs.] It’s certainly a possibility. There is a little bit that’s dealt with in Season 4 regarding, can we be with anyone else? Is that even possible? Nobody else can stand us. We can’t stand anyone else. Maybe we are the only two. They had a failed experiment with that in Season 3. It ended hard and so we also address that in Season 4. For people who are tracking that Grey Gardens potential for Josh and Ali, it’s addressed in season 4.
Does anybody get a job?
I don’t think so. There’s a very tiny bit of dabbling and jobbiness but not really. I don’t think jobs are in the cards. Josh had a job for a while, crushed it and got out as soon as possible.
Let’s go back to the Jewish thing for a second. Numerous critics have said that this is the most Jewish show on television and yet it’s also a parade of narcissists. What do Jewish people say about the show? Any blowback?
I usually get grabbed and pulled in tight and whispered: “It’s so real.” That’s mostly what I get. I haven’t gotten any blowback though I’m sure it’s fully worthy of blowback. I mostly just get that people love to hate us and love us equally.
What’s amazing to me is that I’m from the Deep South in a super-Catholic arena and it’s actually incredibly similar to Judaism and culture because Catholicism is so old and impossible and it’s evolved into a culture of eating drinking and yelling loudly over a table.
Does your core fan base have a hard time believing that you aren’t Jewish?
I don’t know if they’ve figured it out or not. Technically I did my 23 and me. And I am 15 percent Ashkenazi and I had a great grandmother called Irene Stein who was 100 percent German Jew so I have a pinky toe in the tribe.
And also, as far as Twitter goes, my strongest fan base after Jewish women is Latin American men. I don’t understand it but I’m good with it.
What do they say?
They’re very excited about Josh Pfefferman. They need him to be OK and they want to take care of him. There’s a lot of Spanish tweets coming at me of all these wonderful things they want to do for me and to me.
Wait until they see the next season. You’re in the clear.
I feel like I’m throwing it all overboard.
This show preceded the Trump administration. Did the new political reality affect the next season?
The episodes became more politically infused. That’s the main element of Season 4 that I can’t talk about. It’s an extremely big element and it is going to be politically very explosive and I could not be prouder to be a part of it. I wish I could say specifically what it is. At first, when we started the show, Jill’s intention was to make a show to make the world a safer place for her parent, who was transitioning at the time. The second season it wasn’t just about trans people, it’s about LGBTQ people and all marginalized voices and we really made some very strong statements.
And now something completely new is being tackled in Season 4. And I can’t wait until it comes out so we can all start talking about it.
Sometimes a progressive agenda can be a comedy buzzkill. But it sounds like that hasn’t happened.
That’s really the trick. There are people who can make funny stuff and there are people who do politically active stuff that nobody wants to watch and Jill manages to synthesize it all. It’s not easy. She will throw ideas overboard that most creators would hold as the golden nugget of the whole season. She’ll throw it away in a second because she feels there’s a bigger fish out there. It’s an incredible process to watch. She does not rest on her laurels for one second. It’s humbling to be a part of.
I don’t know how much of this is on your radar, but teenagers, at least in New York City, are obsessed with gender in all its non-binary forms. Do you think that’s because of the show at all?
It is very common for people to come up to the cast members and say our family is OK now because of Transparent. Our daughter was a boy and she’s OK now and we’re OK now and we celebrate this now. Jeffrey Tambor has had many people come to him and say because of you, I’m alive now.
Do other actors find it irritating that you accidentally became an actor on one of the best shows on television?
They are all so nice to me and I feel so horrible because so many of my friends are auditioning so hard and I just kind of slid in sideways to in my opinion the best show on TV. I did not write it. I did not create it. I am a small contributor to it and I love it so much. My wife did not sign up for a husband who’s an actor much less someone who’s going to have a bunch of sex scenes because the character is a sex addict.
When she sat down with me the first time to watch the show, she was so nervous that the show was going to be bad and I was going to be bad and she can’t lie. She watched the first season and laughed and cried. She’s a social worker and activist and she was so proud of me and more than that, she was so proud of the show. We’re doing something important in the world together as a family almost. It’s been a very surprising turn in my own life.
Was she cool about the sex scenes?
She was totally cool about it. This is where I really differ from Josh. I grew up Catholic and I am a pretty shy person. I joke that Josh has sex with more people in season one than I’ve had in my entire life. She knows me enough to know that I don’t get enjoyment from having fake sex with somebody in front of 100 people. That is my worst nightmare.
Don’t spoil it!
And I don’t even enjoy the sex scenes! My wife knows what making movies is like and it is surreal.
Was your romance with Trace the first respectful relationship between a basic straight guy and a trans woman on TV?
It’s hard for me to get conclusive evidence, but a lot of people think this is the first representation of a straight cis male being interested in a trans woman merely as someone to date, not as a fetish or as an experiment. Everyone is an experiment in Josh's world but that has to do with being a Pfefferman, not as being transphobic in any way. It’s hard to say conclusively but it tends to be the only one that most people have experienced and I’m proud to have been a part of it.
What do you like to watch?
I’m obsessed with The Americans. It’s one of my favorite shows. I also love Baskets—low-brow, high-art comedy.
Beatriz at Dinner just released and I’m really proud of that movie and excited for people to see it. I think it’s one of the first movies of the Trump era. I also acted in Gillian Robespierre’s Landline with Jenny Slate that's releasing this summer. Other than that, my brother and I have our movie deal with Netflix and a TV deal with HBO and we’re continuing to make things in a very small way and telling personal stories. Now that we’ve sort of gotten over the hump where people give us money and know who we are, we’re trying to figure out how best to bring in as many marginalized voices as possible so we can restore our freaking democracy and human rights to this country.
Yeah, easy peasy.