Judith Light on Singing Alanis Morissette on ‘Transparent,’ Why Broadway Feels Like Home

Judith Light Variety Facetime
Patrick James Miller for Variety

Judith Light sings! The actress, known for everything from TV work (“One Life to Live,” “Who’s the Boss?” “Ugly Betty”) to Tony-winning stage turns (“Other Desert Cities,” “The Assembled Parties”), is up for an Emmy for her role as matriarch Shelly in Amazon’s “Transparent.” Her most head-turning moment in season three: singing Alanis Morissette on a cruise ship in the finale.

Have you been a singer all this time and we just never knew?

It’s so funny; people have been coming to me with singing parts now! It hasn’t been something that I’ve done a lot of. When I was at Carnegie Mellon University, I went to Europe and we performed at all the Army bases in Germany. Paula Wagner and I were double cast as Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls.”

With season four of “Transparent” dropping next month, what episodes in season three do you think of as big moments for you and for Shelly?

A show that I’m not in, which tells the backstory of what actually happened to Shelly. That was very powerful for me, to see what actually happened to Shelly, the abuse. You begin to understand a person. People say, “Oh, she’s so crazy. She’s such a pain in the neck.” But there are so many people who have that same experience. You try so hard to be connected, but Shelly does it in all the wrong ways. It’s too much; it’s too cloying; she has no boundaries. Which makes her very funny, of course, but underneath is all that other stuff.

You’ve been a longtime advocate for LGBTQ equality. Why is the issue so important to you?

I was in the theater in New York, and people in my theater family were dying of AIDS. People would call me and say, “Oh, somebody you’ve been in repertory theater with is sick,” or “Somebody just died.” This was not a compassionate country at the time. Why were we having to come up with organizations — which we did — to take care of our own? Why was there nothing forthcoming? There was a reason, and it was this level of homophobia and disdain. People were divisive in the way they were relating to my family. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t stand up.

You seem to think of the Broadway community as home. Why?

Look, you’re talking to somebody who was away from theater for a long time. When I came back, there was not a moment of hesitation from anyone. People didn’t look at me and say, “Oh, that’s that girl from television.” They said, “Oh, you came home.” And then Broadway has these organizations that really overwhelmingly take the world up to another level, like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. There are so many organizations here that originate in this theater family and then reach out to the rest of the world. I feel so proud to be a part of that. It’s a model of the way I think the world could work and doesn’t right now.

ACTOR-ACTIVIST ROLE MODEL: Elizabeth Taylor TV SHOW SHE’S MOST OFTEN RECOGNIZED FOR: “It depends on the age of the person.” ORDER AT CANTER’S DELI: Potato pancakes. “They have really good latkes. I mean like really delish.” WHO WAS THE BOSS? “You never knew! That was why it was a question.”

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    1. tvlover44 says:

      have been a huge fan of judith light’s ever since the ‘one life to live’ days and still adore her. thanks for this interview – can’t wait for the new season of ‘transparent’!

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