Long before his TV success, Jeffrey Tambor spent many years in repertory theater. Recalling those days, when he traveled around the country performing in cities such as Seattle, San Diego and Louisville, Tambor says, “There was an actor playing Casca in ‘Julius Caesar.’ He read my palm and I rolled my eyes, but he said [success] is going to happen but very late.”
The 73-year-old actor says he is “stunned and grateful and happy” about receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Aug. 8. He recalls a childhood visit to Los Angeles from San Francisco, where he grew up. “I remember my father, Bernard, took my brother Larry and I — I was 10 years old, if that — to Hollywood,” he says. “We did the thing where you put your handprints where Clark Gable’s were. So this is quite the circle, quite a moment for me.”
Tambor began acting on the small screen in 1977. He racked up plenty of credits with one-offs in classics from “MASH” to “The Love Boat.” But his big break didn’t come until he was cast in HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” in 1992.
“It’s very, very hard to look at Hank Kingsley [in the script] and not run to the audition, as I did,” he says.
That Garry Shandling comedy vehicle is one of what Tambor calls his “trifecta” of amazing shows. Another is, of course, “Transparent,” for which he’s won two comedy lead actor Emmys and is nominated for a third this year. The third series is “Arrested Development,” which famously started on Fox before migrating online at Netflix.
While giving props to creator Mitchell Hurwitz, Tambor answers a question many fervent “AD” fans have been asking: “No movie,” he says. “There is a series happening.”
Tambor embraces the whole peak-TV concept. He used to travel the country giving lectures on acting. “I love actors,” he says, adding that he’s changed from “being competitive to being a supporter.”
For young actors today the platforms are endless, he says, citing a kid who came up to him in his home in upstate New York to show Tambor a six-minute video on an iPhone that the youngster had made.
“I’m even wondering if at a certain point we’re even going to stop going to theaters.” And there are so many series to watch that Tambor admits he has yet to catch up on some popular shows including “Game of Thrones.”
An interview with Tambor is like a conversation with a friend. While he talks about his hit series “Transparent,” movie “Trolls” and other TV shows, Tambor also chats about books he’s reading, inquiring about a reporter’s own interests and recommending books, as well as about parenting.
Tambor is the owner of Skylight Books in L.A.’s Los Feliz area and the author of “Are You Anybody?” The actor had just caught up with Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” before moving on to her latest one.
He has a routine, he says. He likes to wake early and read in bed while drinking a cold cup of coffee left on his bedside from the night before.
While Tambor likes to sample books on Amazon, he adds, “I like a book store, I like the feel of a book. I’ll read on wallpaper, but I do like the feel of a book. It’s so simple — I want to know how far I’m along. The overpowering smell of books is amazing.”
His adult daughter Molly is the first person he goes to for recommendations, though there are a couple of others he asks as well.
The actor says he recently binge-watched season three of his Amazon series.
“I am modest by nature, but I haven’t [seen] season three in almost a year’s time and I thought I would refresh myself. I sat down on my laptop. I binged. I don’t binge, I am old school, I watch two-three episodes and then I go. But I binged like anybody else.”
He was amazed at how good the series is. Being removed from the immediacy of shooting, he says he can appreciate the series like any other viewer.
“Now I understand why people come up to me in the street and people will start talking about a member of their family or something,” he says.
As for the upcoming season, he promises more rich drama. “The wonderful thing about Jill Soloway it’s not season four and [we’ll give] 10%; they leave nothing on the table.”
Soloway says: “Initially Jeffrey himself reminded me so much of my Moppa back before they transitioned, when I was growing up and they were Dad. At that point it already wasn’t a question — Jeffrey is Mort. Then when Jeffrey became Maura, magic happened. He gave the most beautiful performance, full of strength, vulnerability, and this gentle humor. It was breathtaking.”
Tambor says it starts with the outlet. “I think this whole area of cable, I started with HBO when HBO was a baby and now it’s streaming. I love streaming, it breaks a mold and the casting opportunities are so wide. Everybody says streaming is where the stories are. Amazon is so amazing … and supporting as a writer; you don’t have to over-explain or build to commercial. And you can see that imprimatur of respect they have. They are not talking down to the viewer.”
Asked about online comparisons between the Bluths of “Arrested Development” and the Trump presidency, Tambor says he’s read those posts and seen the videos.
“I’m enjoying watching it. There are people doing wonderful satire. I believe in satire and humor and humor is a great. Steve Colbert said a wonderful thing, ‘You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.’ Satire is a great thing.”
He enjoys that he has fans young and old. “It seems that’s what happens when you are in an advanced age. People recognize me from ‘Trolls’ or ‘Transparent.’ It’s thrilling. From this vantage it’s sweet.”
The stage and screen actor is known to tots for his voiceover work on not only the animated “Trolls” but also “Tangled,” “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” among many others.
Tambor, who’s also a dad to young kids, jokes that when they visit him on set at lunchtime they must assume that all he does is eat sandwiches.
“I think they know I’m an actor. We’ll be sitting a theater and a trailer for ‘Trolls’ comes on. I’m not sure if they know I’m an actor or someone who eats sandwiches.”
They will attend his Walk of Fame ceremony, which could clarify daddy’s job for them.