Felicity Huffman Talks About "Transamerica"

Huffman on Researching Her Role as a Transgender Woman in "Transamerica"

Felicity Huffman as 'Bree' in "Transamerica". © The Weinstein Co

"Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman plays a genetic male about to take the final step to become the woman he's always dreamed of being in "Transamerica," written and directed by Duncan Tucker and co-starring Kevin Zegers.

The film follows Bree (born Stanley) as she embarks on a cross-country journey with Toby (Zegers), the 17 year-old son she never knew she had. Afraid to let him know she's his dad, Bree pretends to be a church woman trying to set Toby on the right path.

In the process of becoming acquainted with her son, Bree discovers more about herself and her family than she ever anticipated.

Felicity Huffman Explains How She Prepared to Play a Transgender Woman: “…When I got this pastry role of I’m a woman playing a man becoming a woman, I was lost. Once I understood the internal journey, which took awhile, I started reading every article I could get my hands on. I saw every documentary I could and I think I read every biography and autobiography I could find. I started going to transgender conventions because, as with any segment of society, there’s a wide spectrum and Bree was in a particular place so I wanted to see a lot of different transgender women.

I worked with two transgender women…and we did everything from just going to the house and talking with them, what’s their story like, what was it like when they told their parents, and what it was like the first time you walked out the door as a woman and what’s the operation like?

What’s the hormones like? I mean, everything to going through the script page by page to make sure that they felt it was true – different than their story, but true. Then I found a coach, which was helpful, who coaches men who are becoming women because most of the time men are older. Because it’s expensive – the hormones and the sexual reassignment surgery is expensive so you have to save up money for it.

It’s such a tough choice they’re given. Either you feel alienated from yourself or you actually do it and you’re alienated from society. You’re an oddball. So who can face that choice? It usually takes until you’re a little older to go, ‘I don’t care. I have to really be who I am.’ Consequently you get 30, 40 year-old guys who go, ‘Okay, tomorrow wear a dress and go work it [laughing]. And make sure you make the colors that work well on your skin.’ How to put on makeup…it’s a whole new world, to sound like Aladdin. So she coached me as if I was new to everything, which was really helpful.

With all this, I was trying to do some voice work. One thing the hormones do not change is your voice. You can look like Kate Moss - and some of these transgender women do, they’re incredibly stealth - but you sound like James Earl Jones. They have these deep voices. There’s a lot of training out there about finding your female voice and it is in there because you don’t want to sound like Tony Curtis in ‘Some Like It Hot.’ [laughing] We don’t have the chest capacity and our head’s not big enough for the resonance, so I worked with transgender women on it. They didn’t know how to work on it backwards.

And I worked with a couple voice teachers in L.A. and it sounded fake or too deep. Finally I found a woman in NY named Katie Bull and we approached the voice work in the same way I approached the acting work, which was from the inside out. So what does your voice feel like when it comes out? What does her voice express? It expresses discomfort; it expresses loneliness. It expresses self consciousness and so we kind of worked backwards and finally found it and a warm up, and that’s what we would do everyday. And I had to stay in that voice.”

Felicity Huffman Says Meeting Transgender Individuals Changed Her View of the Role of Bree: “It did. When I got the role, the transgender community was an oddity at best. Some odd little group over there that don’t quite know what they’re doing. Once I started meeting with them, talking and working with them… I really understood the heart-wrenching dilemma they’re under.

Of course, I always wanted to do a decent job on the film but after getting to know that community, I was desperate not to screw it up. I’m sure there’s a better way of putting it.”

Page 2: Felicity Huffman on the Make-up Process and What Grabbed Her About the "Transamerica" Script

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Felicity Huffman on Her Character’s Sexuality: “It’s a huge question. …This part of Bree, she’s very shut down, very closed in, very frightened. Actually her sexuality is dormant. I know it’s a gender issue but sexually, it’s dormant. I know she has that sweet flirtation with Graham Greene who plays Calvin, sort of like a high school girl who goes, ‘Oh my God, I think he likes me!’

How I approached her sexuality was where she’s coming from emotionally and that was that people don’t see who she really is.

She feels, ‘Everyone doesn’t see me, doesn’t appreciate me. My family doesn’t know me for who I am and I can’t manifest who I am in the world.’ She felt self loathing. We’ve all been there. We’ve all woken up and said I just can’t believe that I’m waking up in myself again. And she lives there. That’s where I took the sexuality.”

Felicity Huffman on Her What Drew Her to “Transamerica:” “The story, the script. It’s always the script. I mean, if it lives on the page, it lives on stage, as they say. I was so glad it wasn’t an ‘issue’ movie – transgender individuals are people too - and you go, ‘Yeah, and the other 103 minutes what are you going to do?’ And the part... If I could do it justice, it was just a fantastic opportunity and I hadn’t done anything close to that on film. I’ve done it on stage, not the gender thing but trying to transform myself, so those two things together.”

Felicity Huffman Walks Us Through the Hair and Make-Up Process: “It was so fast.

I have about 90 minutes on ‘Desperate Housewives’ to make me pretty, [laughing] but Bree was fast because where she is in her transformation – she doesn’t want to go makeup shopping and go to the counter and ask, ‘What base do you think I am?’ So she does it through the mail and wants to be lighter and feminine so the base color wasn’t going to match, and it’s got to be thick because it’s got to cover any stubble.

She’s had 350 hours of electrolysis but there’s still stubble.

At first we did a screen test where I felt it was a version of Tammy Faye Baker [laughing] so I was concerned. ‘Oh no, flag on the play.’ So we took it off and just put the base on and accentuated my features, which are long. That’s all we did. Jason Hayes made the wigs and the brilliant Danny Glicker did the costumes, which were all catalog and were all cheap because she wouldn’t go clothes shopping. She needed things that fit her. She didn’t know what color looked best on her – lavender is the color of transformation so she’s going for that. So within the boundaries of where Bree was, it was sort of a natural answer once you started investigating.”

Felicity Huffman on How Playing This Confusing Gender Affected Her Personally: “It actually did in an odd way because I’m not one of those actors just because I’m able to do it, I lost myself in the part and didn’t know who I was. I mean, I wish I could. Towards the end of filming, I walked into the ladies room in full regalia and I’m not kidding, I walked in and went, ‘Wow, I’m not supposed to be here,’ and I walked out. Then I said, ‘Oh no, I am,’ and walked back in again.

[Laughing] It took me twice before I said, ‘Okay, I’m actually a woman,’ and walked into the ladies room. That was sort of frightening [laughing].

The other time I actually felt the part was living in me and getting me a bit off balance is when Duncan [Tucker, writer/director] came to me and said he wanted to shoot me by the side of the road and peeing. That wasn’t in the script, the full-on shot. To digress a second, wasn’t it interesting because it’s a moment that pulls you out of the movie just cause it’s so shocking? It pulls you out of the story and yet in at the same time. It’s a wonderful take there that switches you around. Oh God, no pun intended [laughing]. So when he said he wanted to shoot that, I burst into tears. I was sobbing and couldn’t breathe. He said, ‘What? What? It’s a prosthetic and it doesn’t matter.’ I realized that I was living with Bree so long that the idea of even doing it for the crew and showing that was humiliating because it wasn’t who I was, and it wasn’t who I truly am.

I found it too vulnerable.”

Speaking of Body Issues… How does Felicity Huffman deal with her own body issues as an actress in Hollywood? Huffman said, “It’s a real struggle. I have to say that at times it feels there are gale force winds and I’m hanging on to the back of my chair going, ‘It’s alright. I really do like my body. I don’t care.’ And oftentimes I come out of wardrobe and costume fittings I can’t breathe and have to regain my balance. I’m a size 6, Geez! So I feel it constantly and it’s a struggle…

After I had my children, I have to say I like my body a whole lot better. I can actually eat and go, ‘Yes, I’m a size 6 or size 8,’ and that’s kind of hard to say for Hollywood, that’s big. I go about my day and have dinner anyway.”

Page 3: Felicity Huffman on Balancing "Transamerica" and "Desperate Housewives"

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Felicity Huffman on Balancing “Transamerica” and “Desperate Housewives:” Huffman filmed the pilot of “Desperate Housewives,” did “Transamerica,” and then returned to work on the “Desperate Housewives” series. Huffman admits that that period of her professional life was awkward at times. “If you watch the first four or five episodes of ‘Desperate Housewives,’ I am not good [laughing]. No, really, I couldn’t get Marc [Cherry’s] rhythm afterwards.

‘Desperate Housewives’ has a certain voice and it’s a certain sarcastic, loving, wicked, twisty voice, and you need to play with that. I came in a little heavy-handed so yes, it was a really hard transition to make. [Laughing] Plus I kept answering to Marcia Cross’ character, Bree.”

Felicity Huffman Analyzes “Desperate Housewives:” “I think Marc has done a brilliant thing. He’s taken the icon of the American family and he’s held it up for ridicule. But because Marc loves it, it’s not ridicule that pulls it down and the stories poke fun at it and make people go, ‘Oh, I feel good, but that’s funny.’ When you do that, you have to have extremes. You have to have the extreme Gabrielle, you have to have the extreme Bree, the Edie, the Susan and the me. I’m the extreme mom. I’ve had parents come up to me and say, ‘Can’t you just enjoy your little boys a little on the show?’ And I’m wondering and I’d say yes, but on the other hand I say no.”

Huffman confirmed her “Desperate Housewives” co-star Teri Hatcher still brings homemade goodies to the set. “Oh my god, she’s the best baker in the world. But I do everything I can to stay away from them at all costs. Everyone loves when she brings in her baked goods and she does it pretty often, too.”