Felicity Huffman is as down-to-earth as Lynette Scavo, the character she plays on "Desperate Housewives. " (She's the grounded one.) In New York this...
Felicity Huffman is as down-to-earth as Lynette Scavo, the character she plays on “Desperate Housewives.” (She’s the grounded one.) In New York this week for the premiere of her first name-above-the-title movie role — as a man changing his gender in “Transamerica” — she talks breezily in a room at the Essex House about how she had this junket planned differently than it turned out. Her plans included her husband, fellow actor William H. Macy.
“Bill’s in L.A. with the kids,” she says. “We were planning this romantic little two or three days in New York and then we remembered that we had two children. ‘Oh, yeah … you guys. You’re not going away.’ “
Sofia, 5, and Georgia, 3, are not going away. And Macy is not coming to New York. And that, she says, is why Huffman identifies so easily with her Wisteria Lane character.
“Lynette gave me hope,” she says. “I said, ‘Finally, a voice of motherhood that I can endorse and that sounds real to me.’ And it’s not just ‘Honey, you forgot your lunchbox.’ It’s ‘Oh my God! I’m drowning. I can’t take it.’ “
Most Read Entertainment Stories
- The New Yorker suspends writer Jeffrey Toobin after he exposed himself on video meeting
- Bellingham-raised grocery store buyer competes on ABC revival of 'Supermarket Sweep'
- Heard any Biden jokes? Study of late-night comics finds few
- Intiman’s next stage: A new home and a first-of-its-kind theater partnership with Seattle Central College
- Sunday Best: In this still from 'Rebecca,' Kristin Scott Thomas spooks with style
What the actress has learned to take, in a pragmatic way, is rejection on the most personal level, Hollywood style.
The tabloids, entertainment magazines and casting directors are all convinced she’s not on a pretty par with her “Desperate Housewives” co-stars, Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria and Nicollette Sheridan.
“They say that all the time. I’ve run up against that my whole career. I’ve come into auditions and auditioned and they go, ‘God, you’re great. You’re just not good-looking enough for this part.’ And I would say ‘I really appreciate your honesty.’ And I did.”
But it doesn’t give you tougher skin, she says.
Proof that Huffman is very good at what she does comes every Sunday between 9 and 10 p.m., when Lynette tries to juggle motherhood, career — and playdates. And it came this fall when she won the Emmy as best leading actress in a comedy series.
The “Desperate Housewives” are media darlings, bankable ones for ABC. So Huffman can greenlight a project on her own, right?
“That hasn’t happened yet,” she says. “With ‘Transamerica,’ I didn’t drive the project. (Director-writer) Duncan (Tucker) mortgaged his mother’s house and maxed out his credit cards to get the money.
“So I certainly wasn’t driving that bus. I was just lucky enough that he wanted me.”
Tucker wanted her to play Stanley “Bree” Osbourne, a man who is one operation from becoming a woman when he discovers that he has fathered a son, Toby (Kevin Zegers). Bree’s therapist won’t consent to the final reassignment surgery until he comes to terms with the situation.
A character who gets blindsided like that is the stuff of great drama, Huffman says.
What follows is a traditional road picture of sorts, if your definition of “traditional” can extend to an about-to-be woman and her newfound grown son traveling West by car.
Huffman was so determined to get the part right that it made for an anxious time on the set.
“From the minute I got the part I was somewhat nauseous and scared,” she says. “And every day of shooting, I was terrified. Which is not the best environment to do your work in, but c’est la guerre.”
To make her performance as authentic as possible, Huffman went to transgender conventions and read biographies of transgendered women. And Calpernia Addams and Andrea James, two transgendered women, were on the set with her.
“They went through the script page by page and sat me down and told me about their lives — when they found out, when they knew, what it was like to walk out the door as a woman, what’s it like to get ‘clocked’ [recognized as transgendered] or ‘read.’ “
She also worked with a woman who coaches men undergoing gender reassignment.
“I learned it like a foreign language. I watched her working with several women and then she worked with me and we did it like it was a foreign language, like I didn’t know anything.
“Like ‘This is how you walk, and this is how you hold yourself’ and, ‘Because your arms are big, you want to do this and because your hands are big, you want to do this.
“There are all these unspoken social cues that women do that men don’t … so I just learned it like it was a foreign language.”
An actor can prepare for a role, but the film’s ultimate success rests in the script, Huffman says. And Tucker’s script was a keeper.
“You can have a great character and the script doesn’t back it up and you’re sunk. So, with both those things going for it, the minute I read it, I wanted it.”
On the screen, Huffman is invisible; Bree is fragile, wounded — and indelible. Watch her breakdown late in “Transamerica” and you will see how real people cry — male, female or those in between. It is messy, wet and unforgettable.
Huffman’s performance in “Transamerica” won her a best-actress award at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The choice to play Bree was a brave one for Huffman, who could have gone the movie-of-the-week route and skipped the nausea. But she doesn’t look at it that way.
Huffman says her career hasn’t been as planned as one might expect, that “good choices have been offered to me.”
“I was lucky enough to get into the good graces and under the tutelage of David Mamet,” she says of the Chicago playwright.
“And I won Bill Macy. As the golden prize. The best prize ever.”