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15 Surprising Facts About Transparent

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Since its Amazon debut in 2014, critics have fallen madly in love with the Pfeffermans, a difficult family trying to make sense of their lives in the wake of their father coming out as trans. Earlier this month,Transparent's second season earned Jeffrey Tambor and Jill Soloway their second consecutive Emmy awards for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Directing for a Comedy Series, respectively. On the heels of Transparent's season three premiere, here are 15 facts you might not know about the groundbreaking show that cemented Amazon as a major player in the TV game. 

1. A STORY ABOUT COURTENEY COX'S BUTT HELPED JUMPSTART JILL SOLOWAY'S CAREER.

While working her first L.A. writing gigs at The Steve Harvey Show and Nikki (which she called "the worst sitcom in the world"), Transparent creator Jill Soloway had some time on her hands to mess around on a show called Sit 'n Spin with her friends. The show involved people reading monologues and/or fiction, for which Soloway penned the hilarious "Courteney Cox's A**hole," a work of fiction told from the perspective of Cox's personal assistant. 

Soloway later sent the piece to a handful of literary magazines, while her agent passed it on to Alan Ball, executive producer of HBO's Six Feet Under. Ball was impressed, telling TIME that the story, albeit a few pages long, was able to "convey the very real pain of a soul yearning to be authentic in a completely inauthentic world." Also: He felt confident she'd be able to "write the hell out of Claire and Brenda." Soloway won a spot in the Six Feet Under writer's room. 

2. SOLOWAY AND LENA DUNHAM COMPETED FOR THE SAME HBO SLOT. (DUNHAM WON.)

This huge victory was not without a series of painful rejections, too. In what The New Yorker called a "downward slide"—the period immediately following her Six Feet Under residency in 2005—Soloway was fired from both HBO's United States of Tara and Grey's Anatomy. Then, she was beat out of what seemed to be a promising HBO slot by Lena Dunham (who would go on to create Girls). To add insult to injury, Soloway recalls people would frequently ask her if she was related to Dunham—"People were, like, it’s you, but younger and better.”

3. TRANSPARENT IS EXACTLY TWO PERCENT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

Soloway knew she wanted to make her own family show ever since working on Six Feet Under. What she didn't know is that her father would come out as trans at the age of 75—a pivotal moment which would eventually become the central storyline of the hit Amazon series. Speaking to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, Soloway called it her "creative destiny."

Soloway has also gone on record saying that the storyline of Shelly and Ed was informed by the death of her mother's husband, who had frontal temporal dementia. Nevertheless, Soloway has been resistant to the label of "autobiography" through the years, telling Rolling Stone back in 2014 that Transparent is "98 percent fictionalized."

"The Pfeffermans are just very real people," she said. "The reason I wanted to cast Jeffrey [Tambor] is because he's always reminded me of my parent. They really have a very similar sense of humor and that was just immediate. Other than that, it's not really autobiographical."

4. IT'S THE MOST TRANS-INCLUSIVE PRODUCTION IN HOLLYWOOD HISTORY. 

Transparent producer Rhys Ernst told OUT that he felt strongly about casting a trans actor to portray a young Maura (Tambor) in season three's flashback sequences, ultimately bringing 12-year-old Sophia Grace Gianna (who had recently transitioned) on for the part. 

This trans-inclusiveness has been a through line for the show's three-season production: Ernst said that the show has employed more than 50 trans and gender-nonconforming people in the capacity of "crew members or as actors with speaking roles." That doesn't include what he estimates to be "hundreds of extras."

5. JAY DUPLASS FELL INTO THE ROLE OF JOSH PFEFFERMAN.

During a get-together for directors that Jay and his brother Mark regularly hosted, Duplass got to talking with Soloway, who told him that she was struggling to find someone for the part of Josh Pfefferman. After he'd rattled off a list of actor suggestions, a light bulb went off in Soloway's head: He was just the guy she was looking for, even though he wasn't an actor and was already swamped with work on developing Togetherness for HBO. In Soloway's mind, Duplass was the "wildly charismatic and wildly insecureJewish guy in his mid-30s that she'd been looking for the whole time. 

6. PEOPLE HAVE A HARD TIME SEPARATING JAY DUPLASS FROM JOSH PFEFFERMAN.

Living in Eagle Rock—a neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles, and the same general area where Transparent is filmed—has created a host of funny situations for Duplass. Particularly because people can't seem to separate his on-screen character as the "roving male id" from his off-screen one as a father and husband when they bump into him at a Trader Joe's. (Yes, he's been known to have locals tell him not to "mess things up" with the rabbi—as if that were something he had control over.)

The differences don't end at father and husband, either. Duplass told Gold Derby that he grew up going to Catholic school and "being overly responsible to everyone around [him]." Also, the sex: "I think Josh Pfefferman has more sex in season one than I've had in my entire life," he said.

7. SOLOWAY EMBRACES IMPROVISATION ON SET. 

Season two of Transparent opens with a four-minute scene so perfect and categorically "Pfefferman," it likely did not occur to you that the whole thing was predicated on a mistake. The whole family is gathering for a wedding portrait and we hear the photographer mis-gender Maura. Maura doesn't let the flub go unnoticed, snapping back, "Did he just call me sir? This is over."

Gaby Hoffman told Vanity Fair that this scene began as a "one-line moment in the script." That is, Soloway stepped back and let "everybody [say] whatever the hell he or she was saying." It was Tambor who made the snap decision to incorporate this mistake into the scene. 

Michaela Watkins (Yetta and Connie in season two) echoed Hoffman's sentiments in an episode of WTF with Marc Maron, telling Maron that she remembered Soloway encouraging her to just use the script as a "roadmap." "Throw it out, you know what happens. You do it." Coming from such an accomplished writer, these words left an impression. 

"She's not ego-driven," Watkins said. "She didn't do it because she needed to be revered. It's how she does every single scene—whether it's with two people or 100 people. She just horse-whispers you before it. And then you shoot it, and you're operating from this other place."

8. CHERRY JONES'S CHARACTER IS BASED ON POET EILEEN MYLES, WHO IS SOLOWAY'S GIRLFRIEND.  

Among Transparent's slate of new cast members introduced in season two is Leslie (Cherry Jones), an intense feminist scholar who lures Ali in with her sexual confidence and wisdom. 

Soloway's writing staff had encouraged her to read up on the work of Eileen Myles while fleshing out the character. Later, the two met while speaking on a panel at a museum event in San Francisco. When the opportunity presented itself, Soloway asked Myles what she meant by a line in one of her journals. "Whoever falls in love with me is in trouble," that line read.

“It could also be true that anybody who falls in love with Jill is in trouble—deeply, deeply in trouble," Myles responded. "If you both have strong wills, you’re always pushing the boundaries. Love is trouble, you know, which is one thing that is so great about it.”

(Funnily enough, the real Eileen Myles later appears as an extra in a scene opposite her "copy." Her poetry is recited by many different characters throughout the season.) 

9. CARRIE BROWNSTEIN WAS ORIGINALLY SHORTLISTED FOR THE ROLE OF TAMMY.

As the story goes, Portlandia and Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein was so adored on the set of Transparent that a role was created just for her. "Originally, when we were trying to cast Tammy, her name came up," Soloway said. "But I always felt Tammy was really tan and blonde, like Lady Diana or someone who spent some time in her childhood on a ranch. And Carrie just seemed too Jewy to play Tammy, but I really, really wanted to work with her, so in the writers' room we created this character of Syd for her."

10. SOLOWAY HAD GABY HOFFMAN IN MIND FOR THE PART OF ALI AFTER SEEING HER IN LOUIE.

In the season three premiere of Louie, Gaby Hoffman is introduced as Louis C.K.'s girlfriend just as the relationship is about to end. Though brief, her role in the larger arc of the series is vital, forcing C.K. to confront his introversion head-on. Soloway was blown away by the performance, telling Rolling Stone:

"I just loved the way she was talking the whole time and he's trying to get a word in edgewise and he lets her break up with him. I just loved the way words rolled off her tongue and nothing seemed written. I loved how free she was. I was just like who is this really cool, Jewish lady? And she's not even Jewish."

11. JEFFREY TAMBOR USED MORE OF HIMSELF FOR THE CHARACTER OF MAURA THAN ANY OTHER ROLE. 

Jeffrey Tambor anticipated the biggest challenge of playing a trans character would be the physical transformation, though this was quickly proven incorrect. He told Terry Gross in a Fresh Air interview that that part turned out to be "very, very easy" for him. The hardest part? Coming to terms with his true self. "I got to use more of Jeffrey than I've ever used in any role. Probably even in playing Jeffrey," he said.

12. TAMBOR WENT "METHOD" TO WARM UP TO HIS ROLE AS MAURA.

Ahead of shooting the pilot episode of Transparent, Tambor was taken on a field trip by producers Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker. To get to the heart of his character, Maura, Tambor was encouraged to put on his full wardrobe and go out in public for the first time. The scariest part wouldn't be the club-hopping but, in fact, the inevitable walk through the hotel lobby. 

"I can remember my legs were shaking, literally trembling—not so much because we were going to a club, but I was so nervous about the walk through the hotel lobby," Tambor told the Los Angeles Times. "And I remember telling myself: 'Remember this. Don't forget this. Let this instruct every single one of your shots and your days.' And it did. It has nothing to do with the entirety of what being a transgender person is, by any means, but it informed me."

13. JUDITH LIGHT WAS VERY NERVOUS ABOUT SHOOTING THAT NSFW BATHTUB SCENE.

Two-time Tony Award-winning actress Judith Light's reaction to reading the now-iconic bathtub scene in "Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump" for the first time went something like this: "Oh my god, I can’t do this. I can’t do this." Upon further encouragement from her manager Herb Hamsher, as well as castmates Amy Landecker, Gaby Hoffman, Kathryn Hahn, and Jay Duplass (all quite experienced with the art of the sex scene), she agreed to the intimate scene with her ex, Maura (Tambor). 

"When it was done they wrote me and said, ‘That was so beautiful.’ That’s the kind of working circumstance we have," Light said.

She continued: 

“Jeffrey texted me afterward and I believe the text was something like, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this and thank you.’ Thanking me. He’s the most remarkable man. I’ve known for forever how incredibly talented he is. But this really just allows him to shine in a way he has long deserved. For my friend, I rejoice. He was there for me every single second of that scene. We were so present for each other and I think it comes across in the scene."

14. FAITH SOLOWAY, JILL'S SISTER AND SHOW WRITER, WAS HARI NEF'S CAMP COUNSELOR. 

One of Transparent's breakout stars is the 23-year-old trans actress, model, and writer Hari Nef, who plays Gittel. Faith Soloway, who is a writer on the show (and also Jill's sister) evidently knew of Nef because she had been her camp counselor at the Charles River Creative Arts Program in Dover, Massachusetts. Nef recalled that she received an email seemingly out of the blue from Jill asking if she'd be interested in being her date to a New York gala. "So I showed up, we hit it off, and she wrote me a part," Nef said. 

15. TRANSPARENT'S EMMY AWARD-WINNING MAIN TITLE THEME MUSIC WAS COMPOSED ON AN 80-YEAR-OLD PIANO.

Do not underestimate the power of a man and his 80-year-old piano. The nostalgia-inducing composition at the beginning of each episode is the work of Dustin O'Halloran, who is largely responsible for setting the "understated" tone of the rest of the series. Speaking with Song Exploder, O'Halloran described coming up in a "hippie Methodist church" community and learning to play the piano there. 

O'Halloran said that he used a Swiss piano from the 1930s for the theme song, the same piano he had recorded Piano Solos Vol. 2 on. He also admitted that he'd composed an earlier version to be used for the show but felt that it wasn't right. "I was probably thinking too much about it being an opening title piece—more of a statement, like 'the show is beginning!'" O'Halloran's secret for the finished tune: A "fuller" but still understated sound. Also, some killer harmonium. 

All images courtesy of Amazon.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
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Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
iStock

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
iStock

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
iStock

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
iStock

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
iStock

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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11 Thrilling Facts About Dial M for Murder
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In 1953 Alfred Hitchcock was looking for a new project after a film he’d been developing fell through. Sensing a need to go back to his safe space of murderous thrillers, he opted to adapt a stage play that had already proved to be a hit on British television. Though he had no particular attachment to the project, Dial M for Murder would ultimately become one of Hitchcock’s best-known—and best-loved—classics.

From the film’s use of 3D to the debut of Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s filmography to a pivotal murder sequence that made the director lose weight from stress, here are 11 facts about Dial M for Murder.

1. IT’S BASED ON A STAGE PLAY.

Dial M for Murder is, in terms of locations and number of characters, a relatively sparse film that barely leaves its primary set. This is because it was based on a stage play by Frederick Knott, which premiered as a BBC TV special in 1952 and later opened at London’s Westminster Theater and, eventually, Broadway. After seeing the BBC production, producer Sir Alexander Korda purchased the rights to make the film version, and later sold them to Warner Bros. for $75,000.

2. ALFRED HITCHCOCK THOUGHT HE WAS “COASTING” WHEN HE MADE THE FILM.

By 1953, when Dial M for Murder arrived at Warner Bros., Hitchcock was developing a project called The Bramble Bush, the story of a man who steals another man’s passport, only to find out that the original owner is wanted for murder. Hitchcock wrestled with the story for a while, but was never satisfied with it. When Dial M for Murder landed at the studio, Hitchcock knew the play had been a hit, and opted to direct it. As he later told fellow director François Truffaut, he found the film to be “coasting, playing it safe,” as he was already known as a thriller filmmaker.

3. IT’S HITCHCOCK’S ONLY 3D FILM.

In the early 1950s, the 3D movie craze was raging, and Warner Bros. was eager to pair it with the fame of Hitchcock. So, the director was ordered to use the process on Dial M for Murder. This meant Hitchcock had to work with the giant cameras necessary for the process, but there was also a trade-off that makes the film fascinating—even in 2D. In order to make the film look appropriately interesting in 3D, Hitchcock added a pit into the floor of the set, so the camera could move at lower angles and captures objects like lamps in the foreground. As a result, the film looks like no other Hitchcock ever shot, particularly for the infamous scissors murder that’s the film's thrilling centerpiece. Unfortunately, by the time Dial M for Murder was released in 1954, the 3D fad was dying out, so the film was shown in 2D at most screenings.

4. IT WAS HITCHCOCK’S FIRST FILM WITH GRACE KELLY.

Of all of the iconic blonde stars Hitchcock cast in his films, the most famous is almost undoubtedly Grace Kelly, the actress-turned-princess who first joined him for this film. Hitchcock once described Kelly as a "rare thing in movies ... fit for any leading-lady part,” and it was said he had the easiest working relationship with her of any star. They worked so well together that they went on to make two more films, Rear Window in 1954 and To Catch a Thief in 1955.

5. IT TAKES PLACE ALMOST ENTIRELY INDOORS.

Because Dial M for Murder is based on a stage play, the original script had very little in the way of outdoor set pieces. Hitchcock wanted to keep it that way, as he later explained to Truffaut:

“I’ve got a theory on the way they make pictures based on stage plays; they did it with silent pictures, too. Many filmmakers would take a stage play and say, ‘I’m going to make this into a film.’ Then they would begin to ‘open it up.’ In other words, on the stage it was all confined to one set, and the idea was to do something that would take it away from the confined stage setting.”

Hitchcock wanted to keep the confinement intact, so almost all of the action in the film takes place indoors, largely in the Wendices' apartment. This adds to the intimacy and tension.

6. HITCHCOCK PERSONALLY CHOSE EVERY PROP.

Hitchcock was always known as a meticulous director obsessed with detail, but on Dial M for Murder he was particularly detail-oriented, in part because the 3D cameras were going to capture objects in a way his other films hadn’t. As a result, he selected all of the objects in the Wendice apartment himself, and even had a giant false telephone dial made for the famous “M” close-up in the title sequence.

7. KELLY’S WARDROBE GROWS DARKER ON PURPOSE.

Grace Kelly in 'Dial M for Murder' (1954)
Warner Home Video

Hitchcock’s exacting eye also led to an elaborate “color experiment” to portray the psychological condition of Kelly’s character. As the film begins, the colors she wears are all very bright, suggesting a happy life in which she doesn’t suspect anything is wrong. As the film grows darker for her, to the point that she’s framed for murder, the wardrobe grows darker and “more somber,” as Hitchcock put it.

8. KELLY WON A PARTICULAR WARDROBE ARGUMENT.

For the scene in which Swann (Anthony Dawson) attempts to murder Margot (Kelly) by strangling her (until she manages to stab him with a pair of scissors), Hitchcock had another exacting wardrobe request. He had an elegant velvet robe made for Kelly, hoping to create interesting textural effects as the lights and shadows played off the fabric while she fought for her life. Kelly reasoned that, since Margot was alone in the apartment (as far as she knew) and was only getting out of bed to answer the phone, she wouldn’t bother to put on a robe.

“I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And [Hitchcock] admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done,” Kelly later recalled.

9. HITCHCOCK WAS SO NERVOUS ABOUT THE PIVOTAL SCENE THAT HE LOST WEIGHT.

Dial M for Murder was shot in just 36 days, but the director took special care with one scene in particular: the murder sequence in which Margot stabs Swann with the scissors. Not only was it a key scene in the film, but it was also a moment that required particular care to make the 3D effects work. Hitchcock agonized over the scene to such a degree that he apparently lost 20 pounds during filming.

"This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce—tasteless,” he reportedly said after one take.

10. HITCHCOCK MAKES HIS CAMEO IN A PHOTOGRAPH.

Hitchcock became known throughout his career for making cameos in his films, ranging from the very subtle (you can see his silhouette in neon outside the window in Rope) to the more elaborate (missing the bus in the opening sequence of North by Northwest). In Dial M for Murder, his cameo falls somewhere in between. He appears in a class reunion photo in the Wendice apartment, seated at a banquet table among other men.

11. IT’S BEEN REMADE FOUR TIMES.

Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in 'A Perfect Murder' (1998)
Warner Bros.

Dial M for Murder was a film adaptation of a stage play that had also already been adapted for television in Britain, and it proved popular enough that four more adaptations followed. In 1958, NBC broadcast a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, in which both Anthony Dawson and John Williams returned to play Swann and Chief Inspector Hubbard, respectively. A 1967 ABC television production of the play co-starred Laurence Harvey and Diane Cilento. A television movie starring Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer was produced in 1981, and in 1998 the play served as the inspiration for the film A Perfect Murder, starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

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