Judith Light Talks Shelly’s Journey & Saying Goodbye to ‘Transparent’

Amazon Prime Video

Transparent is ending on a high note…with some fiddle-playing and jazz hands thrown in too. The series finale of Prime Video’s groundbreaking, Emmy-winning dramedy is a full-on two-hour musical about the unexpected death of the Pfefferman family’s transgender patriarch, Maura (Jeffrey Tambor, who exited the series in 2018 after sexual harassment allegations).

The news devastates the family — ex-wife Shelly, son Josh and daughters Ali and Sarah (Judith Light, Jay Duplass, Gaby Hoffmann and Amy Landecker) — so they express themselves through original songs, which were penned by series creator Jill Soloway’s sister, Transparent writer Faith Soloway. Light tells us more.

What did you think when you heard the finale would be a musical?

Judith Light: It wasn’t like, “OK, this is what we’re going to do.” There was a whole process around it. We had talked about it a little bit. I had seen two of the cabaret shows that Faith and Jill had done at Joe’s Pub here in New York City and I had heard the music, which I thought was fantastic. Once it came down that this was what we thought we were going to do, or they thought we were going to do, everybody went, “OK, so let’s have a workshop in June.”


You’ve sung on the show before, but were you scared to do that and dance throughout an entire episode?

It wasn’t that I was afraid. I was concerned, I wanted to do my best. I wanted to get everything that I possibly could so that I would be connecting with our team in a way that gave everything I had an idea. I knew everybody else was going to give everything they had, so it was a concern. And I know Jill and the way they direct is very comforting, safe, connected. If something doesn’t work, let’s change it. Everybody was there all the time holding all of us.

What’s Shelly’s journey in the finale?

Well, you have to go back a little bit in terms of that process. Shelly is a mature woman who literally, because of sexual abuse, lost her voice. And at the end of season three on this boat, I sang a song, Alanis Morissette’s “Hand In My Pocket.” And in Season 4, in the desert in Israel, Shelly tells the full story of what actually happened to her so you’re watching a progression of a character. Also, if you go back to the first season and you see a scene with me and the kids, they’re talking about music. And Shelly says — and this is Jill’s genius — “I don’t care for music.” Nobody knows what has made her say that, so there you go. You’re watching this progression over time.

I know from where we met Shelly in the first episode to the finale, it’s a huge progression.

That’s the beauty, that’s the magic, that’s the genius of Transparent is that the journeys begin and for all these years, Jill and her team have been tracking all of the characters. I’ve always said you don’t watch Transparent, you feel Transparent.

What do you think the finale says?

That’s such a good question. A lot of things. How do we use our imagination to evolve, to expand? Who do we really want to be in life? What is important to us truly? Not the stuff of life, not all the business of life, but what is truly valuable? It’s like the book, The Little Prince. You cannot see it with the eye, the mind, the body. You can see it from a different perspective. You have an aerial view, an expanded view, an evolved view that actually is the truest of who we all are. And I think it says something about really connecting to joy at the most profound level, that that is also an essential part of our dynamic that we can transform. We have that ability, should we choose. What is it that loss propels us into if we stay awake to it?

In that final scene of the finale, you’re wearing this amazing yellow pantsuit. What did that say about Shelly?

Marie Schley, she’s such a brilliant costume designer, incredible. It was the only thing to wear, that’s all I can tell you. The only thing to wear. And you see that it’s like The Wizard of Oz! It goes from everyone in black to absolute staggering color and there’s a lot in that, it says a lot. You don’t want to hit the symbolism over the head, but there it is.

You’ve played Shelly for five years. Is it tough to say goodbye to her?

I never say goodbye to [my characters]. They’re always in me. I refuse to say goodbye to her. I can’t. It makes me emotional to think about it. She’s very, very special to me. She will be in me forever. I honor and respect her transformation, her transition. So, yeah, you cannot. There’s no goodbye.

How often are you asked about a reboot of Who’s the Boss?

A lot! Somebody just came up to me in a store and said, “Oh, please don’t do a reboot.” And I said, “Yeah, I know.” One of the things that he was talking about was he said, “It was so perfect in its time and it was so perfect.” And Katherine [Helmond, who played Light’s TV mom, Mona, on the 1984–92 sitcom] is gone. How do you do a reboot without her? I don’t know that that could happen.

Who’s the Boss cast in 1984 (Bob D’Amico/ABC via Getty Images)

Transparent, Series Finale, Friday, September 27, Amazon Prime Video