Actress Felicity Huffman is an expert at playing desperate. She does it so well, in fact, that she has a hit television show called Desperate Housewives and a new movie playing a woman desperate to escape her male body. The movie, Transamerica, screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, which ends Sunday, and earned Huffman a rave review from The New York Times for her portrayal of a woman, Bree, who was born in a man's body and who goes on a cross-country journey after learning she fathered a son. Bree is desperate for her therapist to give her a final OK so she can complete sex-change surgery and desperate to escape the idea that she fathered a son.
Other than desperation, Bree seems to have nothing in common with Lynette Scavo, Huffman's housekeeping mother on Desperate Housewives. But Huffman said the two characters both face feelings of loneliness and alienation. "Stay-at-home moms are marginalized; so are transgender people," said Huffman, who has two daughters with her husband, award-winning actor William H. Macy. "The difficulties of motherhood are hidden or are not spoken about in depth. The difficulties of being transgender, no one knows about," she said.
Huffman is a veteran actress and no stranger to tough roles. She helped found the Atlantic Theater Company with Macy and playwright David Mamet. She was a guest star on popular TV comedy Frasier and a regular on critical hit Sports Night. Still, she says she tried desperately--there's that word again--to persuade Transamerica writer and director Duncan Tucker to cast a man in the role of Bree. But Tucker was persistent, telling Huffman she possessed the emotional heft and comic flair to make Bree believable.
Huffman said she was stumped at first at how to play the part, whether to become a man first, then the man living in a woman's body, or whether she should just play a woman. She started reading about transgender women, then met with them, and finally took lessons from coaches who train transgender individuals to become women. "Oddly enough, it became a process of becoming more feminine," Huffman said. "Once I found the speaking voice, then Bree came to life," she added.
New York Times critic Stephen Holden said Huffman's Bree is "a sensitive, convincing portrait of someone in the throes of change who has yet to settle comfortably into a new self." Huffman said Transamerica, which has yet to find a U.S. distributor, has something everyone can relate to: "Everyone has felt alone. Everyone has felt like an outsider. I think everyone has felt they don't quite fit in. Those are universal human experiences." (Richard Leong, via Reuters)