Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Duncan Tucker Transforms His Career With Transamerica
from the 12-21-05 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Director Duncan Tucker at the premiere of Transamerica and his leading lady
Felicity Huffman in a scene from the film
Though Duncan Tucker is tired at the end of a long day of promotional interviews for his first feature, Transamerica his enthusiasm is
palpable across the table. The tired part is to be expected after the months he's spent on the festival circuit helping to build the
buzz that mostly centers on “Desperate Housewife” Felicity Huffman’s performance in the title role. As Bree, the male to female
transsexual who is learning to bond with her gay teenage son, Huffman is nothing less than astonishing and Tucker was eager to do
yet another interview about his first feature debut as both writer and director. Excerpts from our conversation:
WCT: First of all, I read that the inspiration for Transamerica came from a transgendered female who was a friend of yours.
DT: Actually, that is incorrect and “inspiration” is totally the wrong way to put it. I’d been thinking about the idea of a family story
about two people who felt like outsiders and who didn’t know each other existed and this journey toward self-acceptance. This is not
a movie that’s about transsexuality. But then I did meet this woman who told me what was under her skirt and a light bulb went off
and I thought, ‘Hmm, feeling different and alone to the power of a hundred.’
WCT: So this is a friend of yours and you had no idea?
DT: Right. And then when I went on and met all the trans women in the course of research sometimes if they’re at the beginning of
their journey or genetically unlucky, taller or heavily built, they don’t necessarily pass. But you take a five foot six guy who’s
delicately bone structured and an elegant creature to begin with and add hormone therapy for two years, not to mention brow
reduction and jaw recontouring, tracheal shave and whatever else is at their disposal, it does not look like a guy in a dress. And in
that Dallas party scene with all the trans women – I mean, how many times do you get to see a bunch of suburban trans women
singing, “Home On the Range?” Felicity Huffman was not the girliest girl in the room.
WCT: I loved that scene. It was great to show the variety and not just the stereotype.
DT: I wanted to do that. I wish I had more time with those lovely people. We had to scrunch that scene into just a few hours of
shooting. That broke my heart because I wanted to get so much more. But that’s low budget filmmaking.
WCT: Now I heard at one point that Alexandra Billings was maybe going to do the role.
DT: I talked to her and I saw a tape of her work.
WCT: I ask because she’s a unique Chicago success story. She’s done very well here in the theatre and cabaret community and
has done well in L.A. also. It’s a very unique career. Our readership is always very interested and supportive of Alexandra. So I’m
just curious about that.
DT: There were a couple of reasons that it didn’t happen with her. One is that whatever money we could beg, borrow and steal was
to some extent contingent upon having somebody who had a track record. Felicity Huffman carried “Sports Night” and was a talked
about actress within the industry. So that was one practical consideration and two, I just thought, ‘My God, Felicity IS Bree.’ She just
was. Alexandra seemed like an amazing actress and I’d love to have the chance to work with her someday.
WCT: How would it have been different with a real transsexual?
DT: In the best of all possible worlds it would have been fantastic to use a transsexual actress but it would have been very different.
WCT: Where did Felicity Huffman’s name come from?
DT: I first saw her Off-Broadway in David Mamet’s “Cryptogram” and I just thought she was an amazing actor of penetrating
intelligence with a commanding presence and I had this instinct that she could do something this transformative. She told me the
day before yesterday that she’d never had a chance to transform herself as an actress to this extent and that she had butterflies in
her stomach the whole shoot as to whether she was pulling it off or not. But I knew she was. They say that the most important thing
a director does is cast well and I’m patting myself on the back over that. I really loved everybody in my movie. I loved Graham
Greene and Fionnula Flanagan. Isn’t she stunning?
WCT: I loved her work in The Others. And I liked the young actor who played the son.
DT: Kevin Zegers was so great. He had to be very simple and raw. He was one of those cut off teenagers that you just want to
shake and say, ‘What’s going on in there?’ Have you known teenagers like that?
WCT: Yes but they haven’t been gay hustlers.
DT: (laughs) Okay.
WCT: That reminds me. The movie also puts a light on that subculture as well. Was that on purpose?
DT: Ultimately, pieces about sexual outsiders or just people who are made to feel outsiders for whatever reason get my vote.
Particularly, people like Bree and Toby who are the opposite of each other. As tight as she is about her space and her body, he’s as
loose. And yet they’re both child abused kids. He was physically abused but she was emotionally abused. To grow up in our culture
as a transsexual, probably even as a gay person or a lesbian person and being told when you’re just a little kid that something
about who you are is wrong, no little kid should have to hear that. That’s child abuse, emotional child abuse.
DT: When it starts out Bree is an incredibly intelligent person but her emotional intelligence index is like zero. It’s only through that
painful process that at the end she becomes a different person and learns how to be a parent.
WCT: You must have had a very difficult time raising the money for this project.
DT: I thought it had a really interesting subject matter and a pretty well written script and none of the usual suspects wanted to
touch it and I’m nobody and so yes, money was begged, borrowed, stolen and credit cards were run up. My mom pitched in. You
name it – just everything.
WCT: Wasn’t it the first day at the table read for “Desperate Housewives” that Felicity got your script?
DT: Yes – but I didn’t know anything about the TV show, of course. When I heard that she wanted to do the role but she had this
pilot that she had to shoot I was like, ‘Dammit, now we’re going to have to go into overdrive because of this stupid pilot.’ We had to
finish with her by July 3rd – this was the summer before last – in order to free her up to be able to start shooting “Desperate
Housewives” on July 5. She would call me up screaming, “They can’t cover up my five o’clock shadow!”
WCT: You had an amazing team put together for her wardrobe and make-up. She really “passed” as a transsexual.
DT: I told Danny Glicker our great costume designer that I wanted pastels and catalogue clothes. She had skirts that were knee
length at one point and I said, ‘No, longer skirts, more concealment. She’s not secure with her body yet.’
WCT: I understand that on the road at some of the locations you had to be careful about telling people what kind of movie you
were doing. You had to say, ‘It’s a road movie about a mother and a son.’
DT: (laughs) You know what? It is! We just told them the truth. We didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. There are going to be
some people who prejudge this movie; people who are prone to prejudgment and I’m sorry that that’s the case but I hope that it’s
an old fashioned, feel good, laugh out loud, you laugh, you cry kind of movie.
WCT: What’s been the reaction from the transgender community?
DT: It’s been great. Pretty much at every festival I’ve been approached by somebody in the transgendered community who’s come
up to me, having been moved by the fact that in some form, this was their story on the screen. Everybody seems to be happy to
see a movie where the whole subject matter isn’t, ‘Should I change my sex? Please accept me even if I change my sex. Don’t
divorce me, don’t take my children.’ That’s already a given.
WCT: What’s next for you Duncan?
DT: Well, Richard, how do you follow this up? (laughs)
WCT: Maybe something about a female to male transgender.
DT: (laughs) That’s a thought!