When Felicity Huffman appears on the Lobero stage on Saturday for the festival’s “Conversations With” program, people will get a chance to see and hear the real-life Huffman, not the overworked, overburdened, pill-popping housewife and mother on Desperate Housewives (although she is admittedly an overburdened mother juggling two young daughters, a famous husband, and a demanding career). Nor will they see the pre-op transsexual of Transamerica, the role for which she recently won a Golden Globe and has been nominated for an Oscar, although she says she too has struggled with painful body-image issues. What the festival audience will actually see is one of today’s finest actors, whose talent is on a par with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep.
Although her success at age 43 has all the flash and glow of the meteoric, Huffman brings to it two decades of esteemed work, including on and off Broadway in David Mamet’s plays; movie roles in Reversal of Fortune, Hackers, The Spanish Prisoner, and Magnolia; numerous television roles, including Frasier, The West Wing, Law and Order, and the short-lived but fabulous Sports Night. It was not a fluke that she was the housewife who won the Emmy.
Huffman met her husband William H. Macy (immortalized in Fargo and Seabiscuit) 20 years ago at Mamet’s New York City Atlantic Theater Company, where she is still a member. An acquaintance has called them “a great couple, bright and complex and deeply supportive of one another.”
“When William Macy saw the rough of cut of Transamerica,” said Sebastian Dungan, producer of the film, “he asked us, ‘How can I help?’ We told him, ‘You can make phone calls.’ He made phone calls to people who wouldn’t take our phone calls and became the executive producer.”
Transamerica is a road picture, a humanistic glimpse into a world most people can’t even imagine. A deeply satisfying movie with a rich offering of character, pain, truth, and redemption, it’s everything one wants from a movie, and Huffman is its center and its heart. She plays a man in the final stages of becoming a woman; and her performance is so perfect, you can see the man, Stanley, that the woman, Bree, is trying valiantly to erase, but you can’t see Huffman. In this magic act, Huffman literally disappears.
Duncan Tucker, the director of Transamerica, says he made the movie partly because he loves adventure quest stories like Huckleberry Finn and The Wizard of Oz, and partly because he really feels for anyone who is judged as an outsider. “What can I say about Felicity? She is a genius,” he explained. “I never doubted that she could do the heart of the character, but her skills as a comedian knocked me off my feet. She played the role without the use of mimicry. It wasn’t a stunt—it was an amazing invention of a real human being.”
But see it for yourself when Transamerica screens before Huffman chats on Saturday, February 11, in the Lobero.