Gaby Hoffmann on 'Lyle,' 'Transparent' & Being a Precocious Kid

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday November 10, 2015

Gaby Hoffmann is a fascinating actress who has enjoying deserved acclaim these past few years for work onscreen ("Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus," "Obvious Child") as well as on television, garnering two Emmy nominations this past season for her diverse work on "Girls" and "Transparent."

In Stewart Thorndike's riveting film, "Lyle," Hoffmann has quite a challenging role as a woman who discovers that her life is being taken over by a dark force. The actress brings remarkable nuance to a part in a genre that doesn't usually care enough about characterization.

The thesp started at the age of four and was featured prominently in "Field of Dreams," "This is My Life" and "The Man Without a Face," to name a few. She worked less and less in the 1990s and 2000s, but her personal journey recently brought her back to acting.

The daughter of Warhol superstar, Viva, and daytime TV actor Anthony Herrera, Hoffmann had an atypical childhood (living in the Chelsea Hotel for a spell) but that unorthodox upbringing may have informed her commitment to character as well as her bold choices.

Hoffmann spoke with EDGE recently, via phone, about her film and TV work and her journey from child star to adult actor as well as working with Woody Allen in the midst of it all.

Wasn't enthused about a horror movie

EDGE: You are completely captivating in the role of Leah in Stewart Thorndike's terrific film, 'Lyle.' What drew you to the project?

Gaby Hoffmann: Stewart is a friend of mine. We didn't know each other very well at the time, but she had gone to film school with good friends and she just approached me and said I've written this. It was going to be a web series at first, and she asked me to do it. And I always like to say yes when friends ask to collaborate.

Honestly, I wasn't that excited by the idea of being in a horror movie. I don't really get the horror movie craze. But I was excited by the challenge of playing the part, within that genre. I'd never done anything like that. I certainly didn't know how I would do it or if I could do it. So that's the part that really excited me, working with a friend and doing something that would never have occured to me to do.

EDGE: Your performance is so rich that it helped Stewart subvert the genre so it's more about characters and relationships. Can you speak a little about that and working with her on the shoot?

Gaby Hoffmann: It was five days, initially. We did a couple of pick up days --hours really -- in the months after. Weirdly, I felt like we had a lot of space in those five days. I liked it. I was completely submerged in the story, in the character, in the project. If you do that for weeks on end it's totally exhausting but for five days you can manage 16 hours a day. You're just in it. You leave to sleep and recharge and come back and I enjoyed that. It's almost like being in a five-day play. I didn't feel pressured. I didn't feel rushed. I didn't feel stressed. It felt full of space and play. Everybody was really collaborative, working together in this serious and professional, but also really fun, excited way.

Why LGBTQ roles?

EDGE: Did you have a particular scene in 'Lyle' that was most rewarding?

Gaby Hoffmann: The final sequence, in the tub. That was satisfying. The whole last part of it where she (Leah) finds her voice, after playing the victim, the sub in the relationship. I felt it was really satisfying to just let myself go, to rage and scream and be big.

EDGE: You often choose LGBTQ-themed work. What draws you to a project?

Gaby Hoffmann: The writing and the people. With 'Transparent,' I met Jill and she pitched this idea to me and, in the preceding 30 minutes I had already decided I'd do anything she asked me to do because I had such a connection with her. And when she started talking about the idea behind 'Transparent,' that only furthered my excitement and interest because it was so rich and dynamic and thrilling. But I was ready to explore anything with Jill. And, in fact, we did explore some other stuff while she was getting the pilot out there.

There are times when a character, or a story, seems appealing but if the writing and the director and the other actors aren't exciting to me then nothing else really holds up.

What's up for Ali

EDGE: 'Transparent' feels so real and natural -- a breath of fresh air. What has the reception been like?

Gaby Hoffmann: Really wonderful. I live slightly outside of the current of the mainstream of culture. I'm not on social media. I also just had a baby in the last year so I'm not that keyed into the larger response but I know that when I walk down the street I have really lovely exchanges with people who are sometimes in tears, other times in my arms, who deeply appreciate the show. And that's satisfying... I've always just been interested in the process but it's been a lovely part of the equation of making the show because we all do it with so much heart and love and we all love and enjoy it so much that to have people come at me with so much emotion and so much intimacy -- it's a lovely way to have exchanges with strangers, which I'm always looking to do. I grew up in New York City. I'm very interested in the human connection that exists here so that's a cool added element.

EDGE: Are you done filming Season Two?

Yes, it will premiere in December (on Amazon).

EDGE: Ali (her 'Transparent' character) is such a fascinating being. What can you tell us about her journey in the upcoming season?

Gaby Hoffmann: She is continuing on this investigative path to try to find out who she is. Everything is up for question and exploration. She's digging into the history of who she is. And the family, generations back as well as the history of her Judaism, her identity, her gender identity, her sexual identity, her intellectual identity. She is awakened to this moment in her life and is trying to dig into it. So it's a lot of fun. She's getting messy.

A precocious kid

EDGE: You began your career at a very young age and then left acting. Now, you've come back with a vengeance. What has that odyssey been like for you?

Gaby Hoffmann: I didn't really consider myself an actress when I was younger. I was just doing what was put in front of me, which I enjoyed because it's fun to be on movie sets. I was a real social, precocious kid, but all I ever wanted to do was go to college and study literature and writing and become a teacher. That's what I thought I would be... It was all a means to an end for me. I didn't start acting because I wanted to be an actress. I started acting because it was a practical solution to a problem. And I kept going because it's what I did, and my friends did it, and it was easy enough, I didn't have to fight for it. So it was just, oddly, this thing that happened and kept happening until I went to college and then that was it and it was over.

(I spent) the next 15 years sorting out who I was and what I wanted and what the acting thing was really about. It was complicated and difficult and very important. I'm really glad I had that time. I came at it fresh as an adult and discovered that I was absolutely fascinated by it. And really loved it. And I feel so lucky that I get to do it. But it was a long process of figuring that out. I took all of my twenties to do so. I just let myself hide out in the woods and do nothing and read and swim. I just let myself be. I was anxious and depressed a lot of the time because it's scary to not know what your spending your life doing but, in the end when I turned (back) towards acting to see how it felt, it was from a very clear-eyed and honest place and so since then it's been a very easy road.

Working with Woody

EDGE: In 1996, when you were in your early teens, you were cast in Woody Allen's all-star musical, 'Everyone Says I Love You.' What was that experience like?

Gaby Hoffmann: There were few things that really excited me when I was that age, movie-wise, because I didn't dream of being an actor, I didn't really care about it. I liked movies like any kid but I wasn't a lover of cinema. But I loved Woody Allen. So it was really exciting, getting that call. It's like the only moment in my childhood I remember jumping up and down and (mock yells), 'I'm gonna make a movie with Woody Allen!'

It was a lot of fun. Making a movie with Woody Allen is the easiest job in town. It's a civilized way of making films. You work from nine to five or six because he wants to go to the Knicks game or he wants to go play the clarinet. And it's an incredibly easy-going, lovely set. He has very little to say. I had very little to do in the film, but I think this is true with most people's experience with him. He's written some stuff and he says, 'if you want to say what I wrote, say it, if you don't, don't. If you want to say something else, say something else.' And that's what happens. He shoots most things in a master (shot). It's just very easy going. I didn't have many exchanges with him but he was lovely. And I had a great time. It was a really fun group of people. Natasha Lyonne and I are still good friends. I look back on it very fondly.

'Lyle' is currently available on DVD and VOD. For more information about the film visit its Facebook page.

The second season of 'Transparent' will be available on Amazon in December.

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He is also a proud Dramatists Guild member and a recipient of a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and the Chesley/Bumbalo Foundation Playwright Award for his play Consent, which was also a 2012 semifinalist for the O'Neill. His play, Vatican Falls, took part in the 2017 Planet Connections Festivity and Frank was nominated for Outstanding Playwriting. Lured was a semifinalist for the 2018 O'Neill and received a 2018 Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant. Lured will premiere in 2018 in NYC and 2019 in Rome, Italy.

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