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Jeffrey Tambor is leaving Transparent amid claims of sexual harassment

The actor, who’s won two Emmys for his role as Maura Pfefferman, says he can’t continue on the show due to “the politicized atmosphere” on set.

2017 Clio Entertainment Awards Rich Fury/Getty Images
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Barely two weeks after allegations of sexual harassment emerged against Jeffrey Tambor, the lead actor of the acclaimed Amazon series Transparent, the actor has said he is leaving the show, according to Deadline. Tambor, who has denied the allegations, is abandoning his Emmy-winning role over what he calls the hostile “politicized atmosphere” on the set.

On November 8, Deadline reported that Amazon was investigating claims of harassment made against Tambor by Van Barnes, who consulted on Transparent and worked as Tambor’s personal assistant on set. The investigation was reportedly begun after Barnes posted a private Facebook in which the transgender actress indirectly implicated Tambor.

According to reports from Deadline and the Hollywood Reporter, Barnes alleged in the post that an unnamed former boss had repeatedly harassed her and made lewd sexual comments to her, played pornography loudly in front of her, frequently given her “butt pats,” told her she "was useless, could do nothing right,” and attempted to intimidate her into silence by threatening to sue her if she spoke up.

Tambor responded by describing Barnes a “former disgruntled assistant” and calling the accusation “baseless.”

“I adamantly and vehemently reject and deny any and all implication and allegation that I have ever engaged in any improper behavior toward this person or any other person I have ever worked with,” he told Deadline at the time.

But last week further allegations surfaced, this time from Tambor’s Transparent co-star Trace Lysette. In allegations detailed by the Hollywood Reporter, Lysette described an incident in which she alleged that Tambor first made lewd comments to her, then came up behind her and thrust against her while they were on set together:

Then later, in between takes, I stood in a corner on the set as the crew reset for a wide shot. My back was against the wall in a corner as Jeffrey approached me. He came in close, put his bare feet on top of mine so I could not move, leaned his body against me, and began quick, discreet thrusts back and forth against my body. I felt his penis on my hip through his thin pajamas and I pushed him off of me. Again, I laughed it off and rolled my eyes. I had a job to do and I had to do it with Jeffrey, the lead of our show. When they called action, I put that moment in the corner into its own corner of my mind.

According to Lysette, Tambor’s sexually inappropriate behavior started out with a degree of plausible deniability — inappropriate kisses and remarks — and continued over time until she felt sure his behavior constituted harassment.

Lysette, who had been a housemate of Barnes’s while Barnes worked for Tambor, also supported Barnes’s claims against him, telling the Hollywood Reporter that she witnessed the toll that working for Tambor was taking on Barnes:

“She would come home wrecked and stressed. I saw him break her down. She for the most part kept it to herself. She was just like, 'Girl, he is a piece of work. If you only knew what I’m going through.' But I knew."

Following the news of Amazon’s investigation into Tambor and the subsequent allegation by Lysette, Transparent creator Jill Soloway and the show’s writers’ room were reportedly seeking ways to write Tambor’s character Maura Pfefferman off the show.

But Tambor, who has won a litany of awards for his performance, including two Emmys and a Golden Globe, seems unwilling and unable to further address or deal with the intensified scrutiny over his behavior, and is now apparently taking matters into his own hands.

In a statement to Deadline on November 19, Tambor repeated his previous denials of all accusations against him, expressing “my deep regret if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone as being aggressive,” and adding that “the idea that I would deliberately harass anyone is simply and utterly untrue.”

But he also complained about the tense atmosphere he says has resulted from the allegations, which he apparently finds hostile. “What has become clear over the past weeks, however, is that this is no longer the job I signed up for four years ago ... Given the politicized atmosphere that seems to have afflicted our set, I don’t see how I can return to Transparent.”

It’s difficult to read Tambor’s decision to exit the show over a "politicized atmosphere" — after fielding multiple sexual assault allegations — as anything other than a peak example of fragile masculinity. But it’s certainly likely to accelerate his character’s departure from the show. (According to the Hollywood Reporter, Soloway was previously rumored to be asking Amazon "for the right amount of time to creatively write Maura out of the show, possibly with a death” — a timeline that now seems unlikely.)

Deadline reports that Amazon’s investigation into both allegations against Tambor is still ongoing. The show is not currently in production, though it is generally expected to be renewed for a fifth season — with or without Tambor.