— as told to Sharon Ward
February 22, 2006
Transsexual Andrea James, 39, was Felicity Huffman’s coach for the movie Transamerica. Here, she tells how her own life story shaped Hoffman’s Oscar – nominated performance.
Felicity approached my business partner Calpernia Addams and me to coach her when she was researching her part as Bree in the film Transamerica. We run a production company and are both transsexual women, so she felt we had a lot of wisdom and advice to offer her.
First of all, she wanted to know our stories. I was brought up in the Midwest in a tiny town where transsexuals weren’t discussed or even known about. But as a boy I didn’t feel right about myself or the body I was in. I was very in tune with my feminine side and often wished I’d been born a girl. I found out what “transsexual” meant when I was 12, but I couldn’t speak to anyone about it.
I moved to Chicago when I was 21, and that’s where I first met transsexual women. I knew that at last I could achieve my childhood dream – to be a woman. The first thing I did was have my facial hair removed, and then I started growing my hair to look more feminine. I took female hormones to make my figure curvier and I practiced making my voice higher.
My transition began in 1995 and ended in 1998 when I had my final surgery which is what Bree is waiting for in Transamerica.
Felicity was particularly interested in the emotions a transsexual woman goes through during the final transition. She came to our office once a week and sometimes we went to her home we read the whole script and wrote down our thoughts on what her character would be thinking at specific times in the movie she was particularly interested in getting her voice right for the part men tend to talk more from the chest, and we worked on giving her voice a deep hollowness.
Both Calpernia and myself appear in the movie I was breeze vocal coach just like in real life!
We first saw the movie at a press screening in Hollywood and thought it was an amazing accomplishment. One of my favorite scenes is where Bree visits her parents. It’s played for laughs and it’s very over the top, but it rings true for the shock and anger many parents express when I first see their child after the transition.
I was lucky – my dad supported me from the day I told him but my mother was afraid for me now she’s accepted the changes and is proud of me and my career.
Felicity did a wonderful job as Bree. It’s so easy to use transsexual people as a joke, but she portrayed her character is a very real human being. We’ll be cheering for Felicity and the movie at the Oscars – she deserves to win the best actress award for sure!