Lehigh Valley sophomore interviews commencement speaker Jeffrey Tambor

May 07, 2013

It’s not every day you get the opportunity to speak with a successful Hollywood actor. But here I was, a sophomore in college, about to pick up the phone and interview Penn State Lehigh Valley’s Class of 2013 commencement speaker, Jeffrey Tambor.

Wow! Reading through his bio to prepare for the interview, I found Tambor's list of credits long and impressive. With a career spanning over three decades, he has been seen in some of the most popular shows of all time, has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood and has been nominated for several Emmy Awards to name only a few of his accolades.  

With hands trembling and mind racing, I dialed his phone number. Who would answer? Would I be speaking with his agent? An answering service? His children? Would I forget how to speak or what to ask? My anxiety was quickly put to rest by an energetic and genuine greeting. It was Jeffrey Tambor himself! I introduced myself and he immediately put me at ease with his upbeat, humorous manner. He inquired about who I was and what my aspirations were. He wanted to know about life here in the Lehigh Valley. Then, I remembered I was supposed to be interviewing him. As I asked my questions, he answered each one candidly, as though we were old friends catching up.

Tambor is most commonly known for his comedic roles as Hank Kingsley on "The Larry Sanders Show" and George Bluth Sr. and Oscar Bluth on "Arrested Development." He grew up in San Francisco surrounded by a very funny family where comedy is just a part of everyday life. “Funny, fast and furious is what we always said about our family,” said Tambor. Wherever he goes, comedy follows. But I also learned that there is so much more behind this man than the characters he plays on the big screen.

Tambor received a bachelor's degree in drama from San Francisco State University. He later received his master's degree from Wayne State University. College was a memorable experience, but like many of us, he did not always find his classes exciting. He always knew he wanted to be an actor, but he was counseled that you still have to learn and understand how everything else works. His favorite professor taught him how to study which he said enabled him to succeed in any class.

Today, he feels he is just as much a teacher as an actor as his career takes him around the world to speaking engagements and acting camps. Tambor always stresses the importance of reading. He is the proud owner of the successful Skylight Bookstore in Los Feliz, Ca., but also admits to owning a Kindle because “You have to change with the times.”

Beyond the Kindle, I wanted to know what other kinds of technology changes came about during his career and how he learned to adapt. He explained how everything from how to shoot and edit a video to reading a book has made his career a constant learning experience. He shared a brief story with me about how his son’s friend came over to play and they went off to create a whole video – with editing included – by just using the camera on a cellphone. “This goes to show how times have changed. When I was that old, I never could have imagined using such technology.

Tambor’s message to Penn State Lehigh Valley’s graduating class will be to hold fast to your dreams. He feels the importance of going after what you want is the key to being successful. Still living up to that motto, he travels often for work. He credits his supportive family for making him able to continue to live out his dreams, including current projects like "Arrested Development" for Netflix and "The Onion" for Amazon.

To conclude our phone interview, I thanked him for graciously making time to speak with me. What began as a nerve-racking interview assignment had turned into a casual conversation between generations. Tambor replied with an empowering line: “All you have to do in this world is ask.”

Bethlehem resident Alexandra Lynn is a sophomore majoring in corporate communication at Penn State Lehigh Valley. She also writes for the campus newspaper, State of the Valley.

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Last Updated May 08, 2013