Jeffrey Tambor forgets our interview once, reschedules, then forgets it again. Finally catching up with him by phone, Tambor has just one explanation. “It’s baby-head,” he says. “I’m sorry, I forget everything. This is the best my acting and my creative life has ever been, and I think it’s because of the kids, but the tradeoff is that I absolutely cannot remember anything.” At 66, the actor best known as George Bluth Senior from the sorely missed show Arrested Development is currently balancing a steady film career with a major role in the Disney animated film Tangled (hitting theaters November 5th), an Arrested Development film currently being written, a new one-man tour throughout the U.S, and a house full of young ones. The father of five is busier than ever:and damn thankful for it.
People often mistake your children for your grandchildren. That must get under your skin.
It happens hourly. I was just taking my son for a check-up and I was goofing around with him because he gets scared. The doctor came in and said, “Oh, your grandpa is so funny.” Hey look, I’m old! I’m 66, so why wouldn’t someone say that? My only problem is when I say, “Yeah, I’m their father,” and they go, “Oh, come on.” That’s when my blood pressure goes up a little tiny bit.
How do you deal with the [largely internet] criticisms that having children so late in life is unfair to your kids or that it’s selfish?
First of all, the people who write those things on the Internet are not rocket scientists for the most part. They’re writing it at 3 in the morning with little if anything else to do. If I counted on the sensitivity of the Internet public, I would be in trouble. Otherwise, you just go on. I don’t know what else to do.
Does the age factor impact your parenting?
It limits the amount of time on my knees. It has nothing to do with my love or my complete adoration of the kids. The disadvantages are, you know, age. The advantages are: I know much more about the world than when I was 20. I’ve read more, I’ve done more, I’ve traveled more, I’ve suffered more, I’ve had more elation. I’ve lived and I’d rather have that. In the end, I’m the one with the gift of being able to enjoy these kids. I wake up every day like it’s Christmas. I can’t wait to go see the babies and give them their first feedings and help my wife [Kasia Ostlun]. It makes me more alive. I don’t have time to worry or over-think. On the other hand, I’m on my ninth Kindle because I keep losing it.
Does the age factor concern you at all?
It’s not a scare, but it’s certainly a thought. I want to spend as much time as I can with my kids. I want to live as long as I can to help them and mentor them and witness their travels. Does that make sense? I wouldn’t call it a fear. I’m a lucky guy. I know I am. I’ve been thrown a great, great game here. I have two twin boys and gorgeous, wonderful children. I’m so proud of my eldest daughter, Molly, who’s now a teacher of European history back east and is a doctorate. This is good. This is nothing to worry about.
You’ve now got a one man show/inspirational seminar called Performing Your Life about your personal life advice. In it you say, “If you’re scared, it means you’re learning” and “Successful people learn how to dance with fear.” What role has fear played in your life?
Fear is a great learning tool because it promotes you to go on. The great artists, the great mentors that I’ve had have learned to dance with it and learned to actually use it as a goad for more experience and more learning. Fear is your friend. It tells you not to jump off the cliff for one thing.
When did you start embracing fear?
Too late. Probably in my 50’s. I just kind of went, “That’s it. I don’t want to lose my life that way.”
Was there a catalyst or turning point that caused you to start thinking that way?
I did a film called And Justice For All. Do you know that film? How old are you?
28!?! I have shoes that are 28 years old! Anyway, this was my very first movie, and it was co-starring Al Pacino, the great Al Pacino and I couldn’t believe it. Even though I thought I did pretty well in the movie, I sullied the whole production experience for myself because I was scared. For years, I couldn’t even watch it because it reminded me of the fear. I decided not to live like that any more. That’s all. I still have to battle it every day.
What scares you now?
I don’t know, anything. The safety of the kids, will I have the next job, do I have my hip replaced now or next year? Do I have enough money for Whole Foods? Whatever.
You’ve said that “getting lost” is the best thing that you can do, but for a lot of parents, it’s very challenging to watch their children metaphorically get lost.
I don’t mean you should lose your children. Please don’t write that Jeffrey Tambor says you should lose your children. There’s a wonderful line from Sunday in the Park with George, and it basically says stop worrying about where you’re going and just go. That’s a big lesson. Most of the time I meet people who come up to me and say, “You’re an actor and isn’t that great, I wanted to be a…” I find that very sad. There are a number of people who are doing something that they never wanted to do. They put their dream aside, and that’s unfortunate. Getting lost in the artistic process, you can’t make a mistake. I believe that in parenting too. I know people read books and books and books and this is going to sound like heresy and my wife is going to say “What are you talking about?” but the kids tell you, in a way. I believe in boundaries for kids. We are not the kind of parents who say, “Do whatever you feel.” We certainly know that kids, especially kids in their formative years, need boundaries and discipline and it comforts them. It makes them safe, but they also tell you what they need if you listen.
How are you keeping your house and marriage and careers together? What’s your secret?
I’ll tell you what my wife and I have, the saving grace of all mankind. We have humor and we have the ability to laugh at ourselves when we make mistakes. We have brilliant senses of humor, and that’s really important, because you can’t do this 100 percent correctly. It’s impossible. We also have that blessed time between 7:30 and 11 when [the kids] go to bed.
What’s the hardest part of parenting?
That’s a very good question. You know what I think it is? Consistency. Don’t keep changing the message and don’t make it a tyranny. I don’t like that. It’s not fair. In my house, I’m not the captain of this ship. That sounds like I’m evading your question, but my wife is, and she’s a great, great mother. She is one of the most committed mothers. I’m in awe of her tremendous skill. I was scared as hell when the twins came. I said, “We won’t be able to do this.” She just upped my game. It was tremendous, the learning curve. I love it. I think it’s a privilege to have children. It’s not for the meek and it’s not for the selfish. It teaches you to give and give and give and give.
And what do you get out of it?
You’re loved and they need you and there’s that precious moment at night when we get to just hold the little ones. It’s right after their night bottle when they get kind of tired and they put their head right next to your neck. Man, there’s nothing like that moment of complete serenity. My wife says, “You say to yourself, I’ve got you.” I’ve got you and you’re safe and that’s a privilege to be able to bestow that on another person. Those who criticize my being old; it’s a privilege to be old. It’s a privilege to age in this society because so many people die young, and I consider it a privilege to be this age and to have children. I think it’s great. Are you crying?