SFSU Magazine Fall/Winter '04: Jeffrey Tambor from "Arrested Development"


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Actor Jeffrey Tambor clad in the orange prison jumpsuit he wears for his role as George Bluth, Sr., in the FOX sitcom “Arrested Development”

Doing the Time of His Life

Fans of FOX's Emmy Award-winning comedy series "Arrested Development" know Jeffrey Tambor (B.A., '65) as George Bluth, Sr., the housing developer whose unscrupulous business practices land him in jail. "I haven't had a vacation in years," he says in the first episode. "I'm exercising, I'm sleeping well. … I'm doing the time of my life!"

Likewise, Tambor himself is quite content these days. His portrayal of George Sr. and his twin brother, Oscar, just earned him an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor and he enjoys working on "Arrested Development," he says, "so much it scares me."

Although his character was initially to appear only in the first episode, 20th Century Fox President Dana Walden told the press, "Jeffrey's performance in the pilot was so great, so memorable that it was inconceivable that we could do the show without him."

In his latest role, Tambor also crosses paths with a fellow alumnus. Judge Lionel Ping, played by Michael Paul Chan (attended '69-'74), has the final say in all of George Bluth's court proceedings.

Tambor started his theatrical training at SFSU at an early age. He was only 8 years old when he wandered across the street from his family's home in Parkmerced and into the Little Theatre. Directors welcomed him to observe rehearsals and it wasn't long before he was pitching in to help both cast and crew. A young Tambor learned how to strike the stage and even critiqued a performance or two. "I just loved it," he recalls during a recent telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "I wanted to be part of it."

Tambor would get his chance years later when he became an official student in SFSU's theatre arts department. The legendary Fenton McKenna stands out first and foremost among his instructors, but "all the faculty were great," Tambor says, pointing to
Jack Cook, Dale W.P. Mackley and the late Thomas Tyrell. Looking back at his time at State, Tambor says, "I'm positive I'm an actor because of that place."

Before he broke in to TV and movies in the late 1970s, he landed roles in regional theater, often playing older gentlemen. ("Going bald early certainly didn't hurt things.")

Performing on Broadway in Larry Gelbart's "Sly Fox" with George C. Scott stands out in Tambor's mind as
"the first big break."

Prior to joining the dysfunctional yet endearing Bluth family, he appeared on a number of TV shows, from
"Hill Street Blues" to "The Practice." Tambor earned four Emmy nominations for his role on the "Larry Sanders Show" as the star's sycophant sidekick, Hank "Hey Now!" Kingsley.

With movie credits such as "Girl Interrupted," "Pollock," and "There's Something About Mary," he continues to enjoy a successful career in Hollywood.

Tambor may have but one small complaint when it comes to fan recognition. It's not that he minds being stopped for autographs.

"But I still hear ‘Great work, Dr. Phil!'"