'Transparent' Star Judith Light on Finding Success at 67

"My career is better now than it was 30 years ago," the "Transparent" star says.

ByMichael Rothman
October 17, 2016, 12:40 PM

— -- Judith Light has more in common with her "Transparent" character Shelly Pfefferman than you would think.

Light and Pfefferman look nothing alike. The 67-year-old actress dresses down and wears a gray wig to play the doting mother on the acclaimed show. In real life, Light shines at premieres and in person, her energy and positivity contagious and palpable.

But where the two intersect is how they're breaking new ground later in life. "I am just now beginning to have the career I've always wanted earlier," Light recently told ABC News. "My career is better now than it was 30 years ago."

This is a bold statement for an actress known for her roles on hits such as "Who's the Boss?," "Ugly Betty" and "Law & Order," as well as her turns on Broadway. But she holds her work on "Transparent" and other current projects in high regard -- and she's glad her success is happening now.

PHOTO: Judith Light and Tony Danza in the series "Who's the Boss?" in 1984.
Judith Light and Tony Danza in the series "Who's the Boss?" in 1984.

"If it had come to me earlier, it wouldn't be the same," she said. "I would never have appreciated it in the way I do now ... the process and the time it took was really important and I'm just realizing it now," she said.

Light's Pfefferman is a woman whose family is her life. But after Jeffrey Tambor's Maura comes out as transgender, and her children focus more on their own paths, she is compelled to find her place in the world.

She still loves her children, but she's starting to put herself first, something fans saw in the "Transparent" season 3 finale, which became available late last month on Amazon Prime, and where Pfefferman's one-woman show "To Shell and Back" is as inspiring as it was heartbreaking.

"Isn't that the goal? To get better, to get feedback from people you value?" Light said. "You work and you change ... I never wanted to do a soap opera, I never wanted to do a sitcom. But it changed my life in dramatically major ways," she added about her past hits.

As for her finale and the accolades she's received about her character's journey, she said "it's remarkable."

"It's the experience of deep gratitude, deep appreciation. Amazon is the greatest partner that people could have to work with in this new form of streaming television," she said of "Transparent's" home. "[Series Creator] Jill Soloway is truly a gifted genius, who is open to the work and in life. ... That final performance, the credit, all of that, goes to Jill, our writers. The vision they have for all of these characters.

"A lot of people have said, 'Nobody wants to see old people or talk about older people having sex,' which was season 2 ... we are finding out people do want to know about it," she continued. "They do want to talk about mature people and their sexuality, they do want to talk about women as they mature."

When Soloway brought the finale to Light, adding she would be singing a special rendition of Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket," she said she replied. "Really?"

"I just keep working and work hard to make it work, and just hope people will like it," she said. "So, it ended up that people did."

But even as Light in real life and her character are both changing and growing, their concern for others remains apparent.

PHOTO: Jeffrey Tambor, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and Judith Light in the series, "Transparent."
Jeffrey Tambor, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and Judith Light in the series, "Transparent."

Light spoke to ABC News as part of the National Council on Aging's "Flu + You" campaign. This is not something she takes lightly, so much so that she literally asked everyone she met during this interview if they've gotten their flu shot.

The Tony Award winner was "shocked" to find out that adults 65 years and older account for a majority of flu-related deaths, she said she was told by the council.

"And it's completely preventable," she exclaimed.. "If you know that, then you can do something about it. You can have the conversation, 'Are we going a long life and a healthy life, and are we going to be proactive about our health?'"

During the interview, Light asked the younger professionals in the room to please mention the flu shot to their parents and encourage them to be proactive.

"These are things I think about that are important to me," she added. "If I can pass on something, pay it forward, give people information that can either save their life or keep them from being down with the flu."

Light went on to open up about recent successes in her life, like her one-woman show "All The Ways To Say I Love You," which she kicked off earlier this summer off-Broadway.

"You have to have an intention and a vision that propels you," she said, adding, "I'm not a risk-taking person."

"But I end up doing all these things, where I'm putting myself on the line and I'm completely terrified," she said. "I just do it anyway."

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