Exclusive Interview with Amber Benson!
I’m not going to lie – Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my obsession for a while. I was a film student during most of it’s initial run and it was on a whole new level of television awesomeness. It was a game changer for many reasons. So when I got off the phone from Amber Benson, who played Tara on the show, I took to moment to geek out. It was awkward. Amber proved to be one of the loveliest people we’ve had the pleasure to interview, as you’ll find out below!
Here’s the transcript of that chat!
G-Funk: We’re talking to Amber Benson ahead of OzComicCon Perth 2015…how are you Amber?
Amber Benson: I’m good, how are you Gareth?
GF: I’m good, are you enjoying the very Un-Australian weather this morning?
AB: (Laughs) I did get up really early this morning and took a walk in the rain, it was lovely.
GF: At least we get a bit of sunshine with the rain. You’ve come out here for OzComicCon and are still heavily promoted as Tara form Buffy the Vampire Slayer…
AB: I think I will forever be Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I can think of a heck of a lot worse things to be. I’m pretty blessed and lucky to be here.
GF: That’s true, but does it feel a bit strange that people are still coming out in force more than ten years on?
AB: You know, 20 years ago I would have said maybe but the advent of Netflix and all the online stuff and the fact that the show went in to syndication, airing constantly, I think new people are finding it every day. So no it’s not weird because of that. It’s weird to me because I’m quite a bit older than I was when I started but it’s really fun when kids come up and say ‘I just started watching on Netflix’ and, oh my gosh, you weren’t even born when we started.
GF: To switch it around a bit, in Australia we only got Netflix last week.
AB: Yeah, really recently.
GF: In in Australia where we don’t have the syndication and we didn’t have Netflix it’s still pulling in a huge amount of people. It’s got this remarkable legacy. Do you ever find the intensity of fans a bit much?
AB: I’ve been really lucky, knock on wood, I haven’t had a horrible experience. I usually get really nice people. I think this is partly because of the character I played and the relationship between Tara and Willow being the first long term lesbian relationship on network television, I get people who identified with those characters or came out because of that relationship. I get a lot of the positive.
GF: That’s a really great legacy to be carrying.
AB: It’s so amazing.
GF: Did you feel at the time the show was airing that you were under a lot of pressure to portray that group of people, homosexuality on TV, in a particular light?
AB: I think it was important that they were seen as people. To me the hardest job was to make sure they remained who they were and wasn’t about gratuitous ‘two girls making out’. It was about this relationship and how important they were to each other and to me that was the most important aspect of playing that character.
GF: I think what you did was really good with the characters…
AB: Aw, thank you!
GF: It was really good. On a personal note I have to say my wife and I initially bonded over love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
AB: Awwwww, that’s fantastic! Yay!
GF: We’ve been together almost 15 years…
AB: Oh my god!
GF:…and have a couple of kids!
AB: That’s one of the amazing things about Buffy, it brought people together. I can’t tell you how many times…this is an examples of what I’m talking about…I’m doing an event and this woman with a couple of little kids and a baby in a stroller comes up and says “look kids, that girl from Grandpa’s favourite show that we all watch together”. So there you go, it means a lot to people and people do keep watching it together.
GF: I might not start watching it with my kids, not at 4 years old…
AB: No, not quite ready.
GF: But we have all the DVDs sitting there for when they’re older.
GF: It is great seeing it carry on, that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and it has a legacy to follow it.
AB: It is, and it was very refreshing for its time on many different levels. For women, for LGBTQ relationships…so many big chapters on that show, it was mind blowing.
GF: If I can bring it back to your relationship, or your character’s relationship with the Willow character, I read an interview with Alyson Hannigan that she wasn’t sure where your relationship was going after your character was introduced. Were you on the same level?
AB: We had no idea! We did a couple of episodes and then basically Joss (Whedon) took us aside and said ‘hey FYI, you’re physically going to be girlfriends on this show. Neither of us were prepared going in to it. It was one of those things, I could never predict that was what was going to happen, but it was super necessary and super important to elevate the show and it was a beautiful love affair, you know?
GF: I think it stands as one of the great relationships in modern pop culture.
AB: I think so. We raised Dawn, that’s what I have to say about it. We were a good couple.
GF: I think so, especially in the musical episode where you got to show off your vocal talents as well.
AB: That was so much fun! I was like ‘every episode has to be a musical!’ and they were like ‘no, it doesn’t’.
GF: Ah, yeah, I would’ve gone for that. I’d has stayed tuned in. We’ve talked about the legacy of Buffy and how you’re still carrying that mantle after all this time, but it’s not all you’ve done. You’ve got a varied…I don’t want to say ‘filmography’ because acting isn’t all you’ve done. What is it you hope people would remember you for?
AB: That’s an interesting question…that’s sort of the idea of ‘what is an artist, what is an artist supposed to be doing’ vs ‘what is a human being, what is a human being supposed to be doing’. As a human being I hope to inspire people to follow their bliss and enjoy their lives and treat other people with passion and respect. As an artist I hope I make them laugh and they walk away feeling like they’ve been out of their normal existence for a couple of hours after watch something I did, or something I directed or read something I’ve written.
GF: Do you have one project that you’re especially proud of?
AB: You know, Buffy was one of the special, unique things that transcend…also for me the film I co-directed with Adam Busch, Drones, was another one of those special projects. I’m really proud of that.
GF: Adam…I don’t know if I can say this…Adam Busch, is that right?
AB: Yes, correct.
GF: He was from Buffy as well, he played Warren?
AB: Yes, he did. He killed me. (Laughs)
GF: Is it a bit strange that you continued your relationship with him after he killed you on screen?
AB: Actors aren’t the characters they play. When someone comes into your house every week on a TV show you really start to think of that person as the character but Adam is lovely, a doll and a really sweet, sweet guy. Really the antithesis of Warren.
GF: That’s really hard to put together in my mind…
AB: I know, right? It’s crazy.
GF: I’m not going to lie, I spent ten minutes before this call with a mantra of ‘her name is Amber, not Tara, do NOT call her Tara, it’ll be really embarrassing’.
AB: Oh, you would not be alone…it happens all the time. I don’t know if you know the author Patrick Rothfuss, the first time I met Pat we did a panel together at San Diego Comic Con and he signed a book ‘To Tara’ and went ‘Nooooo!’ (Laughs) I adore him.
GF: I’m going to do my best not to do that.
AB: If it happens it happens.
GF: Back to your roles after Buffy, and you’re more than an actor. Do you find it’s hard to get away from being seen not just as actor but also a writer, director and producer because people physically see you in that role?
AB: You know, I like being a chameleon, I like people not realising that I can do lots of different things and when they discover it, then surprise! I don’t really how people see me, so long as they enjoy what I’m doing. That’s all I care about.
GF: That’s a really good attitude!
AB: I’m just still lucky to be able to do what I do.
GF: I was looking at your list of works earlier today and between Buffy, Supernatural and Morganville…is there a particular leaning towards vampires?
AB: You can’t escape them! When you step into the genre world they like to bring you into other worlds. You start of in Buffy and then everyone else has these parts they want you to come and play. I think that’s a real gift. I think it’s awesome.
GF: You don’t think that you’ve had enough vampires for the time being?
AB: Never. Never, never, never!
GF: Remake of Twilight, maybe?
AB: Nooooooo, I don’t know about that. (Laughs)
GF: You’ve done a couple of collaborations with other members of the Buffy cast, like Adam and others across different projects. Do you keep in touch with that group of people?
AB: I do. I love hanging out with Emma Caulfield, the guys from the Trio (Busch, Danny Strong and Tom Lenk) I see frequently, J. August (Richards) who I just love…
GF: J. and Emma are in Perth as well this weekend!
AB: They are! I’m very lucky. I worked with Charisma (Carpenter) and Clare Kramer on a film last year, that was wonderful. I adore both of them, they are wonderful. It’s a really good little group.
GF: I think that when a group of actors have a good relationship it contributes a lot to what we see on the screen.
AB: Definitely. When people get on it’s really fun to watch them work together.
GF: Have you got some panels planned for this weekends?
AB: Apparently so!
GF: Got your material all ready?
AB: Oh yeah, I got my schtick all prepared, I’ll do some stand-up…no. I like to roll with it, I love questions and try to answer as honestly as possible.
GF: I’m trying to think of some more good questions now…
AB: They’ve all been good so far! I haven’t had a problem, they’ve all been quite lovely.
GF: Thank you for saying, I’m always afraid that I’m going to offend somebody.
AB: Nope. You have not offended me in the least. Try harder.
GF: Ok, I’ll try to offend you?
AB: It’s pretty tough. You’ll have a hard time. I’m pretty chilled.
GF: You’ve been doing the Morganville series online recently, what else do you have in the works?
AB: I just did a short film, all action, called Shevenge.
GF: ‘The Shevenge’?
AB: Yeah, just Shevenge.
GF: As in ‘She-Revenge’?
AB: Uh-huh. Shevenge.
GF: Can you tell us about that? I love the title!
AB: It’s an action comedy with some horror blood for good measure. I really wanted to delve into action stuff, I’d like to direct an action flash, or a film, next and I though this was good practise to get into that mindset, because I mostly do comedy. Lots of talking heads stuff, a different genre or world for me to delve into. But this is stuff I watch. I watched John Wick on the plane and I get very excited. I love fighting.
GF: A lot of your previous directing works were in the comedy/drama genre, so was it a real challenge making that shift.
AB: You know, not as much as you’d think. It’s very flowing and has a heck of a lot of shots. I was really lucky, we had an amazing fight choreographer, America Young. She did are choreography and all our stunt stuff for us and was amazing. So long as you’ve got someone who knows what they’re doing on that front, you’re just there to capture it, make it look neat.
GF: Anything else in the works?
AB: I have a new book published, The Witches of Echo Park. It came out in January in the states and I’m on a mini book tour for that. Those are the two big things at the moment.
GF: Did you bring some copies for OzComicCon?
AB: I did indeed!
GF: Ah, cool. I’m going to grab one tomorrow.
AB: Hehe. Nice.
GF: We’ve got your books and your films, is there anything else?
AB: I think that’s it. I’m excited to be here in Australia…
GF: In this wonderful Australian weather.
AB: It is nice. It’s nice to have weather. It’s really hot and jerky in California right now, with a drought, so walking around and getting rained on is quite lovely.
GF: Have you been to Australia before?
AB: I’ve been to other parts.
GF: Perth is tricky to get to. We’re really in the middle of nowhere. You can go across the ocean or across the desert, there’s no other way out.
AB: Yeah, I did the desert in a plane. Actually I went walkabout and wound up here. That’s not true. I’m a big fat liar.
GF: You just left Melbourne, few days later arrive in Perth?
AB: Yep. Yep. I’m a really fast walker.
GF: You’d have to be!
AB: I carried water in my hump on my back.
GF: Do you have any plans while you’re down here (apart from the Con)?
AB: I have a book that I just started writing. I brought my computer and I plan on sitting in a café and getting some work done. I did that today.
GF: You might get recognised, we don’t get many celebrities in these parts.
AB: That happened this morning. My server, Vanessa, was very sweet and waited until after I’d pigged out on my breakfast before going “I really liked you in Buffy, can I take a picture!”
GF: That’s nice! So when we see you at the con you’ll have one hand typing and one hand signing autographs?
AB: Yep, that’s what I’m doing. That’ll be me.
GF: That’s very talented.
AB: I think I’ll just be signing. No typing.
GF: I’m sure you’re going to have some very big fans coming in, you’re going to kept very busy no doubt.
AB: I like meeting everybody. It’s nice. What I do, you do in a bubble and it’s nice to get out into the world and see that it affects people and that it changes the world a little bit. Being in the entertainment industry you can’t help but hope you influence people in a positive way, like with Buffy.
GF: Buffy on the other side of the planet helped bring my wife and I together as nerds and we’ve been sticking that out for a long time.
GF: I’ll be line tomorrow for an autograph…
AB: Awesome! Awesome! I look forward to meeting you.
GF: You try and remember me and I’ll try to think up some offensive questions.
AB: Put a name tag on so I know it’s you. I’m kidding. I’ll ask every person who comes up. “Are you Gareth? Are you Gareth?’
GF: I’ll wear my House of Geekery shirt, that should give it away.
GF: I hope you have a good rest of the day with interviews and writing whatnot.
AB: Thank you!
GF: And we’ll see you on the floor tomorrow!
AB: Sounds like a plan, have a wonderful afternoon!