This interview contains spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Amber Benson has been up to a lot lately – writing books, acting, and directing – but when we sat down with her, we couldn’t help but ask about the first thing that endeared her to us: her part in the sweetest and most tragic relationship on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The Tara-Willow relationship, especially the way that the two characters eventually got together was one of the greatest pieces of television, especially LGBTQ television. Part of the reason was that it was so natural. Unlike other TV shows, Willow’s coming out was not publicised. Quite the opposite: you guys had us believing that Tara was loving in vain and that Willow had no idea what was going on. But she knew the whole time.
Amber Benson: Gives you goosebumps. (laughs)
It does. The lovely thing was the way that they eventually became lovers. What struck me about that moment was that it was really filmed for people who loved the story. It was not filmed for male consumption; it wasn’t two hot chicks making out. But that became one of the criticisms of that relationship: well, it’s not sexual enough and that came both from the general population but also from the lesbian community who wanted to see…
Benson: A real relationship…
Women and women having sex because that’s what real women have, but you guys shied away from that except on a metaphorical level.
Well, it really wasn’t us; it was the network. They really were anti-showing anything. Just to get the kiss in The Body was like pulling teeth. Literally, I remember Alyson and I being like, “Spike and Buffy are shtupping on a gravestone, seeing everything…
Tearing up houses…
Benson: How come we can’t? We were all up in arms about it. We can’t kiss, all this stuff we’re not allowed to do. And it was interesting… one of the guys on the crew was gay and he said, “Look, I know you guys have a kind of anger that you can’t embrace that aspect of the relationship, but what is important here is that you guys are making it okay. You are saying that this is okay. This is normal. You’re putting it out into the mainstream. The relationship is so special, and the way you treat each other. That is what is important. You are making inroads into the normal populace and they see it’s okay that these two women are in love and the more that that’s out there, the more that it’s going to be accepted.” He said what we were doing was going to have an impact ten years down the road. “It’s not about making out, even though you would like that. But you have to understand that what you are doing is making social commentary.” And that made me feel a lot better even though I still felt that it was wrong; that it wasn’t fair.
And even the way Joss did it in The Body was that he had us do this amazingly intense kiss—I’m talking saliva trails–and he turned that in because he knew if he gave them (the censors) something really “out there” that they would tell him, no, you’ve got to cut it down, and so he did and we got something sweeter but still real. He had to manipulate the system just to get the little bit of what we had and it really was a struggle.
And I really loved the way the you guys worked oral sex into Once More with Feeling…
Benson: (laughs) You make me com…plete.
Yes, that was hysterical and a real wink to the audience that this is what really going on. And let’s face it, Willow wasn’t all that sexual of the character to begin with. So it felt much more natural…which is why I felt like some of the criticism was unfair because Willow would not be knocking down buildings having sex regardless, right?
Benson: Even if it had been with Xander…it really wasn’t inherently who she was.
So I heard a rumour that Joss asked you to come back evil and you said no way.
Benson: Yeah, I’d kind of hit the wall at that point. I was getting to direct this thing for the BBC. I had co-written a piece with Christopher Golden called Ghosts of Albion. It was an animated series for the BBC, and I was asked to direct the actors. So I was getting ready to go to London to do that, and directing was something I had been working towards, so this was very important. And I had gotten so many letters and had so many conversations with young LGBTQ kids saying, “I was gutted. I was devastated, and I can’t watch the show anymore.” So I felt like we really did this number on that community and I didn’t want to add to that, you know? And we had talked about how she would come back bad and then work something out so she will come back good later. But you know, I don’t know if they’re going to have another season or what’s going to happen. And for me, we did this awful thing. And it was the one time that it wasn’t magic. It was super violent really…
It was shocking, really shocking…
Benson: Right! It was not a normal Buffy death. And so I thought, I can’t add to that. As much as I appreciate why we did what we did and I understood the storyline—that this was a necessary thing for this addiction storyline that Willow been travelling through for two or three seasons–and it made sense to me looking at it as a writer. But as an actor and a human being, I just don’t know if I have what it takes to do this.
When I heard what you had done, I thought, well done, Amber. Because it felt like exactly the right decision and it allowed it Willow to move on and not have her relationship with Tara be this anomaly but who she was.
Benson: I think it was important that she was clear, “I want to be with women.” It was an important statement for that particular character and for society at large, for the people who watch the show: you know, it’s not a fluke, it’s not a phase. These are feelings and these are valid and it’s okay to be who you are regardless. If you find someone who loves you, you are, excuse my French, fucking lucky.
Exactly! I sometimes get upset when people call me an ally for gay rights. I’m not fighting the fight for someone else; I am fighting the fight for me. Because I could wake up tomorrow and find myself in love with a woman.
Benson: That’s right. That’s right!
And now I’m going to throw in? No. It’s the right of all of us to love who we love. So we all have a stake.
Benson: Exactly! We are who we are. I have a bag that says “God hate bags” on it and I thought I would get a lot of flack for it. But it’s the number one thing that people come over to say, “I love your bag.”
(laughs) Love that.
This gay friend of mine gave this to me and said, I know you are a person who is out in public and I know how you feel about this stuff and I think it would be a positive for people to see it. And it’s a great conversation starter.
Which is why your role in Husbands was so hysterical (in both senses of the word). You get to play the flip side of that acceptance. Someone whose bag would read…differently. Was that role your way of channeling every terrible thing you’ve ever heard?
Benson: (laughs) Well, I’m from Alabama…
(laughs) So it really was…
Benson: So I grew up with that whole Southern Baptist, born-again, fanatical…some of that crazy stuff. My dad was Jewish, and my mom was raised by Southern Baptists so I saw both ends of the spectrum. And yes, there is just hate. People are just filled with hate because they’re scared. It’s fear. So I thought, this woman, she is scared for her baby…her fake baby. But God dammit, she feels righteous and she feels right about this and I just wanted to do something silly with that. It was really fun. I feel like Husbands is doing something really important, in the same way we did with Buffy. It’s important.
So you have been doing so much. Books, directing, comics… Attention Deficit Disorder or Renaissance woman?
Benson: Combo. Also paying bills because paying bills is very important these days. As a creative individual, as I’m sure you know, being one thing does not pay the bills. You have to diversify and do lots of different things. And I am open to that anyways, because I like to make stuff. But really and truly, if someone comes to me and says, “I have this thing” and I’m I interested in it and it moves me in some way, then I’m probably going to say yes. you know I’m really open to stuff. I’ve very much enjoyed writing the books. That has been something that’s really for myself: because you don’t do that for anybody else it’s just you in your pjs and your computer. That I really enjoyed.
And you have the music…
Benson: Well, more singing in the shower than anything else.
I don’t know. I saw you and Anthony Stewart Head doing the Rocky Horror Anniversary thing and that looked like it was a lot of fun.
Benson: Oh, that was so much fun. He showed up with his own kit. He had his own heels and stockings…he has got great legs.
Amber Benson, thank you very much!
Amber Benson became a fandom darling for her role of Tara in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but she has a lot more up her sleeve these days. In addition to acting, she is also a director, producer, novelist and playwright.
Hypable sat down with Benson during San Diego Comic-Con to hear about her upcoming book series, her role on Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires web series adaptation, and of course – Buffy.
There is no doubt that to many fans, Amber Benson will always be Buffy’s Tara Maclay.
Tara quickly became a fan favorite character, but it was the portrayal of the relationship between Tara and Willow (played by Alyson Hannigan) that has been the lasting legacy of Buffy.
Benson is well aware that the frank and open portrayal of the lesbian couple was an inspiration to both future filmmakers, and to many teenagers worldwide.
Hypable: Let’s get the inevitable question out of the way. Obviously returning to ‘Buffy’ as Tara presents certain problems. But if Joss decided to return to the show, would you consider going back?
Amber Benson: Definitely, if it could be done the right way. I know that they have been hinting at her in the comics, and I think that has been really lovely actually.
I just think bringing her back and making her a bad guy was not quite right for me, but I know there’s a way to do it that would be beneficial to the fans. Yeah, definitely. I would love to do anything.
Is there a particular way that you would like to see Tara come back?
I don’t know. I would have to leave that up to Joss. He’s a maestro, he knows what he’s doing. I’ll let him figure all that out, I’ll show up.
From your role in ‘Buffy’, you became a role model for many young people exploring their sexuality. How does it feel to be seen that way?
I’m honoured that I get to help in the battle to bring things to an equal position. We live in 2013, and in a Western society. We need equality for everybody. If one group of people can’t be treated equally, then no one is being treated equally in my mind.
I very much feel like Alyson and I really got to knock on the glass ceiling, and say “Screw you glass ceiling, we are going to knock you down.”
Just in the last 10 years, there has been such a leap forward. And I feel like we were helpful, we weren’t just making television, we were doing social commentary.
‘Buffy’ was really the first. Now we have ‘Glee’, ‘Modern Family’, and ‘Husbands’, but it started with ‘Buffy’.
It opened the door. It brought it into the mainstream and said it’s okay to be who you are. It doesn’t matter who you fall in love with. If you find someone to fall in love with, you are just lucky.
And you’re very prominent in the sci-fi/fantasy/comic world, you must be a role model to so many young women who want to break into the industry.
I just do stuff that moves me. I feel like that is how this world has to work. You have to do the things that you’re passionate about. Yes, there’s always that balance between art and commerce, and how do I pay my bills. Which is why I do lots of things, I diversify so that I can pay my bills.
If I was just an actor, I would be going around with a hat. So I do a lot of different things to pay my bills, but I do what moves me, and it doesn’t matter that I have a vagina. I’m just me, and anybody else can do what they want.
I didn’t know anybody. I was just lucky, and I persevered. If you can do that, and put yourself out there, you can achieve anything.
You say it in a way that makes it sound so obvious.
[Laughs] It’s not obvious, and that’s why I keep saying it. You just have to go and do it.
And especially in this community, it is important for women to see that you can succeed in the way that you have.
You have to help other women. It’s changing, and I have so many female friends in the industry now and we are helping each other. It’s changing. I paid my dues for 20-something years as an actor, and I took it and I applied it.
I feel like for me, I am a maker of things. I just want to make stuff. It’s not about being famous, it’s not about making money, it’s about doing things you are passionate about and pleasing yourself.
You have so many projects, it’s hard to know where to start. What is the one that you are most excited about at the moment?
You know, I am really enjoying this new series I am doing for Penguin. The first one is going to be called The Witches of Echo Park.
I’m 36, and growing up I only had dude friends. Then in my 30s, I started making female friends. I met other women who are like me. I really wanted to write a book about women’s relationships with each other, and I thought what better way than a coven.
A coven of witches, and having to deal with each other, and relationships, and having to support each other and having to fight with each other. So that was sort of the basis for writing this series.
How many books are we looking at?
Three right now. Hopefully more, we’ll see.
And what kind of release schedule will they have?
Next year for the first book, and then probably the next year for the next.
You are set to star in Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires web adaptation, is that still going ahead?
amber benson morganville web seriesYeah. That got funded, everything is good.
Rachel and I have been on a panel together, we had dinner together, and neither of the times we have been able to talk about any of the web stuff we said we were going to talk about in San Diego.
She is such a wonderful person, I love her. She just has such a good heart, and she wanted to do a web series.
I think they wanted to autonomy, they wanted to do it the way they wanted to do it.
I’m sure she has had other offers before this.
Oh yeah. I was like, whatever you need. I want to be a part of your world. I sound like The Little Mermaid – I want to be a part of your world Rachel!
Do you know when that will start filming?
I think October. We are talking about doing some stuff.
It’s six episodes to start with?
Yeah. I haven’t read any of it yet. She’s been working on it. She’s been doing everything, it’s so cool.
You have done almost everything. Is there something you haven’t done that you would like to try?
I want to make more movies. I want to direct more. Adam Busch and I directed a film called Drones, and that was such an amazing experience. I’m ready to do more of that, it’s just finding the right scripts.
Would you like to do more co-directing, or on your own?
Both. He and I will continue to work together, we’re a good team. But I haven’t found a script that I get really excited about. I’m on the lookout at the moment for good stuff.
And what about acting, are you doing anything with that at the moment?
I’m doing this film Blood Kiss, with Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. And there’s the Morganville stuff, those are the only two things on the horizon.
Mostly I really don’t act that much anymore. I act when friends call me, but I’m not out there pursuing it, I have moved on to other things.
Do you find it more rewarding to be on the other side of the camera, and have creative control?
Definitely, I have more control over my life. I always likened acting to being a pawn in someone else’s chess game. Now I’m the chess master. I’m in charge of all of the pieces.
So it’s a power trip, then?
Oh yeah. Total, total power narcissist here.
Amber Benson won fans’ hearts as the dearly departed Tara Maclay on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Looking beyond Buffy, however, she’s also a talented hyphenate: actress, director, writer. BFTV snagged a few minutes with Amber at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con to find out about her myriad of current projects and enduring place in pop culture.
“I get overwhelmed by it all!” Amber told us with a laugh. “I have a new series of books for Penguin; the first book’s called The Witches of Echo Park. That’ll be out next year. I’m doing a film with Neil Gaiman called Blood Kiss, that we did a Kickstarter for. And I have an essay in a fanfiction book that’s coming out. That was kind of fun.”
The author of the successful Calliope Reaper-Jones series of novels, Amber explained that writing has been part of her resume for about as long as she’s been acting. “I always wrote, mostly really bad poetry and weird short stories, and I had a journal for many years, but it was something that I’d always done,” she revealed.
“Then when I was on Buffy, Christopher Golden approached me about doing comics. He and I did three Willow/Tara comics for Dark Horse. Then we ended up doing something for the BBC. We did an animated show for them. It’s just kind of gone on from there.
“Writing is something you can do by yourself,” she continued, “and as an actor I had so much downtime. Especially on the Buffy set. I’d be sitting there waiting while they’d do stunt stuff or special effects stuff – so I’d just sit there on my computer and write.”
So how does she describe Amber Benson, the author? “I like to say if you took Neil Gaiman and The Devil Wears Prada and you pushed them together, that would be what I write,” Amber told us. “I write urban fantasy that is silly and fun, but has a mythology to it.”
With five novels in the Calliope Reaper-Jones series since the debut of Death’s Daughter in 2009, Amber has established herself as a talented author, capable of cultivating a literary audience in addition to the one that knows her from her TV exploits.
Speaking of television, there’s no doubt that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the biggest small-screen phenomenons of all time, and truly something special to have been a part of. But is Amber ever concerned that folks might be more focused on her as Tara than her more recent accomplishments?
“You know, it’s funny because I guess some people are terrified to talk to me about Buffy,” she said with a chuckle. “But for me, it’s how I am able to do the things that I’m doing now. It’s part of who I am and I am always willing and excited to talk about it.
“To meet people and see how that storyline especially moved people and helped people. Getting letters from young LGBTQ kids saying ‘I didn’t kill myself because of that relationship,’ or ‘I came out to my Christian parents in Des Moines, Iowa because of Tara and Willow.’ So for me, I’m very proud of it.”
“I’m never satisfied with anything I do. I’m always like ‘You can do it better, Benson,’” she continued. “But I definitely feel like the Buffy stuff was important as far as society, because I feel like the LGBTQ stuff was super-important. There needs to be equality across the board. So I feel like we helped with Buffy.”
Looking forward, with forthcoming books and a new film in front of her, Amber is grateful for the big things she’s been a part of, but also appreciating the small things, too. “We all want to do these amazing, deep, important things, but really sometimes just making people laugh, it’s kind of a special thing,” she reflected. “I feel like with the books especially, if I can just make people laugh and sort of leave their world for a little while, I’ve done my job. I’ve contributed to society in a positive way.”
With her talent, down-to-earth charm and passion for her work, Amber is still winning us over, now just in print as well as on screen.
You can keep up with Amber by following her on Twitter (@amber_benson).
So after being able to ask a few questions to the Bloodkiss people and Amber I was really happy, but you can imagine how amazed I was when Leah emailed me with some more indepth answers from Amber! This is so kind of them and I am so appreciative so here they are:
1) You are a very talented writer, does that make it harder to find good projects because you may read a script and think “I would do it this way”?
I am ridiculously picky about writing – only because, as an actor, I’ve read some pretty awful stuff. But when you read something like Blood Kiss, you forget all the terrible writing and just luxuriate in what good writing is all about.
2) What attracted you to this project and did you hope that your loyal fanbase would help it get funded?
I really just wanted to sing – isn’t that selfish of me? Plus, the script is great and working with Neil is so cool! As far as funding goes, I feel like this is a unique project and its also Michael’s passion, so I thought that would make this really translate to a genre audience. I have the best fans out there and whether they give money or just help spread the word, it doesn’t matter. Just knowing they support me makes me feel very loved and I return that love rightbackat’em! They are awesome.
3) In your opinion how important is kickstarter to getting indie projects like this made that traditional methods would probably push aside? Do you think this will change how the larger studios work in the future?
This is a very complicated question. For now, we are just going to have to wait to see what happens. I’m on the fence. I think Kickstarter/Indiegogo are great tools for filmmakers with unique voices who would not get their stuff made any other way. That I applaud and feel really good about. I’m a little uncertain as to how the studios getting involved/making money off fan funded material is going to shake out. It does seem strange that big, corporate entities might end up making money off films they did not fund – while the fans get rewards and the satisfaction of seeing theses movies come to fruition, but no other financial recompense.
Thank you so much to Liliana Costa and Leah Cevoli at Bloodkiss I was able to ask a few questions in order to learn more about the project and to get more of you Amberholics to pledge! We don’t have long now just days so get over there and donate I have! You can get things like a CD of the soundtrack with Amber singing on, Amber’s autograph, posters and even a chance to be in the movie. Head on over to Bloodkiss on Kickstarter and pledge!
David Raiklen (Composer/Producer)
1) How was the decision made to do this project as a kickstarter instead of the traditional ways?
Crowdfunding is a way to get unique projects that don’t fit the Studio model made. Michael tried taking this to the studios and they told him they wanted the sparkly kind of vampire. With crowdfunding we’re free to combine film noir and vampires, Hollywood and horror.
2) How important do you think the fans are to projects such as this? Do you think there will come a change in the way Hollywood works because of the results of these projects?
The fans are what make Blood Kiss possible. We’re making a movie that people want to see. We presented what the story was about and who going to make it we got the greenlight from our wonderful fans.?Projects like Space Command and Wish I was Here are already changing the way movies are made. They could have been studio, but went indie.
3) If an alien was to come across your project and want to donate how would you explain the premise of the film?
A creature who finds the truth confronts creatures who lie. They all live in a beautiful world but monsters are hiding.
4) Why should people donate to Blood Kiss out of all the films looking for donations?
We have a great story, cast and crew that will deliver big time for you. But please support other projects too, you can pick more than one and many of our backers pledge to other projects.
5) Why did you decide to work on the film at the same time as the graphic novel? And do you think this decision will influence the type of people who will donate?
It’s fun to have the universe expand into other media and tell more of the story. Another level of collaboration.
6) I noticed in the videos that many friends were bought in to work on the project how did you know who’s skills would best fit the project and did they have to audition with others?
Collaboration requires communication and trust, so we often work with people we know. But there will be fresh talent and people we haven’t worked with that will become new friends. A good movie takes a big team with diverse abilities.
7)I have donated so I am looking forward to seeing this movie, because it is funded by fans do you worry that our ideas of how it will be when it is finished will differ from your vision?
First, thank you. Everyone has an imagination and good story tellers count on each person bringing their viewpoint to the experience. Something for everyone.
1) What attracted you to this project
The film noir aspects of the script and the singing were the two things that drew me to the project. Any chance to sing is exciting to me! and, how wonderful all the people involved in Blood Kiss are – its such a fun group that I knew I wanted to play with them!
2) How important was kickstarter.
I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve seen Hollywood become cracked open. It’s not just some guy sitting in a studio somewhere going, we’re going to make this movie for 5 trillion dollars. It’s now open to the world. And if you have something you want to say, you don’t have to wait for someone to give you the opportunity.
Amber Benson co-wrote and directed the animated webseries Ghosts of Albion with Christopher Golden for the BBC. The duo then novelized the series in two books for Random House. She has written five novels about Calliope Reaper-Jones, beginning with Death’s Daughter, which were published by Penguin Books. As an actress, Benson spent three seasons as Tara Maclay on the cult show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She has also written, produced, and directed three feature films, including Drones, which she co-directed with Adam Busch.
Bradley Beaulieu: 1. The tone of the Calliope Reaper-Jones series is light and fun with a touch of gallows humor (how can there not be with books about Death, Inc.?), and it seems to me that it matches your personality. But as writers there are any number of places where we’re pushed out of our comfort zones. Where in the writing of The Golden Age of Death were you pushed out of your comfort zone?
Amber Benson: I’m always accused of being earnest, but secretly I’m a total nut ball – so I’m glad you picked up on that! Well, if we’re talking ‘out of my comfort zone’ here then I should tell you that I actually imposed a whole bunch of that on myself when I conceived The Golden Age Of Death. The first four Death’s Daughter books were written entirely in first person – which was really starting to get boring for me – so I decided to mix it up a little. You still get Callie’s POV, but since I knew this was going to be the last book in the series, I wanted to give the fans some insight into the supporting characters. So Callie’s Executive Assistant, Jarvis, gets some play, as well as Callie’s little sister, Clio. It was scary to write that way, but I enjoyed the challenge. Hopefully it works out – that’s always the rub of experimenting.
BB: 2. With the release of The Golden Age of Death, the Calliope Reaper-Jones series has now reached its fifth installment. It seems to me that one of the more challenging parts of writing an open-ended series is keeping the characters fresh for both you and the reader. Do you look to have the primary characters change over the course each book? Do you find that it’s difficult to do so without retreading the same ground? And if so, how do you find news ways to keep things fresh?
AB: Well, mixing up the perspectives was a key way that I made this book interesting for myself. It IS difficult to maintain ‘the fun’ when you’re writing a long-term series. I just tried to find weird scenarios to put my characters in that were fun to write – I set the fourth book at a bastardized version of Hearst Castle replete with a bacchanal orgy that took place on an All Hallow’s Eve Eve where magic and death got put on hold for 24-hours. It was really fun. I’ve also tried to give my main character, Callie, a real and fallible protagonist. She makes mistakes, but she learns from them – I really believe she has grown into someone special over the past five books.
BB: 3. One of the more common themes in my own fiction is death and what it means, to those who die, to those who are left behind, and so on. What were some of your personal goals for writing a series about death? Did you, either in the initial conception of the series or later during the writing of the books, want to explore some of your own personal thoughts about death.
AB: Oh, I am a hardcore thanatophobic – fear of death was a big reason I wrote these books. Plus, I’ve always been annoyed by the idea that we have all these world religions and they all scream that only they are the true word of god/the creator. I wanted to create an alternate universe where all religions were right, where every believer/non-believer had a place in the hierarchy of death/life and where Death was run like a corporation – autonomous and impartial. In my books, everyone gets a chance to learn and move up through the system. To me, death was just the beginning.
BB: 4. It’s interesting to me that while there’s been a certain trend lately to feature girls on covers in death or deathlike poses, your series is about death and it features a young woman on the cover who looks empowered without resorting to sexing her up. Have you had much input on the covers? Are you pleased with how Calliope has been portrayed on them?
AB: She is definitely a hardy character. She doesn’t wilt like a lot of ladies in the romance genres, but she’s not a total badass like what the urban fantasy world normally champions. I wanted to create a real girl, who was not perfect. I wanted her to screw up stuff and make bad choices – just like I do as a real person. I think that has been embodied in the covers. She’s not swooning over some dude, she stands on her own two feet – and I really love that, that she has been represented that way on the books.
BB: 5. I don’t know if you’ve seen the recent backlash against sexism in books, comics, and video games from folks like Jim Hines, Escher Girls, and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. What are your thoughts on this? In today’s media-driven world, is there room for sex and sexiness without relying on it to sell?
AB: I get really frustrated that female protagonists don’t get to be assholes. It’s the sister, daughter, mother, whore, best friend conundrum and it leaves no room for women to be human and imperfect. No one is pure saint or pure villain, but that seems to be what the media and a lot of the world audience want to see. I have been become really obsessed recently with that line from Macbeth: “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here…” That’s what I want. I want to create as a woman, but I want to be unsexed when my work is consumed. I want to be judged against myself, not against my gender or sexuality. As far as sex selling things…I am all for owning my own sexuality and using it to create. It’s not because I particularly think it sells things, but it is a weapon in my creative arsenal and I want to be able to use it, unencumbered.
Amber Benson is a writer, director and actor. She currently writes the CALLIOPE REAPER-JONES series for Ace/Roc and her middle grade book, Among the Ghosts, came out in paperback this past fall from Simon and Schuster. She co-directed the Slamdance feature Drones and (co-wrote) and directed the BBC animated series The Ghosts of Albion. Her acting work includes the Steven Soderbergh film King of the Hill, and the indie feature Race You to the Bottom, for which she won the Best Actress Award at Outfest. She spent three years as Tara Maclay on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
HWA President Rocky Wood said, “Of course, Amber is well known from her time on Buffy but we are pleased to have her as our Media Guest as she is also a director and a writer rapidly gaining a strong reputation. All this, plus she is a vocalist and has been involved in producing graphic comics! We are pleased she has agreed to share her diverse background and discuss her current projects with the Convention and I know attendees will be looking forward to her Guest of Honor presentation.”
Over the course of the coming months leading up to the Bram Stoker Awards® Weekend Incorporating the World Horror Convention 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana, I will feature a series of interviews with each of the Guests of Honor.
Darkeva: In addition to your acting career, you’re also an accomplished film director, producer, and writer, but most people know you for your role as Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As urban fantasy and horror readers already knew you, how did that affect your transition to becoming a novelist?
AB: Well, I’d always written – mostly bad poetry and a few short stories and plays – but being on Buffy opened the door, as far as novel/prose is concerned, to a whole new world. It was through the show that I met Christopher Golden – who basically let me take Writing 101 at Chris Golden U! – and that’s how I learned I could write a book. Something I’d been scared to do up until that point.
Darkeva: Tell us more about your relationship with frequent collaborator, novelist Christopher Golden. How did that come about?
AB:As I was saying before, it’s all Buffy‘s fault. Chris had just done a Spike comic with James Marsters and he thought that doing a Willow/Tara comic might be fun. So he approached me about it and that’s how we ended up doing the Willow/Tara comics for Dark Horse, which then led us to writing The Ghosts of Albion for the BBC and Random House. It was a wild prose ride!
Darkeva: Who are some of the horror and dark fiction authors, past or present, whom you admire the most?
AB: Oh boy, that’s a good one. In no particular order: H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, Christopher Pike…there are many more, but these were the ones who popped into my head.
Darkeva: What part of being a Guest of Honor at the Bram Stoker Awards® Weekend Incorporating the World Horror Convention 2013 are you most excited about?
AB: Well, there’s being in New Orleans…which is hands down one of my favorite cities…but I’m also excited about getting to spend time with fellow creative ‘makers of things’. It’s all about taking what’s in your mind and sharing it with the world – and you need the support of your creative peers to make that happen.
Darkeva: What other projects do you have on the horizon?
AB: I’m directing/producing a web series called “Girl On Girl” and I’m writing my first book in a new series for Penguin about Witches in Echo Park. I’m very excited about both of them.
A huge thank-you to Amber for agreeing to be part of this feature. Be sure to visit her website here. You can follow her on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and her YouTube Channel. Just a reminder that the latest Calliope Reaper Jones novel, The Golden Age of Death is forthcoming February 26, 2013.
As a lover of all things camp and grindhouse, I recently had the chance to screen Writer/Director Ward Roberts’ new DVD release, Dust Up, and was blown away by how beautifully crafted his homage to the genre is. I recently got to sit down with Roberts and the film’s star, Amber Benson to talk about filming in their creative process and, yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
VB: How was it filming in the Mojave Desert? The whole movie has this sheen of “hotness” around it; you almost start sweating as you’re watching.
WR: At one point it was so hot and we’d been shooting for so long that my brain just kinda shut down. I remember being outside with my head in my hands, trying to figure out how to cover a section of the final fight sequence, and for a stretch of time my mind would not form any kind of functional thought. The only thing I could think was that I couldn’t think. It was scary there for a few minutes.
Despite that episode, overall I do believe the heat added to the intensity, the brutality even, of the film’s aesthetic. [Cinematographer] Shannon [Hourigan] did a great job to capture that “hotness” during production and really brought it out to full-effect in coloring the film in post.
AB: It was so hot during the day on the Joshua Tree sets that I felt like we were shooting in a sauna, but then at night it was freezing — and I spend most of the night scenes in my underwear, so, needless to say, I was a walking side of goose flesh. Of course, by hotness, you could’ve also been talking about all my hot co-stars. It was a lot of fun being the “voice of reason,” “mother figure” character in a movie full of attractive men.
In your varied careers, did you ever imagine making a film like this?
AB: If a script makes me laugh out loud when I’m reading it then I’m in. There is so little out there project-wise that moves me, when I find one, I insert myself into the process. So, the answer is: I may not have envisioned Dust Up in my future, but I was open to weirdness and that was what I got.
WR: Making any film is such a journey of discovery and hopefully pleasant surprise, you really can’t imagine how exactly, it will turn out ahead of time. I wasn’t really even sure what kind of film Dust Up was until I was staring at Gaffey, Devin and Travis during the second night of shooting and it looked like the Village People had dropped by for a visit. At that point I was like, “Ah, this is the film we are making.”
Ward, Dust Up was a little bit of a reunion for your Drexel Box crew — what is it like working with a team you’ve grown so close with?
WR: This is our family that began in college and has been going and growing ever since. Dust Up stands on the shoulders of all the projects and playtime we’ve had over the last decade plus. So much of what Dust Up is came from this collective sensibility and style we’ve honing as a team. Telling a story you love and believe in with the people you love and believe in is an excellent way to roll.
Lastly, what’s next for you both? Amber, any plans to make millions of fans dreams come true and do an official Buffy reunion? Do you get tired of being asked about that?
AB: Never tired of it, because it means what we did on Buffy moved a lot of people. When you stop getting asked about the show, then you know it’s all over. Aside from Dust Up, the last book in my Calliope Reaper-Jones book series for Penguin comes out in March. It’s called The Golden Age of Death. And I am also in post-production on a web series called Girl on Girl.
And Ward, on top of the incredible films Little Big Top and Lo, Dust Up is further catapulting you towards indie legend status — what’s next for you?
WR: Well, I just had a blast playing a part in an episode of Hawaii Five-0 that will air in early 2013. It was the perfect time to break away from all the Dust Up madness and get my acting on. From the writing/directing end I’m cooking up a few things, but still no way to know which will be the next into production.
The main contenders are a horror-comedy and an action-comedy, both of which will appeal to those who dig Dust Up. Travis and Shannon’s latest film, The Dead Inside, just came out so everybody should view that immediately. They also have a new film that looks close to getting off the ground in a very big way, so we are super stoked about that heading into the New Year.
You can read my full interview with Ward Roberts and Amber Benson (we talk Money-Shots!) at The Donnybrook Writing Academy. “Dust up” is now available on Demand, iTunes and DVD — seriously give this movie a viewing, it is pure camp in the best and most lovingly violent way possible.