A Quick Catch-Up With Amber Benson From ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’

Lindsey Byrnes

“Getting to play Tara is one of the things I am most proud of.”

Any “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” fans out there? Of course there are, because most queers were obsessed with the ground-breaking, fan-beloved couple Tara and Willow. Though Buffy has been off the air for just shy of 17 years, the one true love that was Tara and Willow still resounds through the TV landscape. In fact, Tara’s character was so popular and beloved that Amber Benson, who played her, will be speaking at this year’s Clexacon.

Benson wasn’t always known as a ’90s/early 2000s lesbian icon; she began her career as a child doing ballet in the State of Alabama Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker Suite, where “it became very clear to me that I wasn’t interested in the dancing part. … I just liked being on stage and having people clap.” This led to less ballet, and instead, drama and vocal classes. “I did a lot of local theater growing up and I loved everything about it,” Benson says. “But at that same time, I was also writing little one-act plays and some pretty bad poetry. I just knew I wanted to make stuff: perform in it, write it, direct it. I wanted to be creative and I was down to use all the disciplines I’d studied to make that happen.”

A huge fan of director Joe Dante’s work (his most famous work still is the movie “Gremlins”), Benson got cast for the feature film “Matinee,” which she calls a highlight of her teenage years. “Here I was, this dinky kid from Alabama, and I was testing with Reese Witherspoon and Claire Danes for a real Hollywood movie!” she says. “I didn’t get the part, but it was an incredibly affirming experience. It made me realize that I had a shot at doing the thing I loved.”

But of course, for many people, Benson is known most for her work as Tara on “Buffy.” “It was just a straight-forward audition,” Benson says. “It was supposed to be, like, two episodes and that was it. I read for Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon on a Friday afternoon, and then I went up north to see my dad.” The response was quick from there, since “they called while I was in the car and wanted me to come back, but I was already out of town and wouldn’t have been able to make it back in time.”

Luckily enough, they didn’t find anyone else over the weekend, and Benson went back on that Monday.  “I went back in, and the rest is history,” she adds. “Though, I should clarify that it was actually Marti Noxon who was my champion. She’s the one who pushed for me to get the part. To her, I will be forever grateful.”

The character of Willow was already a mainstay on the show — an important secondary character, a true blue member of the Scooby Gang, one of Buffy’s “ride or die” crew — well before the character Tara was introduced. During the production, “the crew kept coming up during filming, telling us that we had such incredible chemistry.” Still, at the time, Benson didn’t know what was in store for the character, until “Joss Whedon took us both aside and said, ‘you’re going to be girlfriends.’ Neither of us had any idea, but we both knew we were doing something special and important. And we were honored to be a part of the groundbreaking Willow/Tara relationship. … For me, getting to play Tara is one of the things I am most proud of personally and professionally.”

via GIPHY

The character Tara has a gentleness that’s lined with a fine steel wire core. “She was so well-drawn on the page,” says Benson. “Honestly, I just had to show up. That was what was so wonderful about working on Buffy,” she continues. “You always knew the scripts were gonna be incredible, and that is a very rare thing in this industry. I don’t know; I guess I’m tough at the core, too. But I definitely identified more with Tara’s shyness.” As to the story, she says: “I loved the arc Joss Whedon created for her; she really came into her own by the end of her time on Buffy.” 

Tara isn’t the only LGBTQ+ character Benson has played. She played “Chance” in her self-directed film “Chance,” and most recently, Professor Rand in the film “The Nightmare Gallery.” An incredibly strong ally to the LGBTQ+ community, “I think we need diverse stories,” Benson tells GO. “When a society creates itself in the image of only one voice — well, you have a very limited society. So I am always looking to be a part of projects that give new voices a stage to tell their stories.” Benson gives an example. “When I read the movie ‘Latter Days,’ I was like, ‘This is important.’ So I basically told the writer/director, CJ Cox, that I would do craft services — anything to be a part of the production and to support the story he was telling.”

Benson is not only talented; she’s also honed true high-level skills in several areas, from being a triple threat to writing, directing, and producing in multiple mediums. Which would she choose, if she could only do one? “If I had to pick,” Benson tells GO, “I’d be a writer. I love putting the puzzle pieces together to tell engaging and thoughtful stories.”

But in terms of her favorite work, Benson is “very proud of Buffy, obviously. I, also, love a little movie I did called ‘Race You to The Bottom.’ It’s an overlooked gem. I am also very proud of a Lifetime movie I wrote called ‘Terror in the Woods,’ and my book series ‘The Witches Of Echo Park.'”

With so many well-honed skill sets in her tool belt, Benson is reaching and growing. “I want to be a television show runner, but I have miles to go and lots to learn before that happens.”


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