GayCalgary® Magazine [copy]

Amber Benson Comes To Edmonton

Buffy The Vampire Slayer star on the groundbreaking role and more

Celebrity Interview by Jason Clevett (From GayCalgary® Magazine, September 2015, page 33)
Amber Benson
Amber Benson
Amber Benson on Buffy, Tara and Willow
Amber Benson on Buffy, Tara and Willow
Image by: the CW

It has been 13 years. Yes, 13 years since Buffy Summers last slammed a stake through the heart of the undead on our TV sets. Despite this, fans of the show and others within the ‘Whedon-verse’ created by writer and director Joss Whedon remain as passionate about Buffy as ever. At the Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo stars Amber Benson (Tara), James Marsters (Spike), and Eliza Dushku (Faith) are appearing together.

Benson’s role of Tara on the show was groundbreaking. The character’s long-term relationship with Willow, played by Allison Hannigan, was the first lesbian LTR portrayed on network television. GayCalgary spoke with Benson recently about Buffy and more.

"When you are working on a show you kind of do it in a vacuum. We were on sound stages – just us and the crew and the writers – and, at the end, you are like I hope people like what we are doing. I am not sure; it seems really good when we are on set making it, but you never know. To be able to go out into the world and talk to fans, and find out how important the show was to them and that we didn’t just do it in a vacuum after all, is really amazing. You feel like you are part of something important. We were the first long-term real deal relationship. We didn’t even know, starting out, that was where we were headed; I only thought I was going to be on two episodes and that was it. I was going to be Willow’s friend. Then the crew kept coming up to us and going ‘wow you guys have such good chemistry’. Joss took us aside and said soo ladies... you are going to be special friends. Very, very special friends. That is how we found out what was the future of the relationship. When you get letters and emails from kids saying I didn’t kill myself because of this relationship. I live in some little town where there is nobody else like me, and I watched the show and realized that it is ok to be who I am. You don’t get that on any other show I ever worked on. I feel very blessed to have walked in Tara’s shoes. You feel like you did something important, and not just regurgitating lines for money. You are part of something important."

When Tara was killed near the end of the sixth season, it was devastating for fans.

"As awful as the end was with Tara, and how people felt about her death... spoiler alert. People get upset and say ‘spoiler!’ It has been 13 years guys – I’m sorry! I think Joss really wanted to write a kind of a note to a lesbian couple that he was friends with. T&W’s relationship was sort of his 'I love you guys and this is my present to you’. He came at it from a wonderful, amazing place, and it was really important to him. And let me just say that even though, on screen, you didn’t see us having ‘special times’ in the bed... Willow and Tara had a very healthy sex life. They were very busy and spent a lot of time in that arena bolstering that part of their relationship. I found out about the death, actually, at the end of Season 5. We were shooting the finale and Joss comes up and says I have amazing news I have to tell you! We are going to kill your character! I was like Oh... ok sure. That’s amazing in ways I probably don’t understand. He was very excited about it because he was looking at it from the story perspective. For him Willow’s arc, as far as using magic, she was an addict. He was interested in the story of ‘how does an addict come out of that?’ They have to hit bottom first. How do you make Willow hit bottom? You take away the most important thing in her life, Tara. As painful as it was, I understood from the story point of view why it was necessary."

Buffy aired before the dawn of social media. Although Tara’s initial relationship was met by some with negativity, as well as her death, it wasn’t nearly the same level that can occur today. Even in 2015 fans will take to Twitter and Facebook and attack shows like The Walking Dead and How To Get Away with Murder for having same-sex kissing or relationships.

"It is really funny. I never really had any terrible experiences with fans over the relationship. Sure, people wanted Willow to be with Oz, but that had nothing to do with her becoming interested in someone of the same sex. It was just we love Seth Green and don’t want him to go away. I was sad when I realized I was going to be on Buffy and wasn’t going to get to work with him because he is one of my favourites. So I was bummed. So people weren’t crappy about the relationship, they just really liked Seth. I can’t imagine what it is like to be on a show now with the advent of social media. We had the Buffy posting board, and people would chat there, but none of the access that people have now via Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and Instagram. It is a different world, and it is really scary in a lot of ways. It is great in a lot of ways, but frightening in others. People can hide behind keyboards and it’s not good because it just seems like this sort of I can get away with being a jerk to people because I am anonymous. That I don’t like."

Buffy is not the only gay-themed show Benson has been in. She played a role in the 2003 film Latter Days about a young Morman coming to terms with his feelings for the gay boy next door, and in the 2011 Web series Husbands.

"I want to support as much as humanly possible because I feel like, as much as we have had these forward movements in my country with marriage equality finally becoming part of the lexicon, we are still not there. We have to keep moving forward as far as a society. We have to be the kind of society... where people can be who they are and not be criticized or bullied because of it. We are not there yet and have to keep working. When I met with [the casting team for Latter Days], I told them to be in that I would do anything. I’d do craft services or clean the bathrooms! I felt like it was really important that this film be made. I felt like, up until that point, a lot of queer cinema was about either a coming of age, where you are discovering your sexuality, or it was ‘let’s talk about AIDS’. I felt Latter Days was about the next step: once you have decided ‘I am what I am’, how do you move forward and create a life for yourself, fall in love, have a happy ending? I felt like Latter Days addressed that. Yes, it still talked about how difficult it is to come out in the Mormon Society that doesn’t accept you, but it was about the two characters that fell in love. That, to me, was very important."

Since Buffy, Benson has spent time writing graphic novels and directing, including the 2010 comedy Drones. Having been on screen gave her a unique perspective behind the camera.

"I love bossing people around! Just kidding... not kidding? No I am kidding. As far as being an actor, I know what it feels like to be vulnerable on camera, so I try to give space for my actors to be as comfortable as possible. I know how hard the crew works from working on Buffy, where we were there sometimes for 18 hours doing stunts and effects and crazy make up. We were there until it was getting light out sometimes. So I try to be respectful of my crew and cast, and that comes from being in the business since I was 13 – so 25 years. It’s a lot."

Benson had a guest appearance on Sarah Michelle Gellar’s show Ringer and has seen her fellow Buffy cast members at other events previously. She is excited to reconnect with Eliza Dushku and James Marsters in Edmonton, as well as to meet fans.

"Oh my god it’s gossip city! It’s awesome; it is like old home week. You start gossiping and finding out what everyone has been up to. It was like being on a little family on Buffy. It translates even all these years later when you see somebody you worked with – for me, for three years; and for a lot of them, even longer. It’s lovely and makes me happy. It is full circle. You do the show in a vacuum and 13 years later you get to experience the show through someone else’s eyes, which is really fun. When you talk to someone who didn’t watch the show on air, but discovered it on Netflix... they are new viewers to Buffy! That is crazy! That, to me, is the best part. It is a legion of people that love Buffy and we are starting to take over. I have met fans that were barely alive, or not alive, when the show was on. Many of them. It’s frightening. I feel like the writers and Joss really brought all of that to life and gave us this wonderful stuff to act out. We were very lucky as actors to get to work on the show."


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