Website & fanzine of the SF fan club USS Hudson Bay, Toronto, Canada






Amber Benson
at Toronto Trek,
July 6, 2002

Transcribed by Karen Bennett. Close-ups of Amber Benson (Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1999–2002) by Lynda Ciaschini.

I wanted to address one thing. I guess I'll take the first bit of time to talk about it. Everyone said to me today, "Thank you for coming to this. The fans appreciate it." I started thinking, "You know what? I appreciate." I wanted to tell everybody that without the fans, we don't exist. The first season would be in a vault somewhere and that would be it. But because of you guys, we get to do what we do. Instead of you guys thanking me and telling me how great I am, I wanted to turn it around and say thank you to you and tell you how great you guys are. Without you, we're nothing. Without you, no-one would sit there saying, "Do the chips in the back of the common room—is that spelling out something? Is there a secret?" Without that, there would be no depth to Buffy. In fact, you guys taking us apart and trying to figure out what [creator] Joss [Whedon] is trying to say—because he is trying to say something; we're not sure what, but there is a secret message in there. We just haven't been able to decode it yet.

Everyone's been talking about the musical [episode, "Once More, With Feeling," season 6], today, and I just wanted to point out that I ran into a pole while we were doing the dance with Buffy. Emma [Caulfield] and I were doing our little dance, and seriously, I ran into the pole, and they used the take. I don't think you see me hit the pole but you see me afterwards, and I look dazed, and then I back up, "It's OK. I'm good. I meant to do that." It was so funny because nobody noticed. I thought for sure that the camera crew was going to give me hell. I'm like, "Didn't you guys see it?" and they didn't see it. I'm like, "Nothing. I didn't do anything, no." And then they used the take. So somebody saw it.

If you guys want to ask questions, that would be cool.

What style of direction did Joss use with you? When you're working on a scene, I presume you have your lines to memorize. Then does he sit there and say, "This is your thought process; this is what you're feeling"? Or do you just figure that out on your own? How much input does he do with you guys?

There are a couple of directors who work on Buffy, 'cause we tend to recycle writers, directors. We find somebody we like on our show and basically they don't leave. We all have such an interesting sensibility. We're not your typical, normal people. The people who work on Buffy tend to be bright people. They don't quite fit in society. When you find people like that, you just say, "Oh my gosh, I recognize you. You're just like me. Let's stay together. If there are a lot of us, they can't hurt us." That's how it is with Buffy.

So do the directors direct you a lot, or leave a lot up to you as an actor?

Some of the directors direct, and some of them are more interested in the camera and what's happening there. Joss tends to be a little bit of both. If he trusts you—which he does with all of us—he kind of lets you do your own thing. But occasionally, if something's really important to him, then he will take you aside and say, "This is how I want you to be feeling this."He definitely has his ideas about certain emotional things. Especially with me, he has a fondness for the relationship between Tara and Willow. There were always moments that he wanted to tweak, so we would really concentrate on making those moments really resonate. There was the time where we made up and kissed. We did 12 takes. Joss kept saying, "Somehow I think that maybe there was a little bit more to that than just trying to get the moment." I'm kissing Alyson Hannigan and I almost stuck my tongue in her mouth because we just got so into it at one point. I don't like girls, but "I'm starting to feel kind of like a lesbian today." I think I embarrassed her.

If there's something he wants to hit, he will definitely lead you in the right direction to get you to hit that moment, that word, that emotion.

When you first got interested in working on Buffy, did they tell you that your character was going to wind up being in a same-sex relationship, and did you expect your character to be as popular, after this developed, as Tara obviously became?

Going into it, I did not know that we were going to start a relationship. I think we did three episodes, and people were coming up and saying, "The WB has seen the episodes and they feel like there's this sexual tension," and I was going, "What are they talking about? I'm just supposed to be her friend." Three episodes in, Joss comes to us, and says, "I was intending that." I guess it must have been in the script. We must have picked up on it unconsciously, because people really did comment on it from the beginning. I didn't know. I was really excited about doing it, though, once we did find out about it, just because we would become the first long-term lesbian relationship on television. We had "The Ellen [DeGeneres] Show," but she kind of flitted between relationships and it was so destroyed when she finally came out that she really didn't get a chance to do what she wanted to do with the show. So I felt, with Buffy, we were finally getting an opportunity to say something, to say, "This is not really an alternate lifestyle; this is a lifestyle, and you guys have to get used to that. This is normal. This is how it goes."

It was definitely interesting to all of a sudden have this lovely talk with Joss. Alyson and I were saying, "We're going to be kissing, aren't we? I wonder how Alexis [Denisof] is going to feel about that?" He was Aly's boyfriend on Angel. Apparently he was quite happy...he used to invite me over for dinner. I don't know what that was all about. I'm just kidding.

Yes, I was really pleased that we got to do this. I definitely didn't know that Tara was going to become so popular. I always felt that in the beginning, Tara was sort of peripheral; she came in, did her thing, and went off. All her scenes were with Willow. Everybody really liked Oz [Seth Green] a lot. I didn't feel I could take Seth's place, and I haven't. There's no way anybody could do that. She kind of found her own place. I've just been really blessed that I got to play her, to walk in her shoes. It was really an honour. I've just been really glad to get to meet everybody.

[From a child] In the middle of your song, when you were lying on the bed, how did they make you float off?

All right, who put her up to it? Oh, it's Rebecca [a fan].

It's funny, because it was quite a painful experience. First of all, that dress that I had on in the musical was so painful. It was a corset. They'd come at me and they'd just pull. I looked great, but...Then they laid me flat on my back on this board on the bed. I think they called it a teeter-totter or something. There was this guy who would sit on one end of it to push it down, and I laid on the other end. But my head kept leaning back, which really would have looked kinda weird. Finally they put this other piece and taped my head to it. Everybody kept laughing because of all the sexual innuendo—the floating, and "Oh, they're in love." The crew thought it was quite funny, as did Alyson and I.

So I was on this teeter-totter thing, and the guy would get off it and I would go whish [up in the air]. It wasn't really magic. It was all ropes and pulleys and special effects.

Thank you, Rebecca. She's awfully cute. I swear she's 25 and I've seen her before. I think she's been on Buffy. She says she hasn't, but I think she was one of Glory's minions.

I just wanted to know if you're going to be coming back.

I personally don't know. If I did know, I still couldn't say. It really all depends on the storyline. I don't know what they're going to do with Willow, and I don't know what they're going to do with Tara, if anything. It's up to Joss. It's really his call. We'll see what happens. No one really dies on Buffy. How many times has Buffy died now—three? And Darla—Darla's having children with Angel, and she's been dead seven times? Poor Julie Benz, who's super nice.

A lot of people who were in your Sundance movie, Chance [2002], were also in Buffy. Was there any difference in working with them with the movie than it was with the regular show?

I got to boss James Marsters [Spike] around. It was so much fun. I got to kiss him, too.

We're scoring it right now. The guy who's doing the music is working on that while I'm up here in Toronto. Hopefully soon we'll be done. If I can't sell it, I'll put it on the Internet so everybody can see it.

It's a film that I couldn't have done without the support of everybody out there. Everyone should see it at least once, even if it's slo-mo on the Internet. It was really cool, because it had Andy Hallett. It actually had a day of Emma Caulfield, which we lost because she couldn't come back and we had to recast. We threw a pie on her and ripped her dress off. That got erased. We were shooting on digital video. It was my fault. My DP and I, we didn't rewind far enough back on the tape, and we lost the five minutes of footage with the ripping of this dress off. She was so cute. She's such a talented actress, Emma. She plays such a crazy character, but she's very talented and does lots of other things.

We had Andy Hallett, and James, and Emma, and Nick Brendon's wife [Tressa Di Figlia]. I stole her away. She's another very talented actress. It was cool to work with them in a different capacity. On Buffy, I don't get to work with most of them. I very rarely have a scene with James; I don't work with Andy; I see Emma periodically. It's so tough. Truly, if you don't have a scene with somebody, you don't see them. I think I had one scene with Warren, and nothing with any of the other guys.

On Chance, it was nice, because I was the director. I was always there, so I got to see them all, all of the time. It was kind of, like I said, fun to boss James around. He's awfully cute, and very sweet. A very talented fellow. So much more than just Spike. Anybody who can infuse a 500-year-old vampire with that kind of sex appeal—Jesus! Or maybe he's younger. I just relied on the fact that they were good actors. They understood what needed to be done, and did it. We shot in 10 days, so there really wasn't any time for [in a languid voice], "Okay, your motivation for this scene? We're going to do a few takes..."

I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Me too.

I first saw you in The Crush [1993] way back when.

I shot that in Canada. Three and a half months in Vancouver. Loved that place.

I was at the other end of Canada, on Prince Edward Island.

How's Anne of Green Gables? I love those books. Don't even laugh. OK, I'll be quiet now.

I was just wondering what the experience was like, working in a major movie.

It's a lot different to work on a film than it is to work on a TV show; that's for damn certain, because you're there for three months or two months or even 24 days sometimes. You make friends and then you go. It's just a totally different experience.

With Buffy, this was a family. I was there for almost three years. If you see people every day for three years, you really get to know them intimately—not like that; you know what I mean. That was mine; you [the audience] didn't even go there; I went there by myself.

I love films just because you get to play another character for a short period of time, and then you move on and play another kind of character. I've been really lucky; I've gotten to play all kinds of interesting people. I've played an epileptic and had a seizure on the floor. That was the first thing I ever did, and that was quite an experience. I'm lying on the floor and some guy with a camera is straddling me. "Wow, I'm 14 and there's a man staying right there."

But it's really no different technically to work on a film. There are cameras in your face. You get more time to rehearse on films, usually. It was really fun for me to work on The Crush, because there was Cary Elwes. [In a high-pitched voice] "It's The Princess Bride, The Princess Bride!" I was really excited about that, as a 14-year-old girl would be.

What point in the show did you consider to be Tara's turning point, from going from being really shy and stuttering to being more confident—almost flirty, too?

"Family" [season 5] was the beginning. The way it works with Buffy, we'll usually shoot a master of the scene. We'll the whole thing from far away, so you see everybody, and people come in and out. Then we'll go in and do a two-shot of Nick and Emma, and a two-shot of me and Aly, and Buffy and Dawn. Then we'll go in and do close-ups, and do Tony, 'cause Tony's always by himself. With "Family," somehow my close-up was the last close-up. There's this really intense scene where they're all standing up and saying, "You have to go by me to get her," and I started crying. I cried through everybody's take, and everyone's saying, "Shut up!" I was so moved that they were all standing up for me.

For me and for the character, it was like, "This is really nice. This is a family." Really, "Family" isn't about Tara's family; it's about her friends, who are her family. It has a double meaning, the title—for me at least. I think it was something that was close to Joss's heart. It was a moving episode for me, and I hoped it touched you guys.

I can relate to the "friends are family" deal. I'm an only child, and my friends are sort of like my family too.

In this life, if you find people that you click with, that you relate to, you are lucky. It's hard. Most of the time, it's not your family. Most of the time, your family's different than you. When you find friends that really get you, than whoa! It's going to be mischief time. Luckily, I'm really close to my family and they're very similar to me, so I was really lucky in that regard. But not everybody is. A lot of people get stuck with parents that don't quite understand.

As Tara, you never had a chance to break out of character. Even in "Tabula Rasa" you were still pretty much acting the way she was. You never got to switch bodies or get split in half or get turned into a vampire or a demon or anything like that. I was wondering if there was anything you had wanted to do like that and never got the chance to. Kind of related to that, did you ever want to to be in the really wild monster make-up, or were you glad you never had to do that?

I'll address the first part of your question first. When Glory sucked my brain out [in "Tough Love"] they made a blue-screen head of me where they did an alginate mould. That's what Glory stuck her hands into, so you can actually see her hands going in. I loved it. They put all this stuff on me and they closed me in. I have pictures of it. There's an "Anarchy" sign on the front of it, and eyes. I loved it. A lot of people are claustrophobic and have a hard time with make-up. I like it. Everybody was going, "You got through that alginate thing really well," and I'm going, "Yeah, let's do it again."

I always thought it would be fun to be a vampire, but it was not to be in the cards for poor Tara. She was not allowed to do any vamping.

It was kind of cool to play the brain-sucky-out stuff, just because it was so different than what I normally do with her. Really, she just made weird comments, slapped Willow. It was so funny, because Alyson was saying, "Really slap me," and I [did a feeble tap]. She's a redhead; I'm not going to slap her. Finally I did. She wanted to get into it; it was really an intense moment.

That was a little different from Tara, but it wasn't like you said, completely different. She really never got the opportunity to be somebody else. She didn't get to do a body-swap with Eliza [Dushku]. Can you imagine, Tara with Faith in her? "Oh, Xander! Oh, Riley!"

One more quick thing. There's a rumour that you might be asked to direct an episode.

That would be so wonderful.

Obviously you haven't heard anything, but I thought I'd ask.

We have so many talented directors and writers who are working on Buffy right now, we are overstocked. There just isn't time, because a lot of our writers are now starting to direct—Doug Petrie, David Fury—very talented fellows, and very nice fellows, too. I doubt that that would happen [for me]. It would be wonderful. Can you just see me telling everybody what to do?

How is work on the comic book [Wilderness] progressing?

One comes out next week [July 10, 2002], I think. We wrote two, Chris Golden and I. I'm not sure when the other one's coming out. It was so much fun. I love Chris Golden. I don't know if you guys are familiar with his stuff, but he is super-talented. A very talented writer and comic-book writer. To get to work with him has been such a wonderful, wonderful experience.

Are you a fan of comic books as well?

This is going to sound completely dorky, but I always liked the Archie comics when I was a kid. I always kind of fancied Veronica.

With the comic books, I read Mad Magazine and Archie and stuff. When Chris Golden approached me about doing this comic book, I got the help of everybody at Buffy because they're all huge comic-book fans. Joss loaded me down with 50 comic books. I really got into Alan Moore's stuff. He did The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell. Of course Terry Moore, Strangers in Paradise. So yes, I've really gotten into comic books because of my comic-book experience. It's been really fun.

We all know how talented a writer you are. I just wondered: How much input did you have on the writers at Buffy?

Probably none. They get all their input from Joss. Because they get to know you, of course they're going to pick up your quirks and your strange whatevers. They add that to the character. With Tara, not so much. With the other characters, yes. There's a bit of Joss in every character. I met a friend of Joss's who is like Willow. She is who Willow is based on, someone he went to school with. She and I were talking, and she said that in a way, Tara is what Willow was. She said, "I was kind of quiet and shy when I was in school." There is that aspect of her that Joss based Willow on, but Tara isn't like any of the other characters. And [the writers] didn't use me, because I'm not like her. I don't stutter; I'm not reticent. I may be a little shy inside, but I'll definitely come over and bug you and harass you and make fun of you. That's who I am; I'm outgoing. It was kind of weird that she really wasn't me and they really couldn't pull anything from me because she was so unlike me in that respect. But in the respect of treating people with compassion and respect and kindness, that's definitely what I believe.

Now that you've had some experience singing on Anthony Head's album [Music for Elevators, 2002] and you've had some experience directing, writing and acting, five years from now, what aspects of the industry do you see yourself doing?

I would like to make movies. I've always wanted to make movies, ever since I was a little kid. I remember going to see Return of the Jedi and The Goonies; I was just entranced. I've always wanted to be able to do the same thing: to make something that takes people out of their own heads for two hours, just like when I was a kid, I was taken outside of my head. It's tough. I was a little tiny thing with big plastic glasses that apparently I picked out for myself; my mom says I did. I got called "four eyes"; I got made fun of. I would escape. I'd go see a movie. I'd read a book. It saved me. It kept me from losing my mind. I just want to do the same thing for other people. I want to give them the gift that I was given.

So would you want to do more projects like Chance, where you took it from initial development all the way through?


And when you approach the different aspects, be it singing or acting or writing, who do you look to for inspiration?

There are so many people that I really like; so many directors that I'm a huge fan of. There's a woman named Marleen Gorris, who directed a film called Antonia's Line [1995] which is just phenomenal. It's such a girl movie, though. I went to see it at 3 in the afternoon. It was me and a senior citizen club. There were all these old women and me. We were all crying.

My mom is a big inspiration to me. My family—my dad, my mom, my sister. They keep me safe and grounded. I look to them because they're all so talented, and I feel like it's OK to do what I want to do, it's OK to put myself out there. So you fail sometimes; big whup. You succeed sometimes too, and that's a lot of fun.

Musically, I love Jeff Buckley a lot. He's a very talented singer-songwriter who passed away.

I was wondering if you could sing a little "Creature of the Night."

You guys are trying to turn me into Andy Hallett, aren't you? Andy Hallett sings so beautifully. I'll just sing a little bit. [She sings a few lines.] Oh, I f—oh, I mean, messed up. I didn't say it. I just don't feel comfortable without the slip and the bra. I need that in order to do that.

Through your stint on Buffy, what, if you could choose one, was the most challenging scene for you to perform?

The death [of Tara] was really, really difficult. A close friend of mine passed away last year. She was Marti Noxon's assistant, and such a sweet, wonderful person. Our production office, where she worked, is where we shoot. We have sound stages and our production office is right upstairs, basically. To be in the same place—she'd come down to hang out on the set sometimes. Sarah and I talked about it. It made me feel uncomfortable and unhappy. It just brought back a lot of feelings. This was the first person that I'd lost that I was really close to. You lose grandparents—I was really little and I didn't know them. But to lose someone that you go hang out with and sing karaoke with—it was just really tough to be on that set and to be playing dead.

Sarah, by the way, is wonderful. I am such a huge fan of Sarah Michelle Gellar. She's just got an amazing heart. If there's a problem, she will be there. Three in the morning—she'll be there. It's kind of frightening. She's kind of Buffy-like. Going through that whole thing of losing this person—she was at the hospital. She and Freddie [Prinze Jr., her boyfriend] were at the memorial. They were so wonderful. She felt the same way I did. It was really tough to have that happen and to go through this death thing after all that. To me, that was the hardest part.

I hear rumours that you did a stage play in Los Angeles. Any future plans or, say, a musical?

That would be so much fun. Someone said they were going to redo Rocky Horror, and I go, "Oh, me! Me!" Actually, they'll probably go for Tony Head first. He brought his own Frank-N-Furter costume to this VH-1 thing we did. The man shows up with the corset and the shoes. I was [agog], 'cause I'd never seen him in anything but a suit before. "He's got really nice gams, doesn't he?"

I love theatre and I love singing. I had such a wonderful time on the musical. I did not want to stop. I wanted to do a musical every week. Tara dies. [sings] "O, she's dead, O!" I'd love to do something. Go to New York. Be on Broadway. You don't get paid anything; just for the love of it.

In the question about singing, us Amberholics here think you have a beautiful singing voice. I was just wondering if you had ever thought about doing it as kind of a sideline to acting.

I'll be a Janet Jackson. I saw her Hawaii thing when we was driving across country. I was in the hotel one morning, and there's HBO and there's Janet in a lei. I'm like, "I could do that." I went to school with one of the Backstreet Boys and one of the guys from *NSYNC. "I have heritage; I could do that." Me and Britney.

No-one's ever approached me about it, so we'll wait and see what happens. Maybe some day, someone will hand me a recording contract, but not as of yet. I have a little four-track; I play around sometimes.

The death of your character on Buffy had a profound impact upon the audience, especially those in the queer community, many of whom felt that it was real cliché. Do you think that the creators of television and movies and so forth have a responsibility to their audience and maybe to society as a whole? What do you think about that?

Let me put it this way. Do you buy laundry detergent because you see it on TV? Obviously, you buy things because you see it on TV. "Oh, I'd like Pine-Sol because I know that's a name brand I've seen on TV." If TV can sell you a product, TV can sell you anything. So yes, I definitely think we have a responsibility as film-makers or as creative people to put the right stuff out there. The whole body-image thing, for one thing. How many young girls out there look in the magazines, look at TV and say, "I want to be just like so-and-so." If you can sell a body-image, you can sell a lifestyle. If you can sell a lifestyle, you can sell people treating other people with respect.

We were the most stable couple on Buffy—two women. OK, [Willow] went a little crazy at the end, but for three years, we were the most stable relationship. Who had the most impact on Dawn? Tara and Willow. We do have a responsibility: to say that this was OK. Two of Joss's close friends are a lesbian couple, and I really feel that because of them, that's how Willow and Tara as a couple came into being. They lead a normal life. It's not even an alternative. If you find somebody that you love, that you're turned on by, that gets you, then you're really lucky. If that person happens to be of the same sex, then so what? Who cares? With Buffy, we were just trying to say that it's just normal. We didn't make it a gratuitous sex thing. We didn't make it, "Ooh, let's take pictures of two girls kissing." It's really about their relationship.

When this happened with Tara dying, at first I felt as you were saying, that, "This is not what we need to do here. We don't want to put out there that, 'Here's a lesbian couple. Let's kill one of them. Yeah, that's what we need to do; kill lesbians.'" Then I talked to Joss, and it really wasn't about that. He doesn't even see them as two women; he really sees them as just Willow and Tara, how we should look at each other as individuals. He doesn't see them as a lesbian couple. He saw that Willow was going through something, and the only thing that she really loved, that she really cared about, was Tara. To have something happen to Tara was the only way she was going to get pushed to the wall. It was the only way she was going to hit bottom. She wasn't in recovery as a magic addict; she was just getting by by the seat of her pants. When all this happened, it really pushed her over the edge.

I knew two years ago that it was going to happen. I felt iffy about it, so Joss and I talked about it. I really stipulated that this was not going to be gratuitous; this was not going to be Joyce lying in the couch with her eyes open ["The Body," season 5]. This was two individuals who loved each other who really got screwed. It took Willow to the edge, and it was time to come back.

I really don't think that there was any intention of putting it out there that we need to kill lesbian characters. It was really about individuals and emotions and ending an allegory for addiction.

I think we did a hell of a lot more good than bad, let me tell you. Just from the letters I got—I got the most amazing letters. I met this girl at one of the Posting Board parties, and she was crying and I was crying. She said, "I came out because of you guys. I have a girlfriend, and my life is so much better because I'm OK with who I am." If we affect one person, then we've done our job.

Sarah Michelle said that the move from The WB to UPN was kind of hard and that things were done a lot differently at UPN. I was wondering how that was for you.

The WB was really supportive of us. They'd had a long time to get in the groove with Buffy. Definitely, it's a new situation. UPN were trying to get their land legs and figure out how we needed to be handled. But they're really nice over there, and they're really trying hard to keep Buffy out there and in the face of the audience.

Now that Angel's alone at The WB they keep moving it, and it's really hard for people to find it sometimes. At least with UPN, we're consistent. They really do care about us.

If we all promise to sing along, will you give us a little bit of "Under Your Spell"?

You guys are going to turn me into a vaudevillian. [She sings part of it.] Oh, that was crap. Sorry.

On that note, on my cracking voice, I thank you guys. You guys are fantastic. I've enjoyed spending every Tuesday night in your house. I've enjoyed my time at your place, so I hope you've enjoyed your time at our place.

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