Amber Benson talks about love and marriage and our ‘screwed-up, backwoods society.’
Actress and bookworm Amber Benson is probably best known for her role as Tara Maclay, Willow’s girlfriend, on the then-WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since Buffy she has delved further into her acting career while also emerging in the industry as a filmmaker and writer. She has signed a book deal with a publishing powerhouse to write a series of three books, which she describes as The Devil Wears Prada mixed with a Neal Gaiman-esque sort of reality. She will be in Houston in May for a screening of her second film (as writer/producer/director), Lovers, Liars and Lunatics (2006). Alongside her many talents, Amber Benson leaves an impression of being quite a grand advocate for GLBT rights.
Amber Benson: It’s ridiculous. It’s like the ’60s. It’s like African Americans trying to be treated as equals. We’re doing the same thing to the gay community this country did to the blacks. I mean, my f–king (excuse-my-French) God. When the Republicans are running their political machine to get people to get out and vote because they’re putting up antigay marriage on the platform—come and vote because you want not to have gay people get married—I mean, come on, what the f–k is that about? I’m a straight woman and I get upset. Their civil liberties, their rights to be human beings are being taken away from them. When a couple—someone’s sick and they go to the hospital and the other person isn’t allowed to go into their room because they’re not their partner by marriage…come on. … I’ll get off my soapbox.
Joyce Gabiloa: No, Amber. Please proceed.
Do you believe producers of any type of television show have been considering sexuality as a factor for drama?
Amber Benson: I think things are changing in Hollywood. I think things that were taboo 10 years ago aren’t, whether it’s two women kissing each other on network television or kids dealing with transgender issues or having a female or an African-American president on 24 . It’s all changing. It’s becoming a multi-cultural place. But it’s a slow process, because you’re fighting people who are closed-minded.
In the creative community as a whole, they’re not worried about the bottom line of money when they’re not worried about what middle America’s going to think—they’re very open, they’ll let you try lots of different things. It’s just when you start cutting into their profit margin that they’re like: Wait a minute. Should we really have the lesbians kissing? We might offend somebody…. It is changing, and it’s getting better, and people are more open than they used to be. There are a lot of people who don’t tell people that they’re gay. They’re playing straight roles as actors, and they don’t talk about their sexuality, because they don’t want to lose parts, and I can’t fault them for it. It’s not their fault we live in a screwed-up backwoods society.
Why do you think people “come out” as opposed to just letting others find out through casual conversation?
I think people want to own their sexuality. Whether you’re a straight woman or a gay woman, you want to be in control of who and what you are, and who you are as a sexual entity is a big chunk of who you are as a whole, so when you say I am this , you are owning that, you are controlling it. When straight women had the sexual revolution and they said, “Hey, I’m in charge of my own sexuality. I can have sex and enjoy sex,” they all did. Men couldn’t take it away from them. And the gay community, when you say, I am gay , you own it. No one can take it away from you.
I support people coming out, because I think you set a good example for the rest of the community, to other people, to young people especially, to say it’s OK to be gay.
I can’t fault people for being scared. Fear is a big motivator. If someone’s frightened about how they’re going to be perceived or if they’re going to get attacked and killed, who am I to say. Stand up for what you believe in, regardless? We’re all human. But I think being open…if you own it, you control it.
In your opinion, why do you think Buffy had such a strong gay following?
It’s very well written. It’s very political without being up on a soapbox. Then you have the campiness factor, and I think that’s an appeal, and then you have the first lesbian long-term couple on network television, and I think that was a big pull. People really responded to that, men and women, lesbians especially. But Alyson [Hannigan] and I would get letters from young gay men and they’re like: I didn’t kill myself because of this relationship. I saw that it was OK. I’m from some little tiny town where no one knows what the word “gay” means, and I watch this television show and know that I’m not abnormal. I know that I am a normal person . And, you know, that’s the appeal. It didn’t sensationalize this relationship. It was just about two people who both happened to be women who were in love with each other. But I definitely think it was the campiness factor. This young woman is running around kicking ass.
Who is the better kisser—you or Alyson Hannigan?
I don’t know. I would say she’s a very fine kisser, so maybe she wins. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. I’d say she’s the better, how about that?
How often do you Google yourself?
I google myself when movies come out. My boyfriend [Long Island-born Adam Busch, also of Buffy fame] is in a band called Common Rotation, and I made a video for them for one of their songs [“Wasted Words”]. We were in Alaska. I took my Super 8 camera and made this really fun video and we put it up on YouTube and I’ve been googling it to see what people say. I’m really proud of it.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve eaten recently?
We were in Alaska recently, so I’ve tried seal and I’ve tried moose. I was a vegetarian for 14 years. I broke my foot, it wasn’t healing, and the doctor said if I didn’t want pins in my foot permanently, I needed to start eating protein. I don’t eat much meat; mostly, it’s seafood. Seal tasted like—it looked kinda like brisket. It looks like a seafoody brisket. They don’t serve that at temple. I don’t even know if that could be kosher.
Tell me something about you that might impress me.
I’m pretty normal. I use a lot of toilet paper for some reason. That’s an impressive detail. Double rolls. I don’t know what happens to it. I think someone eats it. While I’m asleep something comes into my bathroom and eats my toilet paper. I buy a big thing of like 24 of those double rolls and it’s gone in like a week. I know it’s not just me.
Ask yourself a question and answer it.
Where did you get your name, Amber? Well, when my mom was a little girl, she read a book called Forever Amber and fell in love with the name. That’s how I got my name. I have five bookcases full of books, and I can see Forever Amber there over in the corner. It’s a good book. I read it when I was 14…15. Basically I’m named after a courtesan; I’m named after a prostitute.
What amuses you?
You know what I like to watch—and this is terrible—the serial killer programs on TV. I love that stuff. I don’t know why—there’s something wrong with me. That, and food programs on TV. Those things go together. I think it might be research, because I’m interested in why people do the horrible things they do. So I assume it’s research-oriented. I haven’t had the inclination to go hurt anybody, so it’s not influencing me in a negative way. I just find it fascinating what people will do. Maybe “amuse” isn’t quite the word for that. A good book amuses me.
What do you tend to read?
I’ll read anything. I’ll read the back of the cereal box. I love literature. I love mysteries and science fiction.
Do you have a particular title that you would recommend?
There’s a wonderful Russian writer named Boris Akunin. He writes really great spy-detectivey books. They’re super famous in the former Soviet Union. They started to come over here—they’re really good.
Have you heard of Paul Auster?
Yeah, I have.
You have? Shut up! I love you, I love you.
Some of the New York City stuff. That is some f–ked up stuff. Really good.
He’s my favorite author. I think I just want to keep him at a distance for right now.
I think you’re wise, because everyone I know that’s really looked up to someone was disappointed [upon meeting that person]. You cease to be able to put them on a pedestal. You can’t hold them up there anymore, because you realize they’re just real people.
What are the appealing characteristics of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?
You got me right on the day after all the craziness, huh? We did call-banking for Obama to remind people to go out and vote. We called Texas, actually. My boyfriend got [a person who] had to be Republican because he called him a f–ker. He said he hoped there would never be a black president.
I like Barack Obama about wanting things to change, wanting to have a clean slate, wanting to work on a bipartisan platform so that we’re not just a mono-government culture. He wants to bring everybody together, and I think he really has a chance of doing that, whereas she’s a little bit more divisive. But I also think she’s very strong, very bright, and very capable, and I would be very happy with either of them. I just feel a little more connection to Barack Obama, personally. But I like her, I don’t dislike her. I think she’s a fine candidate. And it’s cool that she’s a woman. It’s awesome that the next president quite possibly is gonna be African-American or a woman. It’s f–king cool.
If you weren’t in the entertainment industry, what would you be doing?
I got into UC Berkeley; they have a Celtic Studies department. That’s what I was interested in doing, but I didn’t end up going because I wanted to be an actor. I don’t have anything to fall back on at this point. I love mythology, and I would love to get a degree in folklore. That or refurbish furniture or be a barista. [She snaps her mouth.]
Or be a barista?
Yes, I like making coffee.
It makes me happy.
So why don’t you just do that?
I make more money even when I’m not working as much as an actor than I would as a barista. If the acting thing ends up not working out, maybe I will. Starbucks does have good health insurance. If I could just pronounce it right—barista…bareesta.
Is there something you can’t live without besides love, family, and friends?
Something to read, especially in the bathroom. I’m very bathroom-oriented today, I don’t know why. I guess it’s because I decided to buy more toilet paper this morning. Hopefully someone will read while on the toilet. A little closure. You probably don’t want closure when you’re in the bathroom. You want everything to flow. Ha, sorry.
Are you a comedian?
No, no. I’m not funny, apparently, just sometimes charming.
Are you wearing slippers right now?
No, no. I’m wearing socks. They’re like basketball—those knee-high socks—athletic socks.
What comes to mind when you think of vampires?
I guess I have to go with Lestat because he’s the perennial sexpot. When you say the word “vampire,” I think of him. Even though he’s not Tom Cruise, goddammit. Not the vision I had in my head. No offense to Tom Cruise.
How about wicca?
Probably a book called Spiral Dance . I am very curious about the occult, and that’s one of the books I found about wicca. It is very Earth-oriented and Mother Earth-oriented kind of thing. I think of that because that was my first entre to that.
And lastly, Alyson Hannigan.
Alyson Hannigan? Better kisser than me.
So you are dating Adam Busch, right?
And he’s in a band called Common Rotation, is that correct?
Yes, yes he is. And I made a video for them!
In Alaska of all places. It was awesome. What a great place.
Do you want to get married?
I don’t know. Sometimes it looks so pretty—all those dresses. Other times it looks absolutely terrifying, especially when everyone is getting married and then five years later getting divorced. I think most people are going to stop giving gifts at weddings. I don’t know. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to get married if I want to get married. Not everybody does.
Hey, you know what? You have the same initials.
Not the same middle though. I’m an N and he’s an R, so we can’t get those matching towels. It’s not going to happen.
I have one last question for you. If you had to go gay, for whom would it be and why?
Oh, I’ve always had a little crush on Angelina Jolie; she’s just so darn pretty. You know who I have a big girl crush on? I did this move called One-Eyed Monster. It’s a farce that’s set in the porn industry. This woman, Veronica Hart, is in it—she was a porn star and now she’s a producer and a director. She is awesome. She is probably one of the sexiest people I’ve ever met. I have a girl crush on her. She’s the nicest person and she’s hot!
Well, it was a pleasure….
It was nice meeting you over the phone. Good luck on your writing. And I tell you what. If I ever meet Paul Auster, I promise to not send him your way. How about that?