Amber Benson has been on AfterEllen.com’s Hot 100 every year — and she probably always will be. She is a favorite amongst the ladies and for good reason. The actress is best known for her role as Tara (Willow’s girlfriend) on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but is actually multi-talented and has since branched out from acting into writing, producing and directing.
AfterEllen.com caught up with Benson to talk about playing gay for pay when it was still taboo, why she had to fight to kiss Alyson Hannigan on screen and why she rarely turns down acting jobs.
All photos by Lindsey Byrnes; styling by Danielle Lesniewski
AfterEllen.com: How much did you know about the character, Tara before you auditioned for the part on Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Amber Benson: Nothing. I knew absolutely nothing. Tara was just supposed to be a friend to Alyson Hannigan’s character, Willow, and it was only going to be, like, two episodes. And then it sort of spiraled into this whole other thing.
Everyone else seemed to know it was going to become a lesbian relationship but I didn’t. I was totally oblivious and so was Alyson. It wasn’t until everyone on the crew was like, "You guys have a lot of chemistry” that we were like, "What do you mean ‘a lot of chemistry’?"
And then Joss [Whedon] took us aside and said, "By the way, you guys are going to be lady friends now," and we were like "OK," but it was not expected. We were not told anything in any way shape or form beforehand, so it kind of came out of left field a little bit.
AE: So you’d been acting a lot before then? What was your biggest role up until this point?
AB: I think my favorite movie I did was a film called King of the Hill that Steven Soderbergh directed. I did it when I was 15 and it was the greatest experience ever. The director would take his per diem money and have softball games for the whole cast and crew on the weekends and he would have beer and food and all kinds of fun stuff and people would just come and hang out. And I thought, "Oh this is what every set is like. Everybody’s like a big family and there’s no yelling and nobody has an attitude." It was just this really great experience.
Little did I know that I was really blessed in my first experience. I guess it’s sort of like when you have sex for the first time and it’s a positive experience and then later on you find out that it can be kinda skeezy.
AE: There were a lot of big names on that film, Adrian Brody and Katherine Heigl; do you stay in touch with them?
AB: Actors are a busy-breed and I’m not a scenester, so not really.
AE: So your first acting experience was like a positive sexual experience?
AB: You could say that — and then it all went down hill from there. I auditioned for this film and I just got it randomly. I remember I had this dress that I’d bought that I just loved. Of course, looking back, it was a hideous dress. It looked like a smock. It was like blue and black and sort of purple. It was a total hippie dress and I was so proud of it and I wore it and I think they cast me because I looked frumpy and weird. The character was really odd and had a seizure. It was all really intense. But I really liked that dress and that was the first big thing that I booked. And all the director and I talked about was taking trains instead of airplanes. I was a weird kid.