Amber Benson on Buffy, Tara and Willow, Husbands & more…

Laura chats to Amber Benson about Buffy, Tara and Willow's relationship, Alyson Hannigan, network censorship and more. Spoilers ahead...

This interview contains spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Amber Benson has been up to a lot lately – writing books, acting, and directing – but when we sat down with her, we couldn’t help but ask about the first thing that endeared her to us: her part in the sweetest and most tragic relationship on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Tara-Willow relationship, especially the way that the two characters eventually got together was one of the greatest pieces of television, especially LGBTQ television. Part of the reason was that it was so natural. Unlike other TV shows, Willow’s coming out was not publicised. Quite the opposite: you guys had us believing that Tara was loving in vain and that Willow had no idea what was going on. But she knew the whole time.

Amber Benson: Gives you goosebumps. (laughs)

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It does. The lovely thing was the way that they eventually became lovers. What struck me about that moment was that it was really filmed for people who loved the story. It was not filmed for male consumption; it wasn’t two hot chicks making out. But that became one of the criticisms of that relationship: well, it’s not sexual enough and that came both from the general population but also from the lesbian community who wanted to see…

Benson: A real relationship…

Women and women having sex because that’s what real women have, but you guys shied away from that except on a metaphorical level.

Well, it really wasn’t us; it was the network. They really were anti-showing anything. Just to get the kiss in The Body was like pulling teeth. Literally, I remember Alyson and I being like, “Spike and Buffy are shtupping on a gravestone, seeing everything…

Tearing up houses…

Benson: How come we can’t? We were all up in arms about it. We can’t kiss, all this stuff we’re not allowed to do. And it was interesting… one of the guys on the crew was gay and he said, “Look, I know you guys have a kind of anger that you can’t embrace that aspect of the relationship, but what is important here is that you guys are making it okay. You are saying that this is okay. This is normal. You’re putting it out into the mainstream. The relationship is so special, and the way you treat each other. That is what is important. You are making inroads into the normal populace and they see it’s okay that these two women are in love and the more that that’s out there, the more that it’s going to be accepted.”  He said what we were doing was going to have an impact ten years down the road.  “It’s not about making out, even though you would like that. But you have to understand that what you are doing is making social commentary.” And that made me feel a lot better even though I still felt that it was wrong; that it wasn’t fair.

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And even the way Joss did it in The Body was that he had us do this amazingly intense kiss—I’m talking saliva trails–and he turned that in because he knew if he gave them (the censors) something really “out there” that they would tell him, no, you’ve got to cut it down, and so he did and we got something sweeter but still real. He had to manipulate the system just to get the little bit of what we had and it really was a struggle.

And I really loved the way the you guys worked oral sex into Once More with Feeling

Benson: (laughs) You make me com…plete.

Yes, that was hysterical and a real wink to the audience that this is what really going on. And let’s face it, Willow wasn’t all that sexual of the character to begin with. So it felt much more natural…which is why I felt like some of the criticism was unfair because Willow would not be knocking down buildings having sex regardless, right?

Benson: Even if it had been with Xander…it really wasn’t inherently who she was.

So I heard a rumour that Joss asked you to come back evil and you said no way.

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Benson: Yeah, I’d kind of hit the wall at that point. I was getting to direct this thing for the BBC. I had co-written a piece with Christopher Golden called Ghosts of Albion. It was an animated series for the BBC, and I was asked to direct the actors. So I was getting ready to go to London to do that, and directing was something I had been working towards, so this was very important. And I had gotten so many letters and had so many conversations with young LGBTQ kids saying, “I was gutted. I was devastated, and I can’t watch the show anymore.” So I felt like we really did this number on that community and I didn’t want to add to that, you know? And we had talked about how she would come back bad and then work something out so she will come back good later. But you know, I don’t know if they’re going to have another season or what’s going to happen. And for me, we did this awful thing. And it was the one time that it wasn’t magic. It was super violent really…

It was shocking, really shocking…

Benson: Right! It was not a normal Buffy death. And so I thought, I can’t add to that. As much as I appreciate why we did what we did and I understood the storyline—that this was a necessary thing for this addiction storyline that Willow been travelling through for two or three seasons–and it made sense to me looking at it as a writer. But as an actor and a human being, I just don’t know if I have what it takes to do this.

When I heard what you had done, I thought, well done, Amber. Because it felt like exactly the right decision and it allowed it Willow to move on and not have her relationship with Tara be this anomaly but who she was.

Benson: I think it was important that she was clear, “I want to be with women.” It was an important statement for that particular character and for society at large, for the people who watch the show: you know, it’s not a fluke, it’s not a phase. These are feelings and these are valid and it’s okay to be who you are regardless. If you find someone who loves you, you are, excuse my French, fucking lucky.

Exactly! I sometimes get upset when people call me an ally for gay rights. I’m not fighting the fight for someone else; I am fighting the fight for me. Because I could wake up tomorrow and find myself in love with a woman.

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Benson: That’s right. That’s right!

And now I’m going to throw in? No. It’s the right of all of us to love who we love. So we all have a stake.

Benson: Exactly! We are who we are. I have a bag that says “God hate bags” on it and I thought I would get a lot of flack for it. But it’s the number one thing that people come over to say, “I love your bag.”

(laughs) Love that.

This gay friend of mine gave this to me and said, I know you are a person who is out in public and I know how you feel about this stuff and I think it would be a positive for people to see it. And it’s a great conversation starter.

Which is why your role in Husbands was so hysterical (in both senses of the word). You get to play the flip side of that acceptance. Someone whose bag would read…differently.  Was that role your way of channeling every terrible thing you’ve ever heard?

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Benson: (laughs) Well, I’m from Alabama…

(laughs) So it really was…

Benson: So I grew up with that whole Southern Baptist, born-again, fanatical…some of that crazy stuff. My dad was Jewish, and my mom was raised by Southern Baptists so I saw both ends of the spectrum. And yes, there is just hate. People are just filled with hate because they’re scared. It’s fear. So I thought, this woman, she is scared for her baby…her fake baby. But God dammit, she feels righteous and she feels right about this and I just wanted to do something silly with that. It was really fun. I feel like Husbands is doing something really important, in the same way we did with Buffy. It’s important.

So you have been doing so much. Books, directing, comics… Attention Deficit Disorder or Renaissance woman?

Benson: Combo. Also paying bills because paying bills is very important these days. As a creative individual, as I’m sure you know, being one thing does not pay the bills. You have to diversify and do lots of different things. And I am open to that anyways, because I like to make stuff. But really and truly, if someone comes to me and says, “I have this thing” and I’m I interested in it and it moves me in some way, then I’m probably going to say yes.  you know I’m really open to stuff. I’ve very much enjoyed writing the books. That has been something that’s really for myself: because you don’t do that for anybody else it’s just you in your pjs and your computer. That I really enjoyed.

And you have the music…

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Benson: Well, more singing in the shower than anything else.

I don’t know. I saw you and Anthony Stewart Head doing the Rocky Horror Anniversary thing and that looked like it was a lot of fun.

Benson: Oh, that was so much fun. He showed up with his own kit. He had his own heels and stockings…he has got great legs.

Amber Benson, thank you very much!

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