I had the pleasure of interviewing the incredibly talented, Amber Benson at Dragon*Con over the Labor Day weekend. Benson is best known for her role as Tara, Willow’s girlfriend on the hit TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Benson stars in a new film called “Dust Up,” which has been called “a freaked out joyride of weirdness.” The film has been hitting the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Con circuit. Starting on October 2nd “Dust Up” will be available on Video On Demand and then will be released to DVD on November 13th. Dragon*Con website
Mike: Everyone knows your stint on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as Tara, but they may not know that you have also have directed films, such as the 2010 release “Drones,” which you co-directed with Adam Bush who played Warren on “Buffy.” Also, you’ve managed to find time to write the popular Calliope Reaper-Jones book series. Your latest book, the fourth one in the series, is titled “How to Be Death.” So why don’t you tell us a little about Calliope and her world.
Amber: It’s an Urban Fantasy novel. I like to say that if you took Neil Gaiman and the “Devil Wears Prada” and you mushed them together that’s what I write; which is an odd, odd thing. The books are about a girl named Calliope Reaper-Jones, whose father is Death. Death is run like a corporation, which he is the President and CEO of. In the first book he gets kidnapped and she’s forced to come and run the company in his stead.
If she doesn’t, her family will lose their immortality. Calliope wants nothing to do with the business; she just wants to be a normal girl, with a normal life. She’s very Buffy-like in that respect, just wanting to be normal when you are sort of hoisted into this supernatural world. So, she sort of has to take over this job that is frightening to her. It has a lot of humor in it. I love to make people laugh, so if you read the books and you laugh, I’ve done my job.
Mike: I loved the beginning of the first book when a Demon shows up at her building and Calliope acts like it’s just a normal thing for her. In fact, she just tried to ignore this gigantic Demon hanging out at her building. Finally, she figures out that maybe she better figure out how to handle the problem.
Amber: I think that’s like everything in life. You’re sort of forced into situations that you don’t want to deal with. They just keep coming at you until they make you deal with it. Whether it’s supernatural or it’s just real life stuff, you just have to accept that there things that you have to deal with, even if you don’t want to; that’s just being human.
Mike: Now the forth book is more of a murder mystery using some of the classic mystery formulas, such as you have a haunted castle with the large grounds and the dinner party where things are revealed. So was that fun to write, because it’s a little more different then the first three books?
Amber: Well, originally the series was intended to be a trilogy but then my editor said, “Hey, why don’t we do two more.” So in order to keep it fresh and interesting for myself I was thinking I would like to write a murder mystery. I love Agatha Christie, P.D. James. I like the cozy mysteries like Sherlock Holmes and I like Charlene Harris’s Aurora Teagarden books.
I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could write something in that vein. So I took a lot of the cozy murder mystery tropes and injected them into this Urban Fantasy world. It was a lot of fun. I really, really enjoyed it. I very much enjoyed writing one of the characters in the book name Edgar Freezay, who is sort of my Sherlock Holmes homage. He’s a fun guy to write and he will be making an appearance in the fifth book as well.
Mike: And you have Runt, who has become Calliope’s sidekick and partner. Why don’t you describe a little about Runt because she’s rather unusual character.
Amber: My editor over at Penguin, Ginger Buchanan, loves Runt. Runt is a hell hound puppy who can talk. She’s the daughter of Cerberus, the three headed guardian of the North Gate of Hell. She is very smart and wise. I’ve had such a good time writing this character. I just love her and my editor just loves her. In fact, every time I turn in a new book she asks how much Runt is in this one.
Mike: When you are writing, you have a fair amount of control over your work because you are the one writing it. But when you’re acting you have to speak someone else’s words. Is that difficult for you as a writer to then be an actress, having to do someone else’s work?
Amber: You have to give over to someone’s vision; so, it depends. When it’s something like “Buffy,” it’s a no-brainer. It’s easy, you just come in and the words are amazing. So you just come in and say them just as they are and they come across beautifully. But sometimes when you work on something that’s a little clunky, you just have to say, “I’m not the writer and I am just going to try and act to help them make sense.” Because I’ve made films and I am a writer, I sometimes have to scale back not inject my two cents. When I’m hired as an actor, I’m just an actor and I just have to be the best actor I can be.
Mike: “Buffy” was such a unique show with some truly great characters. Your character, Tara was someone that everybody just fell in love with, so much so that everyone reacted to her death on the show to the point of overreacting in some cases. How did it feel when your part of such an amazing show and then have to leave it, because the show kept going on after your character’s death?
Amber: It was sad when I was leaving because when you’re on a show like “Buffy” you’re part of a family. You become really tight with the cast and crew. We would spend weekends hanging out together, doing stuff like Shakespeare readings at Joss’ house. So you have this little family and when you’re killed off a show, you leave the family. But I’ve stayed in touch with a big chunk of the people I worked with on the show, both cast and crew. You don’t lose those types of friendships they continue on, even when you’re not on the show anymore. I just did “Buffy” writer, Jane Espenson’s web series “Husbands.”
It was tough. It was hard for me because there were so many people invested in the character and her relationship with Willow. Fans were devastated by her death. I know that the production office got lots and lots of faxes asking “Why did you kill Tara? I’m mad at you! I’m not watching the show anymore!” But it’s important to know that as awful as it was and as devastating it was to the fans, it really wasn’t done to intentionally hurt anybody. It really was Joss’ way of furthering Willows storyline. With the arc that she was on of abuse, the abuse of power and magic; which even could be parlayed into abuse of sex or drugs. I think it was very necessary for her to lose the most important thing to her, her girlfriend Tara. So I understood from the story point of view why it was done.
Mike: So you’re currently doing some other stuff, some acting. You are on this current season of the web series “Husbands?”
Amber: Yes, I was on the second season opener of “Husbands” I don’t want to do a spoiler but my character is pretty mean. I love Jeff, Jane, Sean and Cheeks. I just think what they are doing is fantastic.
Mike: So it must be fun to take something of Jane Espenson, who was a writer on “Buffy,” play something of hers that totally different. It’s a comedy and it must be fun to do something other than the serious drama stuff.
Amber: Yes, it was great. I got to tear up pictures, yell and say awful things. It was so much fun. When I showed up for the shoot, I brought my own clothes since it’s such a low budget but fun shoot. And Cheeks, the star and co-creator of the show was like, “I don’t know if that outfit looks housewifey enough.” And I said “Oh Honey, I’ll show you old, nasty housewife.” After we shot it, he said “you were right, you nailed it”.
Mike: So you have one more book in the Calliope series?
Amber: I do. I just turned in book number five which will be out in March of 2013. It will be the last book in the series and will wrap everything up. I have been working on this book series for five years and I am a little burned out on it.
Mike: So are you going to start a new book series?
Amber: That is what I am hoping to do. First, I am going to take some time off to write some stuff just for me. Then I am going to write a pilot, sort of in the vein of Louie. I love Louis CK. Plus I am working on a literary book that isn’t any genre. And since I’m known now for genre writing, it’s going to be a tough sell. But then I am hoping to start up a new series with Ginger at Penguin.
Amber Benson’s book series The Calliope Reaper-Jones Novels are available at booksellers everywhere. Amber Benson can be seen in Jane Espenson’s web series “Husbands.” Husbands website. Also, you can find Benson in the film “Dust Up,” which will be available on Video on Demand October 2nd and DVD November 13th. Dust Up website.