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Interview

Amber Benson

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Who she is: Amber Benson broke new ground and earned a multitude of fans for her tender portrayal of Tara Maclay, one half of primetime's first prominent lesbian couple on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After three seasons on the popular program, her character's death devastated legions of viewers. Though she has been performing on film and television for years, Benson's credits extend beyond the front of the camera. The busy actor is currently writing for the animated web series Ghosts of Albion, and her play Albert Hall runs through May 11 at the Complex Theatre in Hollywood.

Her road to showbiz: Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., Benson was a "hyper" youth, whose mother enrolled her in ballet, hoping to curb her energy. "My mom would put me in all sorts of classes so I would sleep at night," said Benson, laughing. Benson also became involved with theatre, eventually moving away from ballet. "I love ballet, it's beautiful. But for me personally, I don't want my toes to bleed. And I was tired of seeing girls pass out from not eating." Such statements are typical of the frank and witty Benson, who said she keeps a level head in the competitive TV world by surrounding herself with similarly forthright friends and family. "This town can eat you alive so quickly, so if you have people around you who will dunk your head in the toilet if you do anything the least bit swollen-headed, they'll keep you sane."

What she's doing now: While appearing on Buffy, Benson and writing partner Christopher Golden penned three Buffy comics that caught the eye of the BBC, which hired the pair to pen the supernatural web series Ghosts of Albion (episodes can be viewed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/ghosts/). "It was really neat to have somebody go, 'We really dig your stuff and want you to come do something for us,' " said Benson. "It's really fun, I'm really happy with it. It's a serialized animated web show, something I never thought I'd be doing." On the opposite end of the spectrum is Albert Hall, a broad comedy that originally premiered in November as part of The Blank Theatre's Living Room Series. The script, about a 30-year-old man who suffers a nervous breakdown and returns home to live with his mother, was so well received that the Lone Star Theatre Ensemble is staging a full run. A fan of playwright Christopher Durang, Benson said Albert Hall is difficult to pigeonhole. "It's very crazy and odd and absurdist in that Ionesco/Durang sort of way, with a bit of existentialism."

Why she's moving behind the camera: Benson is philosophical about dividing her career in front of and behind the camera. "Life is very short, and the lifespan of a woman's acting career is even shorter. You've got to make your own way in this world; no one is going to give you a leg up unless you do it for yourself. In this industry as an actor, you're someone's pawn. You have no say in what happens to you. You're on camera or stage doing your thing, but, until that moment, you're at the mercy of other people. I've been lucky to have worked with a lot of really good people, but sometimes you get yucky people who make your life miserable. If you're a woman and you have a brain and you don't write and you don't produce your own stuff, you're insane—because you hit 30 and you're just too old to be Sean Connery's love interest anymore. If you don't start creating for yourself and finding other outlets for your creativity, pretty soon you're doing nothing."

Her greatest achievement: Two years ago, at the age of 24, Benson produced, wrote, directed, and starred in the title role of the feature film Chance. While the film has yet to land a distributor, it remains once of Benson's proudest accomplishments. A comedy about a girl searching for love, the film co-starred Benson's Buffy castmate James Marsters and was financed out of Benson's own pocket and donations from fans. "I have the best fans. I feel like I'm a part of this big, warm family," raved Benson. "It's kind of funny: Buffy fans tend to be like in the top 2 percentile of intelligence. We get the brightest people. It's amazing. It's a very thoughtful show, and you get very thoughtful people watching it."

Her parting advice: Living in Hollywood is a constant challenge, but Benson believes it's best to follow your heart, no matter what the temptation. "When they offer you money, it can be tough. But when you feel like something is important and you want to stand up for what you believe is right, you have to do it. As painful as it can be to live in poverty, I prefer it to doing things I think are wrong."

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