Amber Benson, known for her role as Tara Maclay in Buffy, made her first appearance at ClexaCon this year. Her panel, moderated by Dana Piccoli was an emotional discussion about representation and how fandom and fan interaction has changed over the years.
Benson started off talking a bit about auditioning for the role of Tara. She described the initial breakdown as “dryad forest nymph”. She said that if it wasn’t for producer Marti Noxon, she wouldn’t have gotten the part. So shout out to Noxon, for convincing Joss Whedon to give Benson a shot, despite her not fitting that forest nymph vibe. Benson had no idea the role was going to be more than two episodes and what it would turn into. The role changed her life and is the thing she’s most proud of personally, not just professionally.
If Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) was the straw that broke the camel’s back, Tara Maclay (Amber Benson) was the first one on the pile. Tara’s death in Buffy was an unfortunately pivotal moment in queer media and it took 20 years and way too many queer characters dying until people started listening. Benson talked about how disheartening and frustrating it is that it’s taken so long but does think it is changing. She also doesn’t believe Whedon would have chosen to kill Tara if he truly understood what it would do to fans, because there were other ways to get Dark Willow.
Over the years, Benson has seen a shift in how fans relate to the show and themselves, thanks to the internet. She described as an ownership of themselves that wasn’t there before. She would have a lot of people coming up to her telling her that they’re scared of coming out and don’t have a support system, but having access to other people via the internet, conventions, and media have changed that.
Every time Benson talked about her fans and the people she’s met over the years, she got emotional. She feels a connection to her fans and that they’re all her family too and coming to a place like ClexaCon that’s full of support and positivity is “pretty fucking amazing.”
Benson’s love for her fans extended to turning down a chance to return to the show in season seven. She had plans to go to London to direct Ghosts of Albion and was approached to return for “Conversations With Dead People.” When they told her they wanted to bring her back as the First, she turned it down and kept with her plans to go to London. She knew fans were already really hurt by what had happened and she didn’t want them to get hurt more.
One of the best episodes of Buffy is the season five episode, “Family,” which was Tara centered. Benson talked about being nervous about what the episode would be because Whedon took a long time to write the script; they only got it a couple of days ahead of time. She had no idea it would be a beautiful story about finding your crew that resonated with everyone. Benson talked about filming the scene at the end and how she couldn’t stop crying because it was such a beautiful and emotional moment.
Naturally, the Buffy reboot came up and a fan asked Benson who she would cast as a Tara-esque character on the show. Benson mentioned that the reboot gives a great opportunity to fix one of the failings in the original show, the lack of diversity and would love to see a diverse group of people on screen. As for the Tara character, she would love to see a trans character because it just feels right.
When asked what she’s currently working on, Benson answered simply, “I’m killing people on Hallmark.” She then explained that she’s been writing Hallmark channel mysteries called The Morning Show Mysteries. Benson is also working on the pilot for a Witches of Echo Park series, which is being developed.
Benson’s panel was definitely one of the highlights that weekend, you can watch the entire panel below. Prepare to find out what Benson did to make Hannigan sweat and her advice to writers.