Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Amber Benson Remembers Her Time on the Show
Playing Willow’s girl friend turned-girlfriend Tara presented a challenge Amber Benson hadn’t previously considered: really, really early mornings. She recalls that she and co-star Alyson Hannigan often had scenes by themselves in the beginning, “so they would put us on the first scene of the day. So we were always there at, like, 5:30, 6, every time!” She recalls seeing one castmate, in particular, who had a similarly rough schedule. “Of course, James [Marsters] would be there, because he’d be doing makeup, putting the vamp face on,” she says. “While we’re doing our scenes, he’s still snoozing in the makeup chair.” She laughs. “He had it the worst, I’ll give him that.”
Tara’s family showed up abruptly in the Season 5 episode, “Family,” which mirrored how the episode came about, Benson recalls. The idea of a Tara-centric episode was floated, then “it didn’t come, and it didn’t come,” she says. “Joss kind of wrote it at the last moment. I think it was a tough one for him.” Fun fact: When the Maclay family members were cast, a pre-fame Amy Adams (who was “really lovely,” Benson says) was chosen to play cousin Beth.
Tara appeared in the Season 4 finale, “Restless,” as part of Willow’s dream: She wore some lines of a Greek poem… and not much else. Therefore, makeup supervisor Todd McIntosh hand-lettered the verse on Benson’s back. “Oh my gosh, the whole makeup department was incredible,” she says, laughing as she remembers that the process of getting her back painted meant she had “a towel up against my boobs so I wouldn’t expose myself while he’s writing Sapphic poetry on my back. It was very apropos.”
Benson recalls shooting “The Body” — the Season 5 episode in which Buffy’s mom, Joyce, suddenly dies — “right before our season’s break.” She also recalls her co-star, Emma Caulfield, absolutely nailing Anya’s heartbreaking monologue at the dorm, as well as the fact that they shot the scene a number of times. “No one was moving, no one was bitching about [working through a scheduled break], because they were just so blown away by what she was doing,” she says. “To me, it’s one of the most human moments on the show… and it crystallizes that whole part of the show, which is our relationships to each other and how they effect us.”
Sure, her character experienced a huge betrayal in Buffy’s musical episode, “Once More With Feeling,” but for Benson, an even more painful dynamic was going on behind the scenes. “The corset, oh my God,” she says, laughing. In the beginning, “I was like, ‘That’s so pretty!’ And then, by the end of the day, I was like, ‘I hate this corset, it’s so tight and it hurts. I don’t want to wear it anymore!'” Wardrobe aside, “it was a wonderful episode. I was excited to do it,” she says. “I was like, ‘Every episode should be a musical episode!'”
When Tara died at the end of Season 6, thanks to a bullet Warren meant for Buffy hitting the witch instead, Benson had “not a clue” that her character’s passing would cause such a disturbance in the Buffyverse. “It was naivete on my part, because of course it was going to impact and affect people,” she says. “It was huge. It was a big deal. This was the first long-term lesbian relationship on network television. It meant so much to people.” Still, she totally gets why Ms. Maclay had to go: “It was a really good story arc. You really wanted Willow to have this bottoming-out. And the only way to do that was for her to lose one of the important things in her life — that was Tara.”
That rumor about a nixed Tara return in the show’s final season? Yeah, Benson says, it’s true. Ultimately, schedule conflicts meant that she couldn’t return to appear as the First Evil (in the guise of our dearly departed witch), and the actress says she’s OK with that: “I was happy the way things worked out, because I don’t want her to be bad, and I won’t want to upset people.”