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For 'Buffy' at 20, Amber Benson conjures teen witch memories

As "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" turns 20, the actor talks about her role as the shy witch Tara whose kiss with girlfriend Willow made TV history.

As Tara in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Amber Benson bewitched both Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and fans alike with her killer smile.
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

When you portray a powerful witch who falls in love with the vampire slayer's BFF, you're bound to collect a coven of fans.

Actor Amber Benson's character Tara on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series made history for her onscreen kiss with girlfriend Willow, played by Alyson Hannigan. She became a role model to many fans who longed to see LGBTQ relationships on TV.

But her role as Tara also showed what it's like to be in a relationship with someone battling an addiction -- in this case Willow's addiction to dark magic.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," I chatted with Benson about playing a shy witch who stole all our hearts.

Q: Why do you think "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" resonates with fans so many years later?
Benson: The show spoke to people in a language that was unique and wholly Joss-like. It purported to be a teen show about high school and vampires but what was happening on screen transcended that.

Buffy was about the horrors of trying to fit in when you feel totally alone, about finding yourself and learning to love who that person is, failures and flaws and all.

Buffy was about community and allowing the people you love to help you. And it was funny and terrifying and heartbreaking and powerful, and that's just skimming the surface.

There is so much to unpack when you watch the show -- and that is a testament to the love and dedication of the writers, the cast and the crew.


The romance between Tara (Amber Benson) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" set the bar for how to positively portray LGBTQ relationships on TV shows.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Buffy became the face of feminism in the '90s, but the show also tackled LGBTQ relationships and other bigger issues most TV wasn't including in storylines. Why is it important to remember how groundbreaking the series was?
Benson: It's easy to forget the past ... but when we do, we are doomed to repeat it. Buffy helped give a voice to the LGBTQ conversation that was happening in our country.

It showed a positive representation of LGTBQ relationships that was both beautiful and very real. I truly believe Tara and Willow helped to open many closed minds.

Celebrating Buffy helps us remember how far we have come and what a tragic step backward it would be to lose the ground we have gained.

What drew you to your character Tara?
Benson: I loved her shyness and her innate goodness. She saw the good in everyone -- even Spike.

What was your favorite moment working with Joss Whedon?
Benson: When he gave me the CD with all the songs for the Buffy musical and I heard "Under Your Spell." I was like, "Really?!? For me?!" *sigh of happiness*

Which episode was your favorite and why?
Benson: I'm a sucker for the musical. It was so much work, but I loved every second of it ... and the finished product is magical.

Why will being on Buffy always be special for you?
Benson: I was a kid, barely in my twenties and it changed my whole world. Playing Tara is probably the thing I am most proud of as an actor. That storyline was so important and I was honored to get to play a part in it.

Twenty years makes me feel old! Funny though, it all seems like it happened yesterday.

Editors' note: Benson continues acting in and producing films and TV series, including developing a TV pilot about female serial killers that she's writing now. "Buffy" fans might be excited to know she also has a successful career as an author of urban fantasy books that not surprisingly include entertaining tales about witches. Her next book, "The End of Magic," comes out this May.

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