Amber Benson talks about new book “The Witches of Echo Park”

Amber Benson is probably best known for her portrayal of Tara Maclay on the hit television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. Since then Amber has been busy both behind and in front of the camera along with authoring several fiction books. Amber’s newest book titled “The Witches of Echo Park” centers around a powerful network of witches who hide within the shadows of society and use their powers to keep the world in balance. Media Mikes had the pleasure of speaking with Amber recently about the new book, her time on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and what else she has planned for the New Year.

Adam Lawton: Can you give us a little background on your new book “The Witches of Echo Park”?
Amber Benson: The book is definitely more for adults as there are some naughty parts. (Laughs) I wrote the book because I am obsessed with the Echo Park area of Los Angeles. You can walk down the street there and buy spells at one store which is right next to a super hipster coffee shop. Where else in the world can you find that? It’s just this super magical place. There are places there that you can only get to by these stairwells. It’s a very unique place for sure. I wanted to couple that atmosphere with women’s relationships between one another. I am very lucky that I have a group of lady friends in my life who are like my rocks. We can get together and just talk and I know that they have my back. I feel like there is not a lot of talking about women’s relationships outside of family. I wanted to write a book would show the other side of things. Basically the book revolves around a coven of witches who are basically forced to interact and deal with one another. I really wanted to write about these types of relationships as it’s something very important to me.

AL: How did the writing of this book differ from that of your previous works?
AB: Working on those first books with Christopher Golden was really wonderful as I was still learning at that time. I had written plays and poetry but never a book. It was like going to University. When I started writing on my own most of the stories tended to be more fluffy and light. It was very much in the young adult world unlike my new book. I had to turn that funny as that tends to be my crutch. I didn’t want to fall back on that crutch as I wanted to do something different and keep the mood fairly serious. It was certainly hard and scary at times to not try and use that crutch.

AL: You also have been doing some co-writing and directing for films. Can you tell a little about that?
AB: I co-directed the movie “Drones” with Adam Busch which was a really amazing experience. I just directed a short titled “Shevenge” which is a pretty dark and edgy piece. There might be some stabbing and fighting going on in that one. (Laughs) In order to make a living being creative you have to be able to wear a lot of different hats. I get bored very easily so I am always looking for new things to try and at the same time things that will pay the bills. It’s a double edged sword. On one side you are able to be creative but on the other side there are times where you just become physically and emotionally exhausted. Even though I might bitch and complain at times I am super fortune to be able to do what I love for a living. I am really lucky.

AL: What was the transition like for you moving from being in front of the camera to working behind it?
AB: When I was working on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” there was often a lot of down time while certain scenes were being set up. I did a lot of reading as I am a huge fan of books but I could only do so much of that. I needed to find something else to keep me busy. That was really where things started to transition. I wanted to explore more of that behind the scenes world and start flexing that muscle.

AL: Speaking of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” when you were working on the series did you and the other cast members ever envision the success that the show would go on to have?
AB: We knew that it was special and that people were connecting to it. The show was just your normal series run. It was really more after the show ended that we are still seeing the magnitude of the shows reach some 12-13 years later. The show is still finding new audience members who are connecting with those characters. People’s lives are changed by the show as they feel connected to this community of fans of the show. It’s really in hindsight that we understand the overall impact. When we were shooting we knew it was special but we couldn’t envision what it has become. For the LGBT community especially the characters Alyson Hannigan and I played the more I am away from those times the more I see how we impacted popular culture. I knew what we were doing was important as we really opened the door for the LGBT community. We didn’t do it gratuitously we played it very real and showed you could have a voice.

AL: Can you tell us about a couple of the other things you have planned for the New Year?
AB: I recently shot a bunch of episodes for the series “Morganville” which people can checkout at www.morganvilletheseries.com. The first 6 episodes are comprised from the first book in the series and Robert Picardo and I play vampires. Working on this was a lot o fun and I love the book series so it’s a great honor to be working on this project. I also did a film called “Desire Will Set You Free” which should be out sometime this year so people can be watching for that as well.

DVD Review “Witches of East End: The Complete First Season”

Starring: Julia Ormond, Mädchen Amick, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Rachel Boston
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: June 24, 2014
Run Time: 418 minutes

Season: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

“Witches of East End” is a new original series from the channel Lifetime and based loosely on the book of the same by Melissa de la Cruz. I wasn’t really planning on watching this show when it aired but something about it drew me in…like I was under a spell…wait a sec?! Or maybe it was the very attractive women in the trailer 😉 This show is smart, sexy and very fun to watch. Looking forward to Season 2 when it returns on Sunday, July 6 on Lifetime.

If you want to talk about “cougars”, this show has got two very attractive women including Julia Ormond (“Sabrina (1995)”) as Joanna Beauchamp and Mädchen Amick (“Twin Peaks”) as Wendy Beauchamp. Then of course, we have Jenna Dewan-Tatum (“Step Up”) as Freya Beauchamp and Rachel Boston (“The Ex List”) as Ingrid Beauchamp only adding to the sexy of the show.

Official Premise: “Witches of East End” stars Emmy award-winning Julia Ormond as Joanna Beauchamp, an ageless mother trying to keep a supernatural secret from her daughters, Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston) so they can lead a normal life. But when Joanna’s estranged sister (Mädchen Amick) arrives to warn her of an evil entity out to destroy them all, Joanna is forced to reveal the truth about her family’s magical legacy.

There are a great group of supporting cast as well, who popped in throughout the series including Virginia Madsen (“Candyman”), Enver Gjokaj (“Dollhouse”), Neil Hopkins (“Skyline”), Matt Frewer (“Lawnmover Man 2”) and Freddie Prinze Jr. (“Star Wars: Rebels”) to name a few.

The special features are not the great but do get a few laughs at least. There is a short featurette called “Falling Under Their Spell”, focusing on the show’s characters. There are some deleted scenes, a gag reel and a cat blooper included. I would have loved to seen some commentary tracks from this great cast.

Theatre Review “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” Kansas City, Missouri

WICKED: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz
October 10, 2013
Music Hall
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

For those not familiar with the story, “Wicked” tells the story of the witches of Oz before they are visited by a certain little girl from Kansas. The two main characters are Glinda the Good Witch (Hayley Podschun) and Elphaba (Jennifer DiNoia) the “Wicked” Witch of the West. The story begins where the well known story of “The Wizard of Oz” ends, Dorothy has just gone back to Kansas and the Munchkins are singing and celebrating now that the Wicked Witch is finally dead. As the celebration and singing continues a question is put to Glinda as to the actual relationship she shared with Elphaba when they were growing up. We are than transported by way of Glinda’s memory to her school days and her first meeting with Elphaba.

As you can probably figure, Glinda and Elphaba were very different from the beginning. Glinda grew up in a higher class family, which made it quite simple to achieve any dream she had. She just had to ask and it was given to her. Even though Elphaba’s father is the Mayor she has a little tiny problem that keeps her from making friends… she is green! Her sole purpose in life is to take care of her beautiful and normal looking sister, Nessarose, who is confined to a wheelchair. We follow Elphaba and Glinda to “college,” where their disdain for each other grows. As time progresses we watch them deal with their differences, their disagreements, their shared following of sorcery and their shared love of the same boy, Fiyero.

What’s most enjoyable about “Wicked” is that the story continually works in the story of “The Wizard of Oz,” with some twists involved that make all to much sense to the story that we already know. We learn how the scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion all come to be. We learn why there must be good to match evil or, in this case, where there must be evil to match good. What we are all lead to do is to accept the thought that we must unlearn what we already know. You will never watch “The Wizard of Oz” again and feel the same way about any of the characters.

Most impressive of “Wicked” was that the story was all new to me, I went in with only expectations of being entertained and satisfied with the production I saw. What I witnessed was something entirely different. It was an emotional experience that left me drained by the end. You’re not sure if you should choose sides; is there a good and evil in this story? Is it all evil? Is it all good? Do I root for just one character or do I just trust that sometimes there can be two right sides to every story? “Wicked” is a top notch production with great music and a fantastic crew currently running in Kansas City through October 27. It’s a story that you should experience at least once. My only regret about the show is that it has taken me ten years to see it!I

The entire cast of “Wicked” in KC was amazing, with special kudos going to DiNoia and Kansas City native Podschun. Many in the cast had played the same roles on Broadway. I could tell from the beginning that this performance would be like nothing I had seen recently at the theater. “Wicked” was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning three, and boasts a Grammy winning soundtrack of such memorable tunes as the Act 1 finale “Defying Gravity.” If “Wicked” blows your way I suggest you go see it before a house drops on YOU!

There are currently two touring companies of “Wicked” making their way around the United States. This cast can next be seen in Des Moines, Indianapolis and Cleveland. For more tour information http://www.wickedthemusical.com/broadway-tickets

Blu-ray Review “The Witches of Oz”

Directed by: Leigh Scott
Starring: Paulie Rojas, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Ethan Embry, Mia Sara
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Distributed: Image Entertainment
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Running Time: 164 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2 out of 5 stars

Alright so “The Wizard of Oz” has been remade many many times from adaptions with Michael Jackson to even cartoon characters, Tom and Jerry. This is a fun, colorful adaption that delivers the action and the laughs. It is an all-around good time and packs some great visual effects for a low-budget film. The casting for this film overall is very fun and impressive. It even brings together two “The Lord of the Rings” alums back together, Billy Boyd and Sean Astin. Ethan Embry plays Frack to Astin’s Frick and delivers some good laughs. We even get an appearance from genre favorites Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs. Lastly Christopher Lloyd has a small role and strongly channels his inner Willy Wonka as the Wizard of Oz.

This adaption though brings Dorothy (Paulie Rojas) into present day New York. She is simple girl from Kansas who gets an offer from a big agency to write children’s books based on the magic world of Oz. Shortly after, Dorothy realizes that maybe these stories from her grandfather are in fact based on reality. The two worlds start blending and the characters from Oz start crossing over into modern day New York City. It is up to Dorothy and her friends to stop the Wicked Witch of the West and her plans for global domination.

The Blu-ray presentation like the film is also surprisingly good. The video works well with the CG effects and its 1080p transfer. The audio sounds great with its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, especially with the special effects and action scenes. The special features on the disc are short and consisting of one extra. There is a behind-the-scenes featurette, which gives you a look into the film’s production from writer/director Leigh Scott. Worth checking out if you liked the film. Lastly there is a trailer included. Very lacking in the “special” features.

Film Review “Dorothy and the Witches of Oz”

Starring: Paulie Rojas, Billy Boyd and Christopher Lloyd
Directed by: Leigh Scott
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hour 50 mins
Palace/Imaginarium Films

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

When you hear the word “OZ” you’re immediately taken back to a magical time in your life. For kids of my generation, the film was a CBS television mainstay. Once a year you plopped down on the living room floor and took that trip over the rainbow. In recent years, the film has been re-released to theatres, giving fans both young and old a chance to see it on the big screen. One of my favorite movie moments EVER was when I did a theatre promotion and had several actual Munchkins in attendance. I was shocked when they told me that they had never seen the film on the big screen before. Imagine my delight as I sat in the same row with them and watched them watch themselves! It was magic. And the magic continues with a new film that explores the world of OZ and gives the tale a whole new spin!

The film opens in the Emerald City. A battle royale is about to take place between the factions of witches, good and bad. The baddies are searching for a magic key that will unlock a book and allow them to run OZ as they wish. Things seem to be going well for the bad witches. Until Dorothy Gale and her house drop in!

Dorothy Gale (Rojas) is a Kansas-born author living in New York City. Her claim to fame is a series of children’s books detailing a young girl’s adventures in the land of OZ. Together with her illustrator, Allen (Ari Zagaris) and agent, Bryan (Barry J. Ratcliffe), she is hoping to seal a movie deal for her stories. But she’s having problems with the proposed star, Ilsa (Sasha Jackson). Despite the fact that Dorothy is an eleven year old girl, Ilsa wants to play her sexed up and wearing leather pants. The deal is being brokered by Billie Westbrook (Eliza Swenson), who has much more invested in the deal then she lets on. After the death of her Uncle Henry (Lance Henriksen), Dorothy discovers that her stories are actually repressed memories…that the books she writes are about her!

It’s obvious that the filmmakers had as much fun making the film as the audience will watching it. Director/writer Scott has not only made a familiar story seem new but has paid homage to the lesser known OZ works of L. Frank Baum. Not only are the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Toto referenced but lesser known characters like Princess Langwidere (played by “Ferris Buellers” Mia Sara), Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead. The cast is strong, with Rojas very believable as a young woman who, like eleven year old Dorothy, must face her fears. Other familiar faces include Boyd, Ethan Embry and Sean Astin (they play a pair of diminutive jokers named Frick and Frack) and, of course, Christopher Lloyd, playing the wizard by way of Willy Wonka. It’s especially fun to watch the interaction between former Hobbits Boyd and Astin as they bicker about. The special effects are quite well done and mostly CGI. Even though the film is rated PG there are some scary parts that might frighten some little ones. And the score is marvelous. That it was written by actress Eliza Swenson (see above) came as a complete surprise. The film rises and falls with the score and the music sets the tone of the film brilliantly.

“Dorothy and the Witches of Oz” is currently playing in Phoenix and opens on February 24 in Kansas City and Louisville with more cities being added weekly.