Amber Tamblyn, from Joan of Arcadia and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants but did you know that her first job was on the soap, General Hospital?
At the age of 12, when I was busy reading comic books, she was appearing on the classic daytime drama as ‘Emily Quartermain.’ She was on the show for six years before turning to guest spots on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Two years later, she was starring in her own show, the much-loved show, Joan of Arcadia.
She’s currently in Danny Boyle’s excellent new film, 127 Hours and starting tonight, she joins House for a multi-episode arc as ‘Martha Masters’, a brilliant but inexperienced medical student.
I talked to her on a media conference call where she talked about House, the atmosphere on set and whether she thinks she’s matured as an actress.
For the full interview, click onto the audio link above or download from iTunes.
What type of medical research did you have to do for the role?
Amber Tamblyn: I didn’t do any medical research. I did episode-by-episode research. So, if something was involving smallpox, then I would look that up. If there was a specific word I didn’t know, which is about 90% of the words, I would look up that and see what it meant.
As far as the on-set training when you’re trying to do something like draw blood and IV’s, they have a woman there who’s incredible who was a nurse for many, many years and then retired to come be on the show and help us learn how to do anything that we’re doing on that episode. So, if we’re giving someone a trach, if we’re taking blood, if we’re— Anything that we do, she teaches us and shows us how to do it and makes sure it’s the right way. That’s the training. There was no reading anything beforehand.
How are you with that stuff? Are you squeamish around blood?
Amber: No, not at all. I’m not squeamish at all. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. It’s very fast-paced. You get very good at doing it. Then, you feel like, “Man, if one of my friends, if something happened to them, I might be able to actually help,” which is dumb and not a smart thing to think but I do think that way. I feel, in an emergency, I could probably give CPR now.
What was your impression of Martha Masters when you first read the script?
Amber: The part of Martha Masters was originally just an idea. David Shore and Katie Jacobs had come to me and said, “We want to write a character for you. Are you interested?” I said, “Yes.” Then, it wasn’t until I had signed on and did a bunch of episodes that I finally got to see a script. It was a very personal thing to me because the character is based on my real life best friend who is a med student. Her real name is Martha Meredith Masters. In fact, they had made her sign a release saying she wouldn’t sue Fox. Pretty hilarious, but she is a med student. She’s very much like this character. I’m not saying anything out of turn or mean about her, but she’s incredibly brilliant, but sometimes she can be very socially awkward.
I wanted to ask you just a little bit about what appealed to you about joining a series like House for a short period of time. What was it about that you were excited about?
Amber: Well, the main thing was, of course, Hugh Laurie. I had never seen the show before, but as soon as they came to me and said they wanted to write something, I went, “Oh, I don’t want to do a medical show. That doesn’t sound very fun to me.” I started asking my friends. They all went, “Are you an idiot? It’s not a medical show. You’ve never seen it?” I went, “No.” I felt very stupid forever thinking that.
What’s it like to join a series that’s already in progress?
Amber: I just fell right into it naturally with them. Maybe they even were a little relieved because I can imagine, being such a well-oiled machine like that, if you have someone come in and it slows down the machine a little bit, it can be maybe frustrating. I don’t know, but we just clicked instantly, all of us. I’ve always preferred working with large groups of guys. So, it’s a perfect work environment for me.
What part of this character do you enjoy the most?
Amber: I love the fact that she is so filled with non-sequiturs. That, to me, is fun, to try to act the fact that when Martha is not talking about scientific or medical things, when she’s just trying to talk to somebody about their life or her life, that it just comes out in non-sequitur sentences and bad, poorly judged metaphors. I love her awkwardness, how incredibly awkward she is. It just gives the character so much potential to grow.
From what you saw of House versus actually being there and being on the set, what surprised you the most versus the other shows you worked on?
Amber: I think it’s how well oiled they all are. How well everyone works together, and not just the actors, but the producers and the writers. They’ve got it down to a science in how they do things there. It’s nice. I feel a lot of other shows, certainly ones I’ve been on, could take a cue from how well they run their show.
Do you prefer TV or film?
Amber: Oh. I like them all. I mean, I have a movie coming out this week, the Danny Boyle film, 127 Hours. That was also incredible, equally as incredible as this experience has been. Actually, Danny Boyle and Hugh Laurie are very similar in a lot of ways in the sense of what powerhouses and geniuses they are, but how humble and interested in what they’re doing they are. That’s always a great thing. There’s a lot of trust going on. So, either one. I mean, as long as you’re doing something fun, it could be an off Broadway play. If you’re having a great experience, and you feel like you’re developing something that people will love, then it doesn’t matter to me. They’re all good.
I noticed in doing the research here that you have a new blog, AmTam.com. You mentioned your book that you’ve written. I’m wondering how you see the difference between your acting in film and television and the creative spark you get out of and the thing that feeds your desire to write, the difference between the two and what you get out of writing.
Amber: One informs the other more, but acting and writing both inform each other in certain ways and help to support each other’s purpose in my life. I know that writing has helped me get through the transition from a teenager to a woman, where you are suddenly expected to be a sex symbol of some sort. Suddenly, you’re not this cute thing anymore. You’re supposed to look a certain way. You’re supposed to play these certain parts. I had a really hard time adjusting to that when I was like, maybe about 17 years old. Writing helped me a lot to make fun of that and be angry about it and just get all my frustrations out without doing it in a real public way.
You’ve been in a lot of great things recently. 127 Hours, now House and Todd Margaret. I know that you were offered House, but how do you go about picking your roles?
Amber: Well, 127 Hours was very easy. It’s a small role, but I feel like an important role in a film where there’s only a couple people, well, really only just James Franco in the movie. So, I felt like that was a cool role to pursue to be the comedic relief of it, to be the dopamine of the film in a very heavy film about someone who cuts his arm off.
Todd Margaret is just the luck of the draw. David Cross is my boyfriend. He said, “Can I write this thing in here for you?” I said, “Yes.” So, that’s how that part was decided.
What’s your advice to actors?
Amber: I try not to give advice because I feel like you can really lead someone astray. All I tell actors is that it’s really a very, very difficult industry. You need to be ready to be rejected 5,000 times, over and over again. The rejection part of it can be rough. I think I often tell people to think about looking at soap operas first, audition for soap operas. It’s one of the best mediums to sort of get your foot in, as long as you don’t start having like soap opera-ish acting. You have to be very careful to stay out of the melodrama of it, but as an exercise, as a way to be on a set every day and exercise your emotional intelligence and do all that, I think it’s a very, very, very good way to start off in the business. They do open casting for that all the time, too. I think getting out of soaps is the hard part, but if I did it, I feel like anybody could do it.
What was it like working on the House set the very first day?
Amber: The first day was a lot of fun. I don’t know if you’ve watched the show, but they often do where they’re trying to diagnose their case, they sit around the office. They throw ideas around. It’s a lot of dialogue and can be difficult. That was my first couple of days, actually, but it was really fun. Sitting that closely with everybody, you really get to start to meet everybody and get to know them. It was great. It was almost too easy. I wish I had some crazy story for you about how mean somebody was, but it was nothing like that.
How did you get into the character? Did the character speak to you right away?
Amber: Well, the character did because it’s based on somebody that I know very well whose real name is Martha Meredith Masters. My friend, Meredith, is similar to this character, but this character is in a very exaggerated version of her, but she is in med school. She often makes jokes that I don’t understand that are about Euler’s Number or something that I bet I, and most people in the room, don’t know what she’s talking about. So, she can be a little socially awkward sometimes, which is what the character, Masters, is like on the show. I feel like I’m very fortunate to have at least the building blocks to create this character. Then, everything else, I just ran with it.
Do you feel that you’ve matured as an actress?
Amber: I hope I’ve come a long way since 10, 15 years ago now, General Hospital, but yes, I try to choose things that are fun and interesting and things that I enjoy doing. I would hate to ever be in a position where I’m going, “Why did I do this? I hate this so much. I’m not having fun. I’m not creating anything.” So, yes, it’s been a really fun experience.