Amber Tamblyn knows what she wants. She’s a woman of strong convictions, her beliefs couched in the wryness and warmth that she radiates. And if you rub Tamblyn the wrong way— say, by buying into centuries-old misogynistic ideals — she’ll confront you, head-on, in her own way. Which is why one of the first things Tamblyn did when Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual abuses were exposed in early October was call her old friend Quentin Tarantino, and ask him to dinner to talk some things out.
“I very much made a pointed effort,” Tamblyn told me on the occasion of our second meeting, in an emptied-out midtown cigar club in early December. After Weinstein’s fall, everyone in the producer’s circle — directors, actors, agents, board members — found themselves under fire, accused of being complicit in the harassment and/or assault of at least 70 women. Tarantino, for his part, had worked closely with Weinstein since the early ’90s; the producer was a complicated father figure to Tarantino’s fabled auteur. “I was able to just sit and be a real sounding board for him,” she said, adding that Tarantino “understood in that moment how severe the accusations were” but that he “was also really blindsided by it, by the scope of it.”
Tamblyn’s goal was to listen — but also to guide. “I more or less told him what I would tell any man, which is to own the way in which you were complicit in this,” she said. “Own your complacency. Say it.” As she wrote on Twitter shortly after their dinner, Tamblyn viewed it as a “come to Jesus conversation.” The crux of her stance was the importance of facing one’s sins; of speaking out publicly as a crucial step in how the industry moves forward in dealing with toxicity and rape culture. So Tamblyn connected Tarantino with Jodi Kantor, one of the New York Times journalists who reported out the Weinstein story. (Tarantino has confirmed this.)
“I feel like that would be the title of my memoir someday: Helping Them Get There.” She paused, then added a subtitle: “The Story of Men.”
Tamblyn wanted Tarantino to face the woman who had spoken to Weinstein’s alleged victims while reporting the story. “I felt like that was a really important full circle that he needed to come to.” As a result of her guidance, Tarantino issued a statement on Weinstein through Tamblyn’s social media. He also talked to Kantor for an interview in which he said, among other things, that when it came to Weinstein, he’d known “enough to do more than [he] did.”
“It was just sort of about helping him get there,” Tamblyn said. “I feel like that would be the title of my memoir someday: Helping Them Get There.” She paused, then added a subtitle: “The Story of Men.”
An actor, poet, director, and soon-to-be-published novelist, Tamblyn has been a citizen of Hollywood her entire life. The daughter of Peyton’s Place, West Side Story, and Twin Peaks actor Russ Tamblyn and singer-songwriter Bonnie Murray Tamblyn, she started working in show business at the age of 11. Tamblyn spent her formative years on the set of General Hospital, followed by a stretch on the set of Joan of Arcadia in her early twenties. Later, through the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies, she harnessed the potent nostalgia of young women who came of age in the ’00s. She’s published three poetry books and directed a movie (Paint It Black starring Alia Shawkat, which hits Netflix Feb. 1). She’s also written extensively on the subject of women’s status in politics and Hollywood, and campaigned hard for Hillary Clinton in both 2008 and 2016.
“Obviously we’re in this watershed moment, but I don’t think that it changes the way that Amber [is speaking out],” comedian Aisha Tyler told me in December. She and Tamblyn bonded four years ago when they were both preparing to direct their first features. “Feminists have been saying the same things for a very long time, and now we’re reaching critical mass,” Tyler said.
“Even prior to this culminating moment, Amber’s always been really fearless, and unrelenting.”
Tamblyn also puts a high premium on female anger: Since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States in 2016, it’s the main emotion that has fueled her actions. “I am pro-anger,” she told me multiple times when we met in October. “I am anti-passivity.”
Author Roxane Gay, who works with Tamblyn on an ongoing reading series called Feminist As Fuck, said she finds Tamblyn “really interesting.” “She’s really, really warm. She’s very funny. And very generous,” Gay said. “She’s always trying to connect people, and she knows everyone. It’s always astounding how many people she knows and how effectively she can just get shit done.” One of the things Gay admires about Tamblyn is the way she asserts herself, assessing what she thinks a given situation needs. “She’s very smart about when to use her voice, and also how, and where,” Gay said.
And when misogyny and sexual abuses in Hollywood took center stage in the national conversation, Tamblyn dove in.
Amber Tamblyn at the Carnegie Club in New York on Dec. 6, 2017.
Victoria Will for BuzzFeed News
Three weeks before the New York Times' Weinstein story went live, Tamblyn replied to a tweet about the actor James Woods after actor Armie Hammer had gotten into a tiff with him on Twitter. Woods had denounced the age difference in the queer romance Call Me by Your Name and hashtagged the tweet #NAMBLA, in reference to the North American Man/Boy Love Association that works to abolish age of consent laws. Hammer had struck back with reference to Woods’ previous relationship with Ashley Madison — who was 19 when she and Woods, then 59, started dating.
Tamblyn knew Hammer from their time filming 2008’s Blackout, a horror film about three people trapped in an elevator. She considered him an old friend. So when she saw the quote-tweet on her timeline, she took a peek. “I thought, I know Armie, so I opened it and looked at the chain,” Tamblyn told me. “I thought, Oh my god, I remember that guy [Woods], and I tweeted the thing. There was no big intention behind it.”
In 138 characters, Tamblyn shared her own experience: “James Woods tried to pick me and my friend up at a restaurant once,” she wrote. “He wanted to take us to Vegas. ‘I'm 16’ I said. ‘Even better’ he said.”
The story blew up, her tweet racking up over 10,000 retweets and over 37,000 likes. On Twitter, Woods called Tamblyn’s allegation “a lie.” Tamblyn responded with an open letter to Woods published on Teen Vogue and an op-ed in the New York Times titled “I’m Done With Not Being Believed.” The op-ed, with its fairly self-explanatory title, concludes with this: “The women I know, myself included, are done … playing the credentials game. We are learning that the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir. And the more we are a choir, the more the tune is forced to change.” (Woods did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Tamblyn didn’t plan for the Woods situation to spiral into op-ed territory. “I probably would have just let it go,” she said. “But to make a big fuss, and then call me a liar? He just fucked with the wrong one.” In the process, Tamblyn and Woods both became the faces of a mini reckoning that happened to take place just before the Weinstein investigations would inspire a much more massive cultural moment and movement.
“He just fucked with the wrong one.”
When I first sat down with Tamblyn, it was a month after the Woods incident, in a candle-lit bar near her Clinton Hill home. Roughly two weeks had passed since the New York Times’ Weinstein investigation had been published. Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Rose McGowan, Kate Beckinsale, Cara Delevigne, Asia Argento, and many more had come forward to say that they’d been assaulted or harassed by Weinstein. Terry Crews, Ellen Page, Selma Blair, Anthony Rapp, and others followed with allegations about others in Hollywood. Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement had found new life, taking over Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds with stories from people all over the world who’d endured sexual harassment and assault. Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios, had resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. “I’ve felt less alone this week than I’ve ever felt in my entire career,” Reese Witherspoon said during a speech that week — one in which she revealed her own assault by a director at the age of 16.
The first time Tamblyn and I met, in mid-October, the air was thick with the kind of energy that’s born when pain meets long-awaited catharsis. The topic taking over headlines — of sexual misconduct embedded in some of our most famous institutions — came up naturally. Specifically, it entered the conversation when Tamblyn brought up how poetry sustained her through life as a child star.
“People always ask me how much acting has informed my activism, or my artistry, or my filmmaking, or my writing,” she said. “But it is poetry, fundamentally, that has informed those things.”
“People always ask me how much acting has informed my activism, or my artistry, or my filmmaking, or my writing,” she said. “But it is poetry, fundamentally, that has informed those things. I was able to find myself through my ability to speak towards the things I didn’t quite understand yet because I was so young. Things about sexism, and misogyny, about a business that endemically does not care about women.”
Free Stallion, her first book of poetry, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2005. It compiled poems Tamblyn had written between the ages of 11 and 21. “It’s very raw, and nubile almost,” she said, noting that the book is “filled with someone who knows that they’re angry about a system but isn’t sure why yet.”
And that brings us to the current reckoning, propelled by Hollywood and spread across various industries. “This is a big conversation, because we’re talking about a lot of very attractive white women who are suddenly getting a [long-existing] narrative to be talked about, and that’s difficult,” Tamblyn said. “At the same time, these are people who have been forced through a patriarchal system to be part of that system as far as representing what women should or shouldn’t be. That’s not a thing where you can say, ‘Reese, why didn’t you fix that?’ That’s on no woman. That’s on no woman.”
Victoria Will for BuzzFeed News
For Tamblyn, the stories of abuse and misogyny in Hollywood brought up memories of her own. As she told me and wrote in a Times op-ed before the Golden Globes, when she was 23 and preparing to star in The Grudge 2, the film’s director, Takashi Shimizu, pulled her aside three weeks before production and suggested she lose five pounds. At that point, her weight was somewhere in the 120s. “I’m 5’7”,” she told me. “There’s a time in which that wasn’t funny to me — and now it’s funny, because it was so ridiculous.” (Shimizu did not respond to requests for comment.)
Tamblyn also wrote about her own assault, posting about it on Instagram during the 2016 election when Trump’s comments on grabbing women by the pussy went public. As she describes it, an ex-boyfriend grabbed her by her vagina and forcibly carried her out of a club.
“Women, especially actresses, don’t speak about [abuses] because you’re trained not to,” Tamblyn said. Even Tamblyn, who’s long been vocal, had a moment of panic after her allegation against Woods made news. On the phone with her agent, Tamblyn asked: “‘Did I just fuck up? Did I just hurt my career?’” Her agent, Nancy Gates at UTA, comforted her. “She adamantly said, ‘No, the opposite. Truly the opposite,’” Tamblyn said. “I’m fortunate to have a very powerful, amazing female agent who’s not afraid of stuff like that. But I’ve been around long enough and have been with agents who are.”
In 2016, while heavily pregnant, Tamblyn toured from state to state trying her hardest to make the first female president happen. “That was its own morbidity,” she said of being pregnant during that time. She even went on Lip Sync Battle with her best friend and fellow activist America Ferrera, dressed as an orange-faced Trump and gyrating to “I Wanna Sex You Up.” And when Clinton lost — and Trump won — Tamblyn says it radicalized her. “There’s just no other way of putting it,” she said. “And part of that radicalization is that I actually now will choose to believe the woman first without evidence. And I actually want to go from that. I want the man to prove he’s innocent. And that’s a very dangerous stance to take, I understand, but I don’t trust the American judicial system to tell us.”
“People are tired of hearing them? Great. Keep talking,” she said.