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Amber Tamblyn knew it would take something special to convince her to act again.
A working actress since the age of nine, Tamblyn has spent the last two decades growing up on screen — an upbringing that has made her privy to years of gender discrimination in Hollywood.
In her new book “Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution,” Tamblyn describes being told to lose weight in order to be considered for major roles; being asked to contribute ideas to scripts without receiving credit; and watching her directorial debut “Paint It Black” get rejected from a prominent indie film distributor for no other reason, she believes, but that she is a woman. She also revisits her account of James Woods trying to lure her and a friend to Las Vegas when she was 16, which Woods denies.
During the life-changing period for which “Era of Ignition” is named, Tamblyn tells the story of how she broke free from the expectations that came with her past as a child actress, and emerged instead as an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and equal representation. Now, she’s ready to return to the screen for a project that combines her passions for both acting and telling women’s stories.
“I felt like it was gonna take something pretty profound for me to want to act again,” she said of the upcoming FX series “Y: The Last Man,” based on a comic-book series in which all the men (except one) die spontaneously and women take control of every aspect of society. Tamblyn will star.
“It was one of the best scripts I’ve ever read,” she says.
As a writer, director, producer, poet, and founding member of the Time’s Up organization, Tamblyn refuses to conform to one definition of what it means to be a woman, artist, or activist.
Her hope for “Era of Ignition” she says, is that it will help readers feel “engaged and part of the solution.” Her aim isn’t to preach to the choir, but to bring others into the conversation — so that they can do the same for the people in their life.
“The days of no politics at the dinner table are over,” she says, stressing that men are not to be left out as they, too play an essential part of getting marginalized voices into what she refers to in the book as “the room where it happens.”
Asked if she had a message to send to men in Hollywood — those in positions of power who have the ability to affect change — Tamblyn pointed out that they don’t all fit into one group.
“There are men who are a bit like ostriches and want to stick their heads in the sand and say ‘It doesn’t affect me so, I don’t have to do anything. If I just hide then it will go away,’” she says. “And then there are other men who have been incredible allies and incredibly supportive, and men themselves who are survivors, like Terry Crews, for instance. The most important thing is to ask them to come join us. We know that we can’t do it without them.”
The first step towards a solution, she says, is to listen to what marginalized groups have to say.
“In this case, we would be asking women and minorities and voices that have been traditionally left out of the entertainment business, both in front of and behind the camera, what they need, as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, I know what you need.’ That’s been the problem for too long,” she says. “We don’t need men to be representing what we need. We need support. And that goes for women in positions of power too.”
Tamblyn speaks from experience. Some of her earliest roles were in the late ’90s, in soaps like “Port Charles” and “General Hospital.” In 2003, she landed her first lead role playing a girl who talks to God in the television series “Joan of Arcadia.” In 2005 she landed arguably her best-known role as Tibby in “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” and later went on to do stints on TV shows like “House,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Inside Amy Schumer,” and “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” alongside her husband, comedian David Cross.
But in the last few years, Tamblyn has stopped actively pursuing acting roles in favor of other artistic pursuits. In 2017, she directed her first film, “Paint It Black” — the same year she wrote her first New York Time’s op-ed, “Amber Tamblyn: I’m Done With Not Being Believed.”
That year proved to be an explosive one, not just for Tamblyn, but for the entertainment industry at large: It was the year that saw the #MeToo movement legitimized, heralding the birth of Time’s Up. Tamblyn signed and helped facilitate the open letter that ran in the New York Times on Jan. 1, 2018, pledging support for working-class women across all industries.
Since then, Tamblyn has written two books: 2018’s “Any Man” about a serial woman rapist who targets men, and “Era of Ignition,” which came out March 5. She also gave birth to her first daughter, Marlow Alice Cross, to whom her latest book is dedicated.
Looking back on the decades-long acting career that led her to where she is today, Tamblyn says it’s been “a love-hate relationship.”
“I don’t think that the entire experience of acting has to be the center of my universe, which is how I was raised to believe,” she says. “It was the only thing I ever knew growing up. So I think it’s really great for me to have a good separation from that and to enjoy all of the work that I’m doing now, which crosses all genres and mediums.”
Now, Tamblyn is re-entering the world of acting with a fresh perspective. Enter “Y: The Last Man.” The pilot has already been shot, and the series is slated to premiere in 2020. Tamblyn will play Mariette Callows, who she says is “unlike any character I’ve ever played before in my life, hands down.” The daughter of the president of the United States, Mariette is groomed for a career in politics, expected to take up the mantle of her father’s conservative values.
“I think one of the reasons that I’m so excited to do ‘Y: The Last Man’ is because I have all of those things under my belt now, and now I feel free in a certain way. … It’s been a tough journey getting here, but I’m proud of it and I’m proud of the work that I’ve created and will continue to create.”