Amanda Grace Benitez is a triple threat – the actress is also a trained dancer and drummer. Growing up with set decorator parents, she soon realized that being in front of the camera was her true passion. Her first horror project was the cult classic All Cheerleaders Die. Now, she stars as Amber in The Ranger, where an unhinged park ranger stalks a group of unsuspecting 80s punk kids through the woods. Thrilled at the opportunity to relive her high school punk glory, Amanda jumped at the chance – and left us wondering how the punks are going to escape in a pre-cell phone world.
Cliché: You burst onto the horror stage with All Cheerleaders Die. What was the experience of filming that like? Did you know you wanted to act in thrillers prior to that, or was there a particular moment where you thought “This is the genre for me?”
Amanda Grace Benitez: I had such a killer time! I worked with two incredibly talented directors who had an extensive work history with the horror/thriller genre that developed a large cult following, so I knew right away that this film would look and feel cinematically awesome. All cast and crew went above and beyond and never failed to create a family environment on set everyday. I never knew that I’d wind up digging the idea of being involved in such a flick, because I am the biggest baby you will ever meet when it comes to the world of horror cinema. My perception has now changed, of course, due to having an utter blast. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to be covered in blood and kill people vampire-style. It definitely had its perks!
Your new film, The Ranger, is about 80s punks going up against a deranged park ranger. What’s the intention behind setting the film in the 80s?
I believe it was to have a retro style film that capitalized on 80s punk music and lifestyle. Not to mention, it was pre-cellphone era, which helped the story tremendously in regards to the punks not being able to have the ability to phone out for help.
What attracted you to such an unusual concept?
I was given a lookbook before ever signing onto this project. After reading, my immediate reaction was that I needed to be involved in such an artistic endeavor. I was a punk kid all throughout junior high and high school. I never thought in my wildest imagination that I’d be able to relive those days. It was super cool!
Tell us about your character, Amber.
Amber is the ultimate life of the party, complete with blue hair. She’s a free spirit who left her privileged background behind to try the punk scene on for size. At the end of the day, she’s just seeking acceptance and love, which happens to be all in the wrong places. Being involved with the punk scene back in the day, assuming the role of Amber was a natural fit. Although, she is a tad cooler than I was.
The main struggle for survival takes place in the woods. How do you think this contributes to the overall mood of the film? The woods are definitely a symbolic motif for horror.
It’s very interesting how the woods can be so beautiful during the day and yet such a freakish environment at night. For this style, it creates a realm of anything can happen and there’s seemingly no way out.
In a total acting 180, you also have a lead role in Emerson Heights, a romance. Why the leap between horror and romance? Do you prefer one over the other, acting-wise?
I do not prefer any specific genre over the other. If I am attracted to the story, it grabs me, moves me, then that’s it. As for portraying a role, it needs to challenge me.
You’re also a professional drummer! What did you fall in love with first, music or acting?
To be honest, my first love was dancing. This led to performing at grammar school talent shows, where I really got the bug to perform. Both my parents are set decorators, and sometimes I would fake being sick so I could ditch school and go to work with them because I loved the atmosphere on set. The actors really seemed like they enjoyed being there, and I thought if you could play make believe for a living that would be a dream. At around the same time, I began messing around with the drums at guitar center, just for kicks. Before I knew it, I was taking acting, drumming, and dance lessons. But even though I enjoy several aspects of performing, I would have to say that being in front of a camera is where I feel most fulfilled.
Who are your musical inspirations?
I am a big big fan of 60s and 70s rock music, specifically Guns and Roses, Motley Crue, and Stray Cats. Tommy Lee for drumming, hands down.
What’s something you’re looking forward to this summer?
Getting that nice summer tan!
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Cliché Gets Horror Struck with Amanda Grace Benitez. Photo Credit: Dean Foreman.