You likely know Amber Tamblyn as Tibby in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or Jenny Harper on Two and a Half Men, but the 35-year-old actress, producer, director, and co-founder of #TimesUp, is also making waves as a writer — most recently for her debut novel, Any Man. “[Acting] is not at the forefront of my mind anymore,” Tamblyn says, sitting across from me at a press day in New York City. “It hasn’t really challenged me in recent years, so I’ve turned my eye to [other] things.”
For now, one of those other things is Any Man, a novel that focuses on six male survivors who have fallen victim to a serial rapist, known only by her screen name, “Maude.” While the book’s release coincides with a cultural turning point for sexual assault, Tamblyn started writing it years ago — while she was pregnant, no less.
“The story always comes back to power, and even Maude, the woman who does all these horrible things, is in herself sort of an act of power,” Tamblyn tells me. “Here’s a woman who is capable of doing anything she wants without repercussions, much in the way that men get to do every single day of their lives. … I wanted to look at what that would look like both from that perspective, a woman without consequences who does horrible things for power, and also what it’s like when men just don’t get to have the narrative. When they don’t get to say, ‘This is what she is.’ When they literally don’t even know what she looks like.”
Speaking with Tamblyn, it’s clear that everything she does is executed deliberately, with a message of progress and social justice in mind. Any Man makes a clear and deliberate point, that “at the center of acts of sexual assault and violence is power” — a message she underscores by creating her narrative around the act of men being raped, implicitly raising questions about how rape might be handled differently if it affected men in the same numbers that it affects women. According to RAINN, one in 10 rape victims is a man.
Tamblyn’s first memories of activism date back to her teen years when she heard Hillary Clinton. “I remember actually seeing Hillary Clinton speak at a private house party that Mary Steenburgen took me to,” Tamblyn says, mentioning the actress who played her mom on Joan of Arcadia. “As a direct result of that, I think I was like 17, I remember really wanting to hone my civic duty, and I went and I signed up to work the polls during the next election. Because I couldn’t vote, basically I was the person who sat and took people’s IDs and checked them in to come in and vote, and I did that for a couple of years. It sort of spun out after that, I’ve worked with Planned Parenthood for well over a decade, even going down to D.C. and speaking with senators and in Congress for them.”
Years later, Tamblyn got the opportunity to work with Clinton directly. “America Ferrara and I co-ran Hillary Clinton’s youth outreach program in 2008, and then again I think I did 35 cities with her in her campaign for this last election,” Tamblyn says. “Chelsea and I [still] text and we’re like, ‘Let’s go get a glass of wine,’ and I still have not brought myself to say how I feel about her mother. That’s how painful [Hillary’s loss] is. I can’t even tell her daughter.”
In addition to her work as an activist, actress, and author, Tamblyn was recently named a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, so she will now have the opportunity to vote on Oscar winners. “To me, it’s so important that the voting membership of those that get to say what is worthy of our largest awards is representative of the world at large and the world that goes to see films,” she says. “My dad is an Academy voter, and he’s been in the business since he was 9 years old, and he’s been an Academy voter for well over three decades. … I grew up thinking: ‘This place is for people like my dad. Guys like my dad get to come be members at this thing.’ And not only that, even the movies that you’re seeing onscreen, you’re like, OK, that’s what a woman gets to play. In a certain subconscious way, it would always go back to that — ‘Oh, she gets to play the wife, or she gets to play like the sexual object or like the frumpy, quirky character actress.’ Whatever those archetypes are.”
As for what comes next, Tamblyn says: “I’ll tell you what I won’t do — fix up my face so that I can play one of those archetypes I just mentioned. I’ll just disappear to Vermont and go write more terrifying female antagonists and just tug on my one chin hair, like, ‘I remember when I was in the entertainment business way back when.’”
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