May 14, 1983 • Santa Monica, California
Most people talk to God in the privacy of their own homes, but when Amber Tamblyn talks to God she does it while eleven million other people watch. As the star of the surprise CBS television hit Joan of Arcadia, the twenty-one-year-old Tamblyn plays Joan Girardi a normal teenager who just happens to have the extraordinary ability to have one-on-one conversations with the "man upstairs." Considering the onslaught of reality-based programming, Joan was considered to be a refreshingly intelligent drama, and its star was viewed as one of the most promising newcomers on TV. Tamblyn, however, was actually a television veteran who virtually grew up on the small screen where, from age eleven to age seventeen, she played Emily Quartermaine on the long-running daytime soap opera, General Hospital. In the mid-2000s, Tamblyn was also broadening her fan base because of her activism. A vocal advocate for such diverse causes as autism and voting, she redefined the definition of what it means to be a modern celebrity.
Amber Tamblyn's show biz connections go way back. Her paternal grandfather, Eddie Tamblyn, was a vaudeville headliner and a film star of the 1930s; her father, Russ Tamblyn, (1935–) is a legendary song-and-dance man known for his roles in such movie musicals as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and West Side Story (1961). Prior to becoming a teen counselor, mother Bonnie pursued a career as an artist and sang lead in a rock band called Blue Heaven and the Rainbow Girl. As Tamblyn commented to Soap Opera Weekly, "All you have to do is smush them together and you have me."
When Amber Rose Tamblyn was born on May 14, 1983, in Santa Monica, California, she not only inherited her parents' show business genes, she also inherited an extended family in the form of her parents' celebrity friends. Tamblyn grew up around such Hollywood heavyweights as actor Dennis Hopper (1936–) and music great Neil Young (1945–), and listening to their stories, and those of her famous father, fueled an early interest in performing. From the age of five she attended an experimental school in California called the Santa Monica Alternative Schoolhouse, also known as SMASH. It was a creative arts center, with a focus on theater. While a student at SMASH, Tamblyn appeared in over thirteen plays, including a starring turn as Pippi Longstocking when she was in the fourth grade. Longstocking is the pigtailed character featured in books by children's author Astrid Lindgren (1907–2002). It was this particular play that helped launch Tamblyn's own celebrity.
"I think young girls should have someone to look up to who has a brain and ideas."
Longtime family friend and casting agent Sharon Debord caught a performance of the play, and was so impressed that she urged the Tamblyns to let Amber go out on a few auditions. At first Russ Tamblyn was reluctant. He knew about the pitfalls of the business and did not want his daughter to be hurt or disappointed. "I wanted her to grow up first," he explained to Anne Marie Cruz of People. "I thought auditions would burn her out." But, after some persistent nagging from Debord, Russ relented, and within just a few months Tamblyn had landed small roles in three indie films: Biker Poet (1994), Rebellious (1995), and Live Nude Girls (1995).
J oan of Arcadia is a very modern twist on the story of Joan of Arc, a peasant girl-turned-soldier who lived in France during the 1400s. Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d'Arc in French, was born circa 1412, the third child of Jacques D'arc, a farmer, and his wife, Isabelle de Vouthon. Joan had a very ordinary childhood. She spent her days tending her father's sheep, studying religion, and learning housekeeping skills from her mother. But, when she was twelve years old, she began to hear voices, which she believed came from messengers of God. According to Joan, these messengers told her that it was her mission to help free her country from English rule. At the time England dominated a portion of the country and the infant English king Henry VI (1421–1471) was proclaimed ruler of France.
The voices ordered Joan to cut her hair, dress in a soldier's uniform, and take to the battlefield. The people of France were convinced that her mission was divinely inspired and Joan was named a captain in the French army. In 1429 she led her troops to victory in the battle of Orleans, where the English were defeated and ultimately Charles VII (1403–1461) assumed his rightful role as the French monarch. At his coronation, Joan was given a place of honor. In 1430, however, she was captured and sold to the English. The next year, 1431, the young heroine was accused of being a witch and a heretic (someone who challenges the beliefs of the Church). After fourteen months of being questioned and tortured she was found guilty by the English court. On May 30, 1431, at the age of nineteen, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. She was eventually found to be innocent of all charges, and she was made a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 1920. Today she is considered to be a patron saint of France and is known as the Maid of Orleans.
In the winter of 1994, when she was just eleven years old, Tamblyn auditioned for the daytime soap opera General Hospital (GH) . The role of Emily Quartermaine was originally supposed to be short-term, but Tamblyn quickly became a favorite of fans and she ended up spending the next seven seasons playing the sweet, but often rebellious Emily. Going from California schoolgirl to full-time actress was not easy at first. "I couldn't play or go to birthday parties anymore," Tamblyn revealed to Cruz. "It was hard not to have relations with kids my age." As she grew older trying to maintain a balance between working and being a regular teenager became even harder. Life on the soap meant getting up at dawn, going to work at 6 A.M. , and not returning home until about 8 o'clock at night. Given such a grueling schedule, Tamblyn's regular life was not so regular. While she attended public school some of the time, Tamblyn also had a teacher on the set. And, instead of going to pep rallies and proms like most kids, Tamblyn was busy promoting the soap at special events around the country and giving interviews to the press.
At the same time Tamblyn was growing by leaps and bounds as an actress. Emily was regularly featured in prominent storylines, many of which involved hard-hitting topics. First her mother died of cancer, and later a teenage Emily battled a drug addiction. Fans of all ages responded positively to the character's ups and downs, and eventually Tamblyn became one of the most popular actresses on GH . In addition, critics regularly praised Tamblyn for her insightful and mature performance. As Linda Susman of Soap Opera Weekly commented, "Since her early days on the soap, Tamblyn has consistently demonstrated a grasp of material that might be tricky for someone so young. She has elevated herself from child actor to peer in a cast of exceptionally talented players." Tamblyn also received several honors for her portrayal of Emily, including two awards given by the Hollywood Reporter for Best Young Actress in a Daytime Series.
In 2001, just before she turned eighteen, Tamblyn faced a triple whammy: she graduated from high school, she moved out of her parents' house to live on her own, and she decided to leave the comfort of her TV family on General Hospital. The decision was not an easy one since had been with the show since she was eleven years old. But, after going back and forth with her agent and her mother, Tamblyn made up her mind that it was time to go. "There comes a point in every actor's life," she explained to Rosemary Rossi of Soaps in Depth, "where they reach a stepping stone, and they have a choice to go around it or step up on it to see what the higher land can bring them." She also added, however, that the step was a bit frightening. "I'm coming out of the nest" she told Rossi. "Big time."
Toward the end of her General Hospital stint, Tamblyn had auditioned for roles on film and television, but her hectic schedule forced her to pass on more than one choice offer. Once free of her contract, she quickly landed guest spots on several prime time television shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Boston Public, and CSI: Miami. Tamblyn also snagged a small role in the big-screen thriller The Ring (2002). In spring of 2002, however, the actress hit the jackpot when she joined the cast of a new television drama called Joan of Arcadia. "I was going to do another project," Tamblyn told James Brady of Parade, "but I was blown away by the script. I fell in love with Joan at first sight."
The show premiered in September of 2003, and became an immediate, and unexpected, hit for CBS. Critics were surprised because of the slightly bizarre premise: an average teenager named Joan Girardi becomes not so average when she develops the ability to talk directly to God, who appears each week in the guise of a different person. God could be the lunch lady, a TV newscaster, and once God was even played by Tamblyn's real-life father, Russ. Also in the cast were veteran actors Mary Steenburgen (1953–) and Joe Mantegna (1947–), who portrayed Joan's parents, Helen and Joe Girardi, newcomer Michael Welch as younger brother Luke, and Jason Ritter, who played older brother Kevin. Ritter is the son of late comedic actor John Ritter (1948–2003).
Producing a show about religion could have been dicey. As Tamblyn remarked to Lynette Rice of Entertainment Weekly, "As soon as the word God comes out of your mouth, people are like, 'Uh-oh.'" But creator Barbara Hall, who was also responsible for launching the CBS program Judging Amy, had a very specific vision in mind: nothing preachy and something that would connect with young viewers. Joan is a typical modern teenager who doubts a great deal of things, but when she is directed by "God" to perform such simple acts as building a boat in her family's garage, the outcome is usually unexpected. Finding just the right person to portray the skeptical but open-minded Joan might also have been a challenge. "This girl's got to come off like a high schooler with the mind of a 50-year-old," Joe Mantegna explained to Rice.
Apparently Tamblyn fit the bill perfectly. By 2004 eleven million viewers were tuning in each week to catch Joan chatting with God, and critics were heaping praise on the show and its young star. The program captured both the People's Choice Award for Favorite New Dramatic Series and was named a top 10 TV Program of the Year by the American Film Institute. In December of 2003, Tamblyn was
Although she achieved fame and fortune at a young age, Tamblyn is not the usual Hollywood celebrity. In interviews she is described as mature and wise beyond her years, and, instead of discussing fashion or film and television roles, she tends to steer the conversation to other topics. One such topic is politics, which Tamblyn is particularly passionate about. In 2004, she was able to vote for the first time in a presidential election and she took it very seriously. "We are so lucky to live in a country where we can have a say," Tamblyn commented to Alex Simon of Venice. "I call it the Power of One." The young activist was so inspired that she worked closely with MTV and its Rock the Vote campaign, which is targeted at getting young people interested in voting. Tamblyn also made a special appearance at the Rock the Vote party held in Boston, Massachusetts, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.
In addition to her political involvement, in 2004 Tamblyn became a spokesperson for the Achievable Foundation, a Los Angeles-based group that offers support to people who are developmentally disabled, as well as to their families. This includes individuals who suffer from autism (a brain disorder that causes an inability to communicate or socially interact) or cerebral palsy (a brain disorder that affects communication between the brain and the muscles).
When not acting or working for a favorite cause, Tamblyn takes time to pursue her wide-range of hobbies, including writing and singing. She has already self-published two small books of poetry, Of the Dawn and Plenty of Ships, and has a longer volume in the works. Tamblyn also recorded a single called "God and Me," which was inspired by her television series. In the immediate future, the young star plans to continue her acting career. Her first starring role will be in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, based on the popular novel of the same name, and slated for a 2005 release. What's next for the multi-talented Tamblyn is anyone's guess. Perhaps college. As she laughingly remarked to Alex Simon, "Maybe when I'm about 30, after I've conquered the world, ended the war, and stopped world hunger, maybe I'll be able to take a few classes then!"
Cruz, Anne Marie. "Hollywood and Divine: Amber Tamblyn, a Free Spirit in Real Life, Communes with God on the New Drama Joan of Arcadia." People Weekly (October 27, 2003): p. 93.
"Performer of the Week: Amber Tamblyn." Soap Opera Digest (February 2001): p. 12.
Rossi, Rosemary. "Growing Up and Moving Out." Soaps in Depth (July 24, 2001): pp. 98–101.
Rice, Lynette. "Holy Roller: Joan of Arcadia is a Heaven-Sent Gift for CBS and Its Fetching Young Star—and an Act of God for Its Creator." Entertainment Weekly (November 7, 2003): p. 36.
Simon, Alex. "Artist, Actor, Activist: Amber of Arcadia Raises the Bar." Venice (March 2004): pp. 63–65.
Susman, Linda. "Applause, Applause: Amber Tamblyn." Soap Opera Weekly (July 1, 1997): p. 29.
Amber Tamblyn Official Homepage. http://www.amtam.com/ (accessed on August 14, 2004).
Brady, James. "In Step with Amber Tamblyn." Parade Magazine: Parade Archive (January 11, 2004) http://archive.parade.com/2004/0111/0111_instepwith.html (accessed on August 14, 2004).