Blood Beats: Amanda Grace Benitez Embraces Her Inner Punk in ‘The Ranger’ [Interview]
Blood Beats is a new series examining the intersection of music and horror. Different authors take a closer look at artists, albums, and songs taking inspiration from the genre we celebrate, and at movies deeply influenced by music. We hope to give some additional exposure to these films and bands – and to give you some new favorites for your playlist.
Keep your eyes and ears open for future installments – and let us know if there are bands, albums, or movies you think we should check out!
You know what they say about rock and roll, right? It’s here to stay. With modern fan hits like Green Room and The Devil’s Candy, it’s hard to ignore the hardcore punk-rock-metal scream roaring through the horror genre. Director Jennifer Wexler takes the rebellious wailing to the woods with her debut feature film, The Ranger, now available to stream on Shudder. This no-holds-barred story strands a group of edgy teenage friends in the isolated woods as they hide out from the police, but the real horror begins when they become the sinister focus of the most treacherous authority figure of them all.
I spoke with the very brave and talented actress, Amanda Grace Benitez, who details the work put into her role as Amber. She shares her experience of getting into the punk rock attitude of her free-spirited character, her relationship with the rest of the equally talented cast of The Ranger, and the effective direction of Wexler. Benitez fiercely dons a blazing blue cropped hairstyle that is obviously just as vibrant and electric as her infectious personality.
I really love The Ranger, so I’m thrilled that it’s on Shudder now so I can watch it over and over. I just thought it was so cool.
Who doesn’t love punk rock music and horror, right? You’re fantastic in it as Amber. I love the blue hair. Was it your real hair?
Thank you so much! It was my real hair! Our fabulous director, Jennifer Wexler, she did not want any of us to have a wig on. She wanted it to be very real and authentic. She wanted us to really get in tune and in touch with our character. So, the first day in New York was my transformation day. I went over my hair and I am telling you right now, it was crazy. I couldn’t even recognize myself. It was a trip!
It came out so good. I’m a gal that has a lot of hair and I know how hard that is to pull off, especially with color that bright. It looked perfect.
Oh, thank you! I had a lot of hair to past my shoulders, then they chopped it! We had fabulous hair stylists that dyed our hair so that experience was incredible.
Was that something that was sort of like a relief for you or was it something that was worth it? I know it would be traumatizing for me, but is really freeing to other people.
Getting into character and seeing myself was, yes. It’s an interesting word, “relief,” but I feel like it just helped me altogether because it’s one thing to understand the character internally, but then to really own it is something else entirely. There has to be a lot of the external with the wardrobe and and the hair so, I feel like I really changed and transformed into Amber when I finally got my hair done. So, yes, it really did help.
Did you see any part of yourself in Amber? There’s a lot of personalities in there, a lot of like really hardened, punk rock personalities. Were there any similarities between you and your character?
Yes, actually Amber is so much cooler than me, but I was the one when I was like 13 and 14 years old who would listen to the Misfits, the Comeback Kids, and the Ramones. That was my thing. Being able to really go back and relive those days was something I never thought I would ever be able to do in my wildest dreams. That was really cool. I do feel like Amber was more of a free spirit than I was.
I really watched what I did when I was younger, but being able to get into the world of Amber I did find a lot of similarities. A few times I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is so funny. I remember doing this when I was in high school!” So, yeah I saw a lot of similarities.
And as far as the rest of the cast members go, it seems like friendship was a really big, central theme in The Ranger. Not only as a plot point, but also an important theme throughout the story. Is that something that happened organically between you all or did you spend some time together before or during production?
It happened organically. I actually met the cast the morning of the first day of work. We met in the hotel lobby and we were eating breakfast and chatted. It’s so crazy. It’s a cliché when people say, “We became a family,” but we really did. We really came together and we talked and we have so much in common and we all decided, we made a pact, that we’d stay in character for the duration of the shoot. We just had so much fun, it was really great! I’ve had the pleasure of working on some really great productions, but this one made me feel like I did not want to go home. I cried the last day, I had so much fun. Luckily enough, we still stay in contact and we’re really close. It all happened organically.
That’s impressive. That isn’t usually something that happens, particularly among young people. Especially since you guys did a lot of filming outside in the woods, that couldn’t have been easy and will bring everyone together.
You need a lot of trust. I mean this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but when you watch The Ranger and Jeremy Pope is carrying me through the woods that’s all real, so there was a lot of trust with him running on all the rocks. It was something else. It was really cool.
I saw that you and Jeremy [Holm] are going to be co-starring again with Jeffrey Reddick directing The Good Samaritan.
Yes. Jeffrey Reddick, yes. The pro.
Final Destination is responsible for all of our agreed fears, so I can only imagine what he’s about to bring.
That’s why I don’t go to Six Flags!
Or drive behind a truck holding a bunch of tree logs.
It’s totally true. That was really cool too. I remember signing onto the project and Jeremy [Holm] sent me an Instagram message that said “#Louisiana”. I was like, “No way. This is so cool!” That’s where we were shooting, in Louisiana. We were out there for about a month, and have already wrapped production.
That’s fantastic. I know you can’t give too much away about that one, but we’re all excited about it. Jeremy is great too. What was his was his approach to interacting with you all on The Ranger? That or how was everyone else’s approach to him?
He was like the dad on set, like the father figure just because he’s been in so many more projects than us. You know there is just a way in which he spoke to us and just made us feel comfortable. He provided us with advice, and because he has kids he was able to communicate with us and just really create more of a family atmosphere. Even now, a year and a half later after we filmed The Ranger, Jeremy still communicates with all of us almost every single day
That is such a dad thing to do!
He’s freaking terrific. I hope I get to work with him again.
Hey you never know, look at how it works out.
That’s amazing, right? I know. I love it.
Speaking of that, do you have anything else that you’re currently working on that you’re able to share?
Well, the only thing I can share right now is that I was involved in a film called The F**-It List coming out this summer, which is really fantastic. It’s with Jerry O’Connell, Peter Facinelli, Eli Brown from The Perfectionists, Marcus Scribner from Black-ish. This is going to be a whole new genre for me because I feel like I’ve done more in the horror world, so this will be very fun. It’s very much like a teen rom-com.
That’s wonderful seeing that now you’re delving into a little bit more of the rom-com genre! Is there anything from The Ranger, filming that and acting-wise, that you’re able to take with you?
I’ve never been much of a method person, but I feel like with the world of Amber I really had to dive in and I think that’s what I took with me. I decided that instead of just playing yourself or whatever, you know, I really wanted to dive in and connect with the role. So I feel like a lot of the time on set of The Ranger, whether I was crying or whether I was going through something, I really had to connect in that way and on set of The F***-It List I felt like I had to do the exact same thing.
There were little notes Jennifer gave me, she is such a terrific director and she’s very specific, so it’s every little thing that she would tell me that would help me on set of The F***-It List to feel and just hone in on so many different things.
She brought emotions out of me that I never thought possible. I just kind of take those notes and put them in my tool belt, the actor tool belt that you bring on to the next project, and it makes the next project easier. I never think of a project being easy, but with each job, the more you work you just understand, you get more in-tune with your emotions and you know how to trigger certain emotions.
That’s fantastic. Yes, absolutely. Practice makes perfect.
Amanda Grace Benitez is another badass woman bringing a fun, young voice to the horror genre with her role of Amber proving she clearly has the guts and the ambition to embrace the alternative. Get into the teen spirit, hike up your combat boots, and pull on the spiked leather by watching The Ranger as it streams on Shudder.