There are few things more enjoyable than watching a great movie (or a not-so-great one) through the eyes of another person, especially if that person has the exuberance and wit of Tamara Chambers. This is, in essence, the appeal of her show “Tamara’s Never Seen,” which has gained a loyal following on Doug Walker’s satirical film site, Channel Awesome, where she has been a regular cast member on its hugely popular web series, “Nostalgia Critic,” since 2014. This past Thursday saw the online debut of Eliaz Rodriguez’s hilarious short film, “Think Twice,” starring Chambers as a woman who must decipher which of the two men (both played by Javier Fernandez) standing before her is her husband—and which is an imposter. The film has earned numerous awards at festivals worldwide, including a Best Actress prize for Chambers at the Blue Whale Film Festival.
Earlier this week, I got the chance to chat with Chambers about her crowd-pleasing new movie, her newfound love of cinema and why she doesn’t intend on looking for a new day job.
How did you first become involved with Channel Awesome?
I was in a production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: The Musical,” which is not a great show. [laughs] I found the “Movie in Five Seconds” video that Doug did of the film version, and I showed it to the whole cast. We all thought it was hilarious. That was the only content I had seen from Doug before I moved to Chicago with my best friend, Rachel Tietz. One of our classmates who was in the show with us sent us an e-mail that said, “Hey, remember that video you once showed us? Well the guy who made it is holding auditions.” And Rachel and I were like, “Oh yeah, we’ll go.” We were auditioning for anything we could get our hands on at that time, including student films. The Channel Awesome audition was so much fun and they were so nice to us. I just fell into it. I had worked so hard to get all these other opportunities, but this was just a random audition that I didn’t know much about. It turned out to be the most incredible opportunity.
Did you personally connect with the ‘80s nostalgia that the show initially centered on?
Before we started my show, “Tamara’s Never Seen,” I didn’t know what any of these things were. I hadn’t seen anything, and I didn’t get any of the references. I just thought it was so interesting that there was this whole passion for film that had never been a part of my life. Now I very much feel that passion for films, and I do feel that I am slowly starting to catch up with things. I do get some of their references now, and I’ve developed a whole new appreciation for them.
Are you required to watch each film before performing in the review?
When we first started off, I would watch all of them, starting with “Wicker Man.” After the first four or five reviews, I told Doug what I was doing and he said, “Oh, you don’t need to do that.” Only if I’m doing a parody of a particular scene, I’ll watch the scene beforehand. Especially now that I’ve started “Tamara’s Never Seen,” it’s better if I don’t watch the whole film because I can save it for an episode.
When I interviewed Doug, he told he how his creative batteries were recharged when he began including more clip-less reviews, allowing him to recreate scenes from scratch.
Those are usually done for newer films, and I do make sure to see those. I’ll walk out of the theater and feel so invigorated by the idea of playing the characters onscreen just a week later—especially in the case of a badass like Wonder Woman or Furiosa or any of the women in “Star Wars.” I am obsessed with “Star Wars” films, and have loved getting to play Leia and Rey and Jyn. They fill me with such joy.
I loved how you took on hateful internet trolls in your video produced by Beth Elderkin.
“Nostalgia Critic” has a huge fandom, and people don’t like change on the internet, especially when it involves a girl. I had never dealt with any kind of fame prior to starting as a regular on the show, and I didn’t know how to react to it. I took everything really personally at the beginning, and so I talked to a few people about it. I knew that I wanted to do something. Then I read an article from a few years back about somebody who contacted the parents of the kids posting horrible comments online, and I decided to do the same thing. Beth did such a good job with that video and if you Google my name, that video is often the first thing that pops up. It was a bolder stance than I probably would take now, but it’s hard to find that balance. If I get comments on Twitter that are just nuts, I’ll say something snarky as my response. I can’t let them get away with it.
The reviews for “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Ghostbusters” are especially pointed in how they take on men’s rights activists.
When I read some of these scripts, and see something in there about those sorts of groups, I’m just go grateful for who I work with. I realize that we are all on the same page. In the early days, I could lash out at those people not in a good way that’s smart for a brand or a public figure. Doug and his brother, Rob Walker, write the scripts so smartly. They write them in a way that pokes fun at everyone but moreso the problem.
What led you to take on the lead role in Eliaz Rodriguez’s short film, “Think Twice”?
I was doing a short film for a director named Charles Klein in Chicago, and Eliaz was working on the film. The script was improvised and I am so bad at improv. I thought I did such a bad job in it, and then a month later, Eliaz reached out to me and was like, “Hey I want you to work on my new short film as the lead!” I was like, “Are you serious?” [laughs] I have never been in a short film with this level of production quality. I showed up, and there was a crew of at least 13 people. The location and makeup were amazing too. I was not expecting it to be what it was, to the point where I didn’t have my lines a hundred percent memorized. I just thought it was going to be super-chill. Then I got there and ended up cramming my lines while doing my makeup.
What are you looking at when you are interacting with your twin “co-stars,” achieved through impressive trick photography?
They had two stand-ins for when I was doing my lines. Then when they filmed the other two characters, they would have Javier on one side and a stand-in on the other, and they would keep switching them. He did such a good job playing both characters. I love working on a project with a small cast, and it was fun to do a three-character script with two actors. Eliaz is such an incredible person to work with. He’s really sweet and not pushy, and is super-passionate about the work. Up to now, he has gotten this short into over 50 film festivals, and I’ve gotten to attend four of them.
Was it fun to watch the film with a crowd?
When you make work for the internet, you don’t get to hear the laughter from viewers. You feel so much pressure when you show a comedy to a live audience. I used to do stand-up a lot, and always had that same worry about a joke not getting a laugh. At all the festival screenings I’ve been at, the film did really well laugh-wise, and it was so exciting. We also ended up winning an award at every festival I visited. When Eliaz took the short to Whales, the guy working the sound in the back leaned over to him and asked, “Is that Tamara from ‘Nostalgia Critic’?” I couldn’t believe it. I still audition for plays and commercials, but films are what I am most interested in, and I’ve been talking about this one forever. I can’t wait for people to see it.
Did you find the film’s central gag—that men tend to forget things that women value—at all relatable?
It’s a script trope that we’ve seen a million times, but the jokes that Eliaz came up with were so funny, and I felt like his script really took the idea as far as it could possibly go. It also is just short enough and doesn’t outstay its welcome. I have never personally experienced anything that happens in the film. [laughs] My boyfriend knows when my birthday is. I just thought the script was honest enough to where I could believe it. I’m never going to be cast as the lead in an action film, so I loved that this film allowed me to run with a gun in my hand. This role was nothing like the quirky best friend that I’m always cast as.
The only way I’d watch Lara Croft is if you played her.
I love Lara! That was the first video game I ever played growing up, so that is very nice of you to say.
Would you say that Hyper Fangirl is your favorite character that you’ve played?
Yes. We actually just filmed her wedding yesterday. She’s my favorite because so many people identify with her. It’s definitely the most recognizable character that I’ve played that isn’t an actual character from a movie. I was talking to one of my dad’s co-workers the last time I went home for Christmas. My dad was out of the room and the guy was like, “Your dad is so proud whenever he talks about you. He loves to google Hyper Fangirl and see your picture.” Doug had met someone named Erica who is a fan of the show, and he was like, “That’s a character. We need to make a character like her.” He wrote it into the script and we were like, “Let’s just make some costumes,” so we threw some stuff together, not thinking we were going to bring her back. That wig is so crusty. [laughs] We need to get a new wig but we could never style it in the same way.
I’d like to circle back to the origins of “Tamara’s Never Seen,” which I have now become as addicted to as “Nostalgia Critic.”
Doug and Rob love to speak in movie quotes, and I never knew what they were talking about. After a year and a half of working on the show, Doug encouraged me to watch a film that I hadn’t seen before, and said that I should start with “Return to Oz.” He was like, “Watch it, make a video about it, edit it down, send it to us and we’ll put it up and see how it does.” So we did that and the video did really well in the first couple days. So they were like, “Let’s just make one a week.”
And now the show has developed its own running gags, such as the hair-slapping and cat cameos.
Exactly! [laughs] When I first started “Tamara Just Saw,” the newer one, I was like, “I want this to be different. I want it to be a show where I know what I’m talking about.” I ended up watching Chris Stuckmann’s stuff and some online reviews to see how I could make this show better. I was talking about it with James Jarosz, the prop guy at Channel Awesome, and he was like, “Don’t do that. People like you because you’re just a normal person. That’s why they watch your videos.” Last year, I did a video on my picks for the Oscars, and as I was looking through the nominees this year, I realized that I’ve seen almost everything, which has never happened before. I’ve loved bringing guests onto the show like Cody Melcher and Jake Jarvi, who’s a Chicago filmmaker. He has this series called “PoPS” on YouTube that ran for ten seasons. The title translates to Platoon of Power Squadron, and it’s about four superheroes who live together in Chicago. As it gets along further in the seasons, the effects become cooler and more nuts.
What was your dream before Channel Awesome and how has that dream evolved since?
I originally moved to Chicago to do stand-up and theatre, which I had gone to school for. When I got the Channel Awesome gig, I figured that it would just be a side thing. Yet it has proven to take up so much of my time, and I’ve loved every bit of it. Getting to travel with the team to conventions has been a thrill. I was recently offered a role in California and I turned it down because they wanted me out there for five months. The pay wasn’t comparable and I didn’t want to miss five months of the show. 20-year-old Tamara would’ve slapped me in the face, but I just love my job so much and I want to keep up the momentum. I’ve become addicted to the numbers and playing the game of what will do the best. I still do stand-up every once in a while, but online video and commercial work is where I want to be.
Now the online world has become so over-saturated. When we first started, it wasn’t like that at all. The people at Channel Awesome do such a good job of continuously putting out new content, and they have an amazing following that’s not going anywhere. It is so hard to break into this profession now in 2018 just starting from scratch. Two years ago, my own personal YouTube channel was at around 3,000 subscribers and now I’ve got almost 40,000. Slowly growing that following has been the coolest thing. What’s most important to me is that the people I work for are such good people. Doug and Rob have inspired so many people to find a way to do what they love. I sometimes feel guilty that I didn’t know anything about film four years ago, and now it has become my world. I was talking to my co-star, Malcolm Ray, about this recently. He was like, “You know, Atlanta’s got a really good film scene. I could move there, but I don’t want to leave this,” and I was like, “Yeah, same.” [laughs] I’m not going anywhere for a while.
For the latest wonderful work of Tamara Chambers, visit the official Channel Awesome site and subscribe to her YouTube channel. You can also follow her on Twitter. Also be sure to check out Eliaz Rodriguez’s site, which includes more info on “Think Twice.”