411mania Interviews: Julie Benz
Posted by Al Norton on 09.21.2013
411's Al Norton sits down for an exclusive interview with Julie Benz to discuss the new season of Defiance, fans remembering her work on Dexter, and her Lifetime Original Movie Taken: The Search for Sophie Parker.
Julie Benz has been appearing on your TV screens for almost 20 years, with guest spots at the start of her career on shows like Boy Meets World, Married with Children, and Hang Time to her stints on Roswell, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, No Ordinary Family, Desperate Housewives, and her award winning role as Rita on Dexter. She is currently filming her second season of Syfy's Defiance and stars tonight in the Lifetime original movie Taken: The Search for Sophie Parker.
Al Norton: Were you familiar with the subject of human sex trafficking before getting the Taken script and is that part of what drew you to the movie?
Julie Benz: Yes, it was. I was somewhat familiar; I had the opportunity to meet Dr Lois Lee, who runs Children of the Night, a couple of years ago. I spent some time with her and met some of the girls that she had rescued off the street and so I was familiar with it through her and her organization.
Al Norton: Is it hard for movies like this to strike the right balance between entertainment and providing some level of education for the audience?
Julie Benz: I think so. I think first and foremost our movie is entertainment driven, set amongst the backdrop of sex trafficking. The real stories are out there and there so heart breaking. We filmed in Bulgaria and I met a couple of women who lived in Eastern Europe who had been kidnapped and sold into sex trafficking and then rescued by their families and its just heart breaking to think that that goes on. The way they talk about it now as adults is like it's a normal thing that just happened.
It happens in the states as well. What's sad is that here we victimize the girls it happens to, they become known as prostitutes and hookers and get prosecuted versus being rescued. That's what Dr. Lois Lee does, she takes them off the streets and gives them an education. She tries to take the stigma away from it. These girls are so young, it's not their fault. The people we should be going after are the ones paying the money for them, the johns. And the pimps.
Al Norton: I assume a mother's search for her daughter is the kind of thing an actor loves to sink their teeth into.
Julie Benz: Yes, definitely. I love the role because it could have been any gender – it could have been played by a man or a woman – and it's just a really strong character. The intensity of it being a daughter who has gone missing and Stevie's willingness to go to extremes to get her back, that's great to play. I think we would all want to have access to her training and her ability to track someone down were it to happen to us in real life.
Al Norton: When you're dealing with subject matter this serious, is the tone on set heavier or once they yell cut is everyone just themselves?
Julie Benz: Certain scenes are definitely more intense but there is a level of levity when you film something so intense because as human beings we need it to break the emotion and get back to ourselves and remind ourselves it is just make believe. I always find the darker the scene, the more levity that comes out of it when they yell cut; it's our coping mechanism as actors. You're living on the edge of hysteria with some of this stuff and you can either bawl your eyes out or laugh hysterically.
Al Norton: How's the second season of Defiance going?
Julie Benz: It's so much fun. Talk about dark; this season the gloves are off and they are going into territories that are so dark. I filmed all day yesterday and Amanda's emotional drama is so exciting, the scripts are so good. Last year we had to spend so much time developing the audience's relationship with the town and the characters and now that they have that, this year the gloves are off and there's so much more raw emotion and craziness.
Al Norton: Where does Amanda rank on your list of favorite characters?
Julie Benz: They're all up there (laughing). I really love her because she's a strong, powerful woman, she's a survivor, she's scrappy. Emotionally she's so deeply flawed that she has trouble making real connections. She's very emotionally cut off in some ways and scare of connection.
Al Norton: Your resume is about as diverse as it gets but there is definitely a thread of sci-fi/fantasy/horror running through it; is that because you are drawn to those stories or simply coincidence?
Julie Benz: It's a little bit of both. I definitely and drawn to it – I read a lot of science fiction, I love horror films, I love being scared (laughing) – but I think as an actor it gives you the most creativity; the given circumstances in genre material are so extreme that it really forces you to go to extremes to be creative, to make those circumstances truthful. Once you start working in that vein you crave it because it's such a challenge to you to make those extreme circumstances believable to the audience.
I also find the female characters are a lot stronger and more complex in genre material, especially the older I get.
Al Norton: It probably doesn't hurt that the audiences for this stuff are so loyal, following you from project to project.
Julie Benz: I really do love that part. I've been immersed in this genre for almost 20 years and I always say the Buffy/Angel fans grew up to become the Dexter fans and are now the Defiance fans.
Al Norton: When fans come up to you in public, what character is it they want to talk to you about the most?
Julie Benz: I think everybody wants to talk about Rita, but then they also call me Mayor (laughing). Rita's death was so gut wrenching to audiences that when people see me in person, there's some sort of catharsis for them; people had such a strong reaction to that final image that when they see me…well, I feel like I need to hug everybody, and I'm ok with that (laughing). It's stuck in their minds and they feel like they need to talk to me about it, and it seems like it helps them to talk to me about it. I should do a massive group therapy for the fans of Dexter (laughing).
Al Norton: When you are a part of a show for a few seasons like Dexter and then you leave, do you keep up with it after?
Julie Benz: I follow it but I don't really sit down and watch it, and that's the same for any show that I've been on because it's almost like the magic is gone in some ways. I do keep up with the cast and the writers and the producers, and I read certain blogs to keep up with the story. I know plot wise what's going on but it's hard to watch a show once you've been on it.
Al Norton: Is there a type of character or a certain type of a project that you're hoping is the next thing that comes in?
Julie Benz: I started in this business because I wanted to do comedy and I started in comedy. I had in my head that I'd do romantic comedies and I'd still love to explore more of that, the comedy side of my career. On Desperate Housewives I got to play such a wonderful, sweet, loving character that was funny and quirky and so much fun to play and I'd love to venture into that territory more. I'd love to do a period piece as well, like Game of Thrones or something. I'd love to work with a corset.
Al Norton: For people who might not think of themselves as the typical audience for a Lifetime Original Movie, what about Taken: The Search for Sophie Parker might surprise them?
Julie Benz: It's an action thriller. For me, what really appealed about the story is that it's a woman in power, not a woman in peril. It's entertaining and moves with an intensity so it's an action thriller first, and then a girly movie.
Don't miss Taken The Search for Sophie Parker, tonight at 8pm on Lifetime