Thanks to Oz Comic Con we chat to the wonderful and beautiful Julie Benz about the inspirational creative environment of Angel, the changing landscape of T.V., mourning the loss of Rita and not being able to escape John Lithgow even when you don’t share the screen with him.
Blake Howard: Your two most well known Geek roles are Darla from the Buffy and Angel series and Rita in Dexter. What do you get approached for more?
Julie Benz: I think, well Darla is still a very popular character but that was so long ago and I think that the Buffy & Angel fans have grown up into the Dexter fans. So I mean it’s pretty much 50/50 I would say. Because I just think that it’s the same fan base.
BH: Is it fun to be beloved for a crazy murderer and then someone whose totally oblivious to a murderer living in their house?
JB: They’re opposite ends of the spectrum aren’t they? [LAUGHS] I mean it’s um definitely fun to play both sides of the coin, and challenging, both sides are challenging to play, you know, to play the very evil, villainous character versus the sweet innocent character that doesn’t know what’s going on. Both women are similar in that they love damaged men it’s just that one is way more cunning and knowing than the other.
BH: I guess you’re kind of the Lois Lane of the Dexter universe.
JB: I would say I think to that they kind of, especially [at the] beginning of season 4, you know I felt like the writers had set Rita up to be the nemesis, like in many ways she was the big nemesis. The fact that, a housewife was a nemesis to a serial killer was kind of ironic in many ways. I think the fans just wanted to see him kill and all of a sudden here’s you know a wife and baby and kids getting in the way of him doing the killing so she was in many ways the nemesis.
BH: You’ve had such a, like a rich television career and you’ve really, with Buffy and Angel and then moving into Dexter you really kind of formed a part of what’s now huge television renaissance happening in the United States with Breaking Bad and Mad Men and things like that – is TV where it’s at right now?
JB: I think so I think that there’s so many great shows being produced and you have so many film producers and film writers and directors moving into television. I mean last year um I did A Gifted Man for CBS and that was directed by Jonathon Demme and written by Susannah Grant – you know those Oscar nominees and winners. You wouldn’t have had that 10-15 years ago so the landscape of television has opened up and changed tremendously and it’s become very appealing for actors because aside from the fact that its steady work, it’s also an opportunity to delve deeper into really rich characters. There are some amazing characters on television. Like you mentioned Breaking Bad and Mad Men but you also have Damages, Dexter, Homeland, and Game of Thrones etc. It’s a long list of shows that are really amazing and offer like a deeper exploration of characters that you don’t necessarily get in a film.
BH: and I think for you you’re a perfect example, it’s like going, transitioning from, I guess against type in television for yourself as well moving from something like a crazy vampiress murderer and into the housewife it’s, but your also getting a lot more time to flesh those characters out.
JB: Yes and I love working in television for that purpose alone. I love playing a character for a long period of time because its, for me, it’s an interesting melding of the character and myself that occurs. And certain things reflect certain parts of my life influence the character and some parts of the character might influence my life and it’s an interesting synergy and bond that’s created. When Rita was killed off I went through a major mourning process…
BH: so did I just before you go on. Absolutely heartbreaking…
JB: like aside from the fact that you know oh my god I just lost my job, I mean I mourned the character. I mourned this woman who had just had a baby and who was in love with this man. And the idea that she was never going to live and breath again. It was one of the first times that I’ve ever had that experience. You know I love Darla but she was a vampire so there was always the opportunity to bring her back. Rita wasn’t a vampire [Laughs]. It was like I lost a friend
BH: What’s your fondest moment as Darla? Because as a fan everything you did in the Angel series stands out because you got to flesh the character out a lot more.
JB: Oh yeah. Well I mean; Darla didn’t really exist in Buffy. I started out as vampire girl number one. And because they liked me it turned into Darla and turned into the love triangle and then I was just there to bring Buffy and Angel together. That was it. And when they spun off Angel it was great opportunity to really flesh out the history of the characters and to really get to know Darla better. That was a great period in my life where I got to go to work and play this very fantastic character and this very epic woman and run around and play make believe, and get paid for it. They were very encouraging; it was like the best acting school you could ever go to. I learned so much about my craft working on that show and so much about taking risks and challenges. And they really pushed me out of my comfort zone. It was the first dramatic role that I’d ever had – I was doing comedy before and Joss thought that it would be great for the most vicious vampire to look like me and talk like me. [Laughs] I think he was just tickled by my voice. It was an amazing learning experience and great place to go to, to be inspired every day. I had to sing and I don’t sing and I had to ride a horse through fire, I had to be buried alive, I had to be set on fire (that was my stunt double – but still). [Laughs] there was always something exciting going on. As a cast we didn’t get the scripts ahead of time so we were kind of on the same rollercoaster as the audience (but maybe just a couple weeks earlier). They never told us the plan they had for the show – it was a very exciting rollercoaster to be on.
BH: Now to Dexter, you never shared any time with John Lithgow…
JB: Absolutely none.
BH: Did ever chat with him and say “Hey Dick, you’re making me lose my job here.”
JB: I’ll be very, very honest with you; I did not know that it was going to happen. They told me an hour before they put up the final script. And you know I thought that as long as I didn’t have any scenes with John Lithgow I was fine [laughs]. But I had no clue and so I was very shocked and surprised and he didn’t know that I didn’t know he had assumed I did and he felt terrible about. And after I got over the initial shock of losing my job [Laughs] and I think that would be anybody’s initial reaction I had so many great opportunities offered to me after that. And in some ways it was such a pivotal moment in the show being a part of it was an honour.
BH: What are you working on now?
JB: I just started on a new show for the Sci Fi Channel called Defiance. They’re doing something new and different – they’re launching a video game at the same time that they’re launching the show and the game and the show will influence each other. That’s my next big project.
BH: Julie Benz – Thank you so much for chatting with Graffiti with Punctuation.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Follow Julie Benz on Twitter here: @juliebenz