Thursday, September 19, 2013

Interview: Julie Benz Is Kick-Ass

Julie Benz
Julie Benz is known for the variety of roles she’s played — from the sweet and unsuspecting Rita on “Dexter” to the lesbian stripper who turns Katherine’s head on “Desperate Housewives” to a tough and determined mayor in the near-future apocalyptic city-state of “Defiance.” But this weekend on Lifetime Television, Julie plays a tough New York City detective who will stop at nothing to save her daughter in the original movie “Taken: The Search for Sophie Parker” (premieres Saturday, Sept. 21 and re-airs throughout the weekend; check your local listings).

I spoke with Julie recently, and she was excited to tell me about this new sort of role for her, and she also spilled a few secrets about season two of her hit Syfy drama “Defiance.”

Celebrity Extra: Tell me about your character, Stevie.

Julie Benz: Stevie is a very tough NYPD detective. She’s a widow, and she will do anything for her daughter. When Sophie gets kidnapped (in Russia) and is sold into sex slavery, Stevie jumps into action to rescue her. Stevie’s husband was also a cop and had died in the line of duty. She’s put her life on hold to raise her daughter so she wouldn’t feel the absence of a parent.

CE: Aside from getting to play a kick-ass NYC cop, what else about the script and Stevie made you want to be a part of this project?

JB: There are a couple of things that I really loved about the script when I read it. One was that it was a woman in power versus a woman in peril. It really appeals to me. At this point in my career, I try to find very strong female characters to play. It’s very important to me to make a conscious decision about that.

And then obviously the subject matter is important. I don’t think you can be a woman and not be affected somehow emotionally by the idea of human sex trafficking and violence against women. And this movie deals with both of those issues. It’s just something that as a woman I’m very emotionally connected to, and felt that it was a good story to tell.

CE: It seems like it’s only been in recent years that the public has really been made aware of what a catastrophic problem human trafficking has become.

JB: The sad fact is that thousands of girls go missing every year. I’m sure hundreds of thousands of girls go missing every year. A large part of them are sold into sex slavery or either beaten or drugged or they are held captive and they can’t get away. And it goes on in the United States as well; it goes on all over the world, including our own country. I have some statistics in front of me: $23 billion is generated annually from human trafficking, with $15.5 billion made in industrialized nations, including the U.S. It’s the fastest growing crime worldwide. It’s the third largest crime worldwide behind drug trading and arms dealing.

CE: Was the filming demanding on you, whether physically or emotionally?

JB: It’s overwhelming to look at those statistics. It’s a harsh reality. Part of what I loved about playing in the film was you see Stevie’s strengths of being able to jump into action and not let anybody get in her way or slow her down. It’s kind of a fantasy of what I think we would all hope we would do if we were put in the situation. Physically, it was a lot of running around. I love that stuff though. I love action movies. I love playing very strong women. It feeds into my competitive nature and my athleticism.

CE: How were the cast and crew to work with?

JB: We had such a great group. I feel so blessed. We all became so close because we were on location in Bulgaria filming. A lot of the actors came out of England. We had so much fun filming. You have to have a certain amount of fun in between shots and a certain amount of levity to take away the darkness of the subject. We all were very supportive of each other through the whole process.

Julie Benz and her "Braid of Justice" in Defiance
CE: So how is season two of “Defiance” going so far, and what can you tell me about what to expect this coming season?

JB: It’s going really great. Season two is really intense. I can just say — the great thing about doing a science-fiction-genre show is that you have the ability to reset the world anytime you want. The great thing about what happened with “Defiance” in the finale is we basically hit the reset button, so we start season two in a whole different place. Every character is in a different place from where they were during season one. Creatively it is so much fun to play characters who can grow and change exponentially each season, and that is what you are going to see in season two of “Defiance.” It’s a much darker “Defiance” this season, especially my character.

CE: You must tell me: Will the “Braid of Justice” return in season two?

JB: (Laughs) Everyone loves that side braid. You know that I was nervous about the braid. I’ll be completely honest about the braid: The braid was inspired by Katniss of “The Hunger Games.” I’m a little lazy when it comes to wanting to be in hair and makeup. I didn’t want to have to sit in hair and makeup for long, so I thought, “If I wear my hair in a braid, then I don’t have to.” So, that’s where the braid came from. I didn’t realize it was going to be so popular. I don’t know if we’ll see the “Braid of Justice” this season. Amanda’s look has changed, as well as the world of Defiance. As we left season one, the Earth Republic was moving in. So, the world of Defiance has changed, and with that, so does the look of the show. We do see a much darker Amanda this season. She’s having a very hard time. Her ex-husband was killed during season one; she lost her job, which that is truly how she defined herself; and her sister has gone missing. She’s really in a bad place when season two opens.

CE: A lot of fans love and remember you for “turning Katherine’s head” on “Desperate Housewives.” Tell me about your time on that show.

JB: When people ask me what my favorite role has been so far, that is one of the standouts for me. I was a huge fan of “Desperate Housewives” from its inception and never thought in a million years that I would ever be a part of the mythology of the show. I was so shocked when they called and asked me if I would play Robin. I had so much fun with her. I got offered the role literally the day after the “Dexter” season four finale aired. It was a great place for me to go and kind of heal from that. Rita was the furthest thing away from Robin. I got to go into something completely opposite and work with a group of women who inspired me over the years, who I’d admired for so long, and admired their work for so long.

I geeked out on set, running up and down Wisteria Lane my first day, freaking out that I was there. I had moments where I would forget I was actually shooting, and instead I would be watching the rest of the cast, and I would forget that it was my line next. I’d be like: “Oh my goodness. I’m just sitting on my couch watching you guys on TV in my head. This is so surreal for me to be here.” It really was a very welcoming and warm place for me to go and to do something completely different from what I had been doing. I had a blast.

CE: I love to hear stories about stars “geeking out” when they meet other stars who they love and look up to.

JB: My Sunday night for years was to sit down and watch” Desperate Housewives.” I just couldn’t believe it when I was cast. The women (in the cast) and everyone (on the crew) were just so wonderful and so welcoming. It was amazing to see their work ethic and how committed they were to their work, and the tremendous amount of thought and detail that each actress put into her character. It just blew me away.

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