Julie Benz: JUST BUSY

JULIE BENZ: JUST BUSY
Insights on Boondock Saints II and the future of Dexter
By Abbie Bernstein © Buzzy Multimedia

julie benz, julie benz interview

Julie Benz, Julie Benz Interview

Julie Benz is one of the sweetest-looking people on Planet Earth, and yet somehow she winds up in a lot of films and TV shows dealing with violence. Yes, there are the romantic comedy and drama films she’s done for Lifetime, but audiences are apt to know her for the vampire Darla she essayed throughout the runs of both BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and its spinoff ANGEL or Rita Bennett Morgan, the role she’s played on four seasons thus far on Showtime’s DEXTER, a character who doesn’t realize her husband is a serial killer. Then there are the female leads in THE PUNISHER: WAR ZONE and RAMBO and the dangerous realtor in SAW V. Now Benz is back on the big screen as FBI Special Agent Eunice Bloom in THE BOONDOCK SAINTS: ALL SAINTS DAY, a follow-up to the cult hit BOONDOCK SAINTS that has been ten years in the making.

Speaking in a phone interview, Benz sounds delighted about all of it. She acknowledges she hadn’t known the history of SAINTS when she was first auditioning for the sequel. darla from Buffy, buffy the vampire slayer, vampires “I was sent a script that was called ALL SAINTS DAY and no one told me it was a sequel or anything about it. I read the script, I really liked it, I loved the character of Eunice Bloom, and I went in and I auditioned for it and I met with] Troy Duffy [writer/director of both the original and the sequel] a couple times. I don’t usually talk about my auditions to anybody, so nobody even knew about it. I didn’t tell anybody ‘I’m going into this movie’ until after I got the film, and then I mentioned to my trainer, ‘Oh, I got a movie, it’s going to be a sequel to BOONDOCK SAINTS,’ and he just started flipping out and couldn’t believe it. That’s how I realized that this movie’s bigger than what I’d thought,” she laughs.

There was no time to do research into the world of Federal agents, Benz notes. “I literally walked off the set of Season Three [of DEXTER] and walked onto the set of BOONDOCK SAINTS the next day,” she laughs. “I was cast at the last minute and I had no time for any weapons training. My first day on set, they literally handed me a gun, they said, ‘You’re going to burst into the room, you’re going to fire six rounds into camera, you’re going to change the mag without looking at it and then you’re going to continue firing.’ And I had never fired a gun before, onscreen or off. So I was like [breezily], ‘Okay.’ Troy has this amazing ability to make you think you can do it. He really has this passion. You get caught up in his energy and he’ll sit there and – he swears a lot, so I’m going to quote him – he’s like, ‘You’re just going to go in there and you’re going to fucking open up six rounds and you’re going to shoot right in the fucking barrel!’ He’s all excited and you’re like, ‘Okay, I can do this!’ Actually, you’re like, ‘I better be able to do this …’ It’s basically sink or swim, and sinking was not an option, because we didn’t have the budget to sink, and we didn’t have the budget to do take after take. So you get a limited amount of time and you just have to do it. I had to learn how to twirl a pistol, where I spent the whole shoot [practicing] twirling a pistol for the big pistol-twirling scene and since then, I have been to the firing range and I have learned about weapons and guns, and I’m actually really good at it naturally, but I figured, I’d better become better at it so I can just step in and just do it and not have to think about it. [In the scenes], I was shooting blanks. You can’t shoot live ammo – you shoot blanks. I mean, it’s still gunpowder, it’s still loud, it still gives the gun a kick, but you can’t use a real bullet – they’re not going to let you!” she reminds with a laugh.

buzzy multimedia, sci-fi audio books, science fiction audio books Besides using guns, was there anything else Benz needed to learn for SAINTS? “The accent,” she reports. “I had to work on the accent. I had a dialect coach who I studied with every single night, and I’d tape out all my dialogue phonetically for the next day and it was a very specific accent that Troy wanted, so I had to rely a lot on his ear. [Eunice is] from the South, but it’s not a general Southern accent, it’s a very specific kind of Troy Duffy Southern accent, a specific sound that he wanted. I could say that it’s a cross between Georgia and Texas, but then that would really throw you off if you know anything about accents. That’s how it was described to me, but at the end of the day, it was very much a very specific accent to the world that Troy created. We had kind of like a Holly Hunter/Kyra Sedgwick kind of quality accent.”

The accent may come in handy for future roles, Benz believes. “Oh, definitely. I can now do a really great Southern accent. I also know how much work it takes me to do accents. I had the same experience in THE PUNISHER: WAR ZONE – I had to do a slight Jersey accent and that also took a lot of work for me to do it. But it’s fun. It’s a challenge, when you’re working as an actor – it’s just an added challenge to conquer.”

Benz enjoyed working with filmmaker Duffy. She says she still hasn’t seen OVERNIGHT, the feature-length documentary about events surrounding the original SAINTS that paints Duffy in a sometimes unflattering light. Benz takes issue with this. “From my own knowledge of the industry, you can edit anybody and make them look like an asshole. You can even follow me around with cameras and edit me to make me look like I’m an asshole. So I don’t put any stock in that documentary at all. I went into [BOONDOCK SAINTS II] wanting to have my own experience with Troy Duffy and I have my own experience with him and he’s extremely passionate about what it is he’s doing. And he has no filter, so yes, he’ll say things off the cuff that maybe somebody else wouldn’t say, but at the end of the day, he’s actually extremely sweet, very compassionate, very passionate about what it is that he’s doing, and you don’t get your whole crew and cast to return to work with you if you’re an asshole. I base [perceptions of him] on the people he surrounded himself with and the people who love him and have known him for a very long time.”

Part of the appeal of playing SAINTS’ gun-toting Fed Eunice, says Benz, is that the character is very dissimilar to DEXTER’s Rita – although, the actress hastens to add, she loves that role as well. “I definitely look for characters that are outside the realm of Rita when I’m on hiatus. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t play characters who are similar. Mostly it’s about scripts and what’s written on the page. But at the same time, I love playing Eunice, be a badass. I got to play with weapons and hang with the guys and be one of the guys for a short time and that was fun for me, because in my day job [as Rita], yeah, I’m soft, vulnerable and emotional and working with children.”

Throughout DEXTER’s run, we’ve seen Rita’s two young children by her previous marriage to an Dexter, showtime Dexter, Rita Bennett abusive drug addict. This season, Rita and Dexter have a baby boy together, who is often in scenes with Benz’s Rita and Michael C. Hall’s Dexter. What’s it like sharing the screen with a real live infant? Oh, God, the babies are amazing,” Benz replies. “We were very lucky when we cast these two babies and both Michael and I have a special bond with them and it’s enriched our jobs, I think, and it’s enriched our lives, working with the babies. First of all, it really keeps you on your toes, because you have to act off of what the baby’s really giving you. The baby is not reading the script,” Benz points out with a laugh, “doesn’t understand the script, doesn’t even know we’re acting. So you really have to live in the moment and the baby forces you to be in the moment and forces you to really live with what’s going on onstage while we’re shooting. I find it freeing and exciting. There was a scene in [an] episode where I find that Dexter’s been keeping his [bachelor] apartment, and it was brilliant the way it was written, because in many ways, just that added element of having the baby in the room forces you to handle things a little more gently. You don’t want to scream and yell in front of the child. So it was a really interesting added element to the drama of the scene.”

When Benz first joined the cast of DEXTER four years ago, did she imagine the series would become such a hit “I did,” Benz says, “but then I think everything I do is going to run for a long time. I think that’s kind of a funny thing – you take a project and you basically drink the Kool-Aid. You fall in love with it and you think everyone else is going to fall in love with it. Not every project warrants that kind of love, but definitely DEXTER did. I thought it was one of the best scripts I had ever read. And I also thought that this was the type of show that I’d like to watch, so that’s pretty much all I can base it on. But yeah, I really thought it would be the interesting phenomenon that it is. I think it keeps growing, too, and it’s really cool to have a show that keeps growing and growing and growing.”

There was a recent article on DEXTER in the Los Angeles Times that referred to the series as “Can’t Wait TV.” Benz agrees with the assessment. “It’s true. You’re on the edge of your seat and I think especially this season – we have an amazing season, we have an amazing addition to the cast in John Lithgow and I think we have probably one of the most shocking season finales that we’ve ever had and I think people are interested to find out what happens and want to see how it’s all going to turn out in the end. It’s like a train wreck!” she laughs, withholding anything more that could be construed as a spoiler.

Benz acknowledges being quite a fan of DEXTER guest star Lithgow. “Who isn’t?” she asks rhetorically. “He’s John Lithgow. He just does everything – comedy, drama, stage, television, film, he writes children’s books. He’s a true Renaissance man, and no one plays creepy like he plays creepy, so I was shocked when they told us he was joining our cast. I was like, ‘You’re kidding me. John Lithgow?’ I was even more shocked when he came up to me and told me he was a fan of my work on the show, and I was like, ‘Are you sure you’re talking about me?'” she recalls, laughing. “He’s extremely generous and kind and warm, It’s shocking that he plays creepy so well, because there’s not one creepy bone in his body.”

As far as her penchant for winding up in violent fare, Benz says, “Well, I don’t sit there and search for it, I don’t say, ‘Oh, give me another violent movie, I want to shoot ’em up.’ It just seems to be where the interesting characters lie for me. Each one of the projects was an interesting character, struggling with [issues and emotions] that interested me as an actor, so they just happened to be in action movies or action shows, they just happened to be in that genre. It wasn’t because I seek them out. In [the TV series] SUPERNATURAL, I played this woman who had tremendous faith, and that was so interesting to me, to play someone who just really believed in God, not questioning at all. In DEXTER, Rita is a very damaged and fragile bird who has managed to grow some balls through the love of a serial killer, but she started out as this real fragile, damaged bird, and that interested me. And then in RAMBO, another woman who has tremendous faith who drives into a war zone and tries to save people, and meanwhile, in many ways, she’s responsible for a lot of people getting killed and having to live with the weight of that. In THE PUNISHER, she’s Mama Bear who’s trying to protect her child after her husband gets murdered, and in SAW, you have a woman who set the whole thing in motion and has to live with the knowledge of that. And in BOONDOCKS, you have Eunice, who’s fun. She’s the lightest character of them all. I think what’s so great about her is, BOONDOCKS is a fantasy movie in many ways. It’s a movie made for pure entertainment. It’s campy at times, it’s dramatic at times, it’s action-packed, it’s funny – it’s not meant to be set in the real world. You’re not supposed to actually believe that the Saints are out there. You’re supposed to go and enjoy it and go on the ride and take it for the entertainment that it is. And it’s creative and fun. And the great thing is, the Saints steal all of their ideas from movies. It’s kind of a play on movies as well. There’s lots of interesting layers to it, but at the end of the day, it’s pure entertainment.”

There aren’t any in-jokes about Benz’s career in SAINTS, she says, “But on DEXTER, they’ve mentioned SAW right in front of me. There’s a scene where Deb [Jennifer Carpenter] was babysitting the kids and she said that she let them watch SAW. They have a lot of that. They had a TWILIGHT poster hanging up in Astor’s {Rita’s daughter, played by Christina Robinson] room. Melissa Rosenberg, who’s our head writer on DEXTER, is the one who adapted the books into the screenplays for the TWILIGHT movies, so they have a little bit of that kind of like humor.”

darla, buffy, buffy the vampire slayer Mention of vampire movies naturally leads to thoughts of Benz’s work as the sanguinary Darla on BUFFY and ANGEL. These days, is she more recognized for her work on DEXTER or on the earlier shows? “You know, I think it’s a very similar audience,” Benz muses, “so I think both. It’s funny – a lot of people don’t recognize me as Rita when I’m out and about. I think because I don’t dress like her – Rita’s always in a sundress and I’m always in jeans. Surprisingly, most people off the bat will see Darla and then they make the connection to Rita. Maybe it’s because I look more like Darla than Rita,” she laughs. “I feel like with Rita, she’s more kind of a character kind of role for me, kind of lets me know what it feels like to be a character actor. She really is so far removed physically from who I am. Darla was tortured, she’s been around four hundred years – I’d feel a little jaded, too,” Benz laughs. “You can’t blame her. Plus, she was in search of her love. Every character has a mix [of emotions] in them somewhere. Obviously, I’m playing them. But I’d say Rita definitely has some of my softer side, my more vulnerable side, and Darla obviously has my fantasy tougher side. And Eunice Bloom is just totally a fantasy – she’s just a person I would like to think I am.”

Is coming into a film sequel like BOONDOCK SAINTS II, SAW V or RAMBO anything like guest-starring on a TV series, as far as coming into a group of people who’ve all been working together for awhile? Benz opines the film experience is sometimes better. “Sometimes on a TV show, people have been working on it for a long time and everyone’s jaded, like a totally dysfunctional family. People are not going to be as open to something you’re going to do for a short period of time. When you’re doing a sequel to a film, those people are just very excited to be doing it again. There’s a bit of a different atmosphere, a bit more of a welcoming atmosphere. Not to say that every TV show has that [jaded] quality, because they don’t, it’s just some do. I’ve done quite a few [film] sequels and they’ve all been amazing experiences, because everyone was so excited to be back and revisiting the characters and they usually have the same crew back and it’s like a giant family reunion. ”

During the filming of RAMBO, Benz became passionate about educating people about the blight of the population in Burma. “I’m still very much involved,” she says. “I know the situation over there is getting worse and worse, so until it gets better, I’m involved.” For more information, Benz recommends visiting the website uscampaignforburma.org.

julie benz, julie benz interview

On the professional front, Benz adds, “I have a Hallmark movie coming up Christmastime, good family fun, with JoBeth Williams and Elliott Gould called UNCORKED, a little romantic comedy, and I also have an indie film that is going to be hitting the festival circuit called BEDROOMS with Xander Berkeley and Jesse Garcia. I’m getting ready to start another movie, but I don’t want to talk about it yet. I keep saying I’m going to take a vacation, but I keep getting offered stuff and going to work!”

By Abbie Bernstein
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