by Tami Katzoff (@tvtamijo)
Hearing actress Julie Benz describe her new TV series conjures memories of a certain beloved show from long ago: A future post-war society struggling to survive. A gritty new frontier. Powerful, complex females who are good with weapons.
But it’s not the second coming of “Firefly” – it’s Syfy’s “Defiance,” and it’s got all of the above plus seven alien races and an MMO video game.
In “Defiance,” which premieres April 15th (the game launches two weeks prior), Benz plays Amanda Rosewater, newly-appointed mayor of the town for which the show is named. “She’s a bit in over her head as far as her job goes,” says Benz of her character. “Her heart’s in the right place, but that doesn’t always serve her well.”
“Defiance” is set in what was formerly St. Louis, eight years after a massive war between humans and aliens. “It’s not a pretty show,” says Benz. “It’s not like I had great clothes and I got lots of hair and make-up.” But it was work that the actress nonetheless enjoyed. “I had to go through automatic weapons training, which was pretty intense and pretty cool.”
At the start of her acting career, Julie Benz was doing mostly comedies. “I didn’t think of myself as a dramatic actress at all,” she says. It was Joss Whedon who pushed Benz out of her comfort zone, casting her as Darla on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Whedon encouraged Benz to take creative risks. “He saw something in me,” she recalls. “He thought, wouldn’t it be great if a girl who looked like you and sounded like you turned out to be the most evil vampire ever? He was tickled by that whole idea.”
Like James Marsters’ Spike, Darla was not originally intended to last very long in the Whedonverse. She wasn’t even Darla to begin with, merely Vampire Girl #1. “I was supposed to die in the pilot,” Benz explains. “I actually did die and they rewrote it and re-shot it. And then I was supposed to die in the second episode – they kept expanding the character.” As fans continued to respond positively to Darla, she was brought back to life yet again on “Angel.”
Alas, another of Benz’s memorable TV characters had no such luck. Rita Morgan, loving wife of Michael C. Hall’s principled serial killer on “Dexter,” suffered the same fate at the end of season 4 as the majority of the people who entered Dexter’s life. “No one was more shocked than me,” Benz says. “I found out an hour before they put out the script for that final episode.”
Dexter's discovery of Rita’s dead body is one of the most disturbing images from the series, but Julie Benz’s immediate thoughts had little to do with that. “My first reaction was, ‘Oh my god, I just lost my job,’” she remembers. “But creatively I could see what it was they were trying to do. And I respected that, because it really did reset the show in many ways.”
Benz still misses Rita, but she’s grateful to have had the opportunity to play an important role in what turned out to be a huge game-changer for the show. “It was a powerful moment and one I’m so honored to be a part of.”
Previously on The Weekly Whedon:
MTV News producer Tami Katzoff presents The Weekly Whedon, a column exploring all corners of the Whedonverse from "Marvel's The Avengers" to "Buffy" and beyond. Assemble your reactions in the comments section!