A Chat with Julie Benz, Julie Benz interview, "Rambo"

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Don't miss David Medsker's review of Rambo.

Your frame of reference to Julie Benz depends greatly on your viewing habits. For instance, if you’re a fan of vampire-themed dramas, you probably recognize her from her stint as Darla on “Angel” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” (If you’re a guy, you also probably remember the Catholic schoolgirl outfit she wore in her initial appearances on “Buffy.” Yowza!) If you prefer your dramas to focus on the more mainstream serial killers, then you likely know Benz from her gig on “Dexter.” If you enjoy a good blood ‘n’ guts war picture, however, it’s a stone-cold certainty that you caught her role in “Rambo,” which arrives on DVD from Lionsgate on May 27. Bullz-Eye had a chance to speak with Benz, where we asked her about all three of these performances, as well as her early sitcom work and her upcoming roles in “Saw V” and “Punisher: War Zone.”

Bullz-Eye: Hello!

Julie Benz: Hi!

BE: Good to talk to you!

JB: Good to talk to you, too!

BE: Since we’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll just jump right in, feet first. Were you a fan of the “Rambo” saga before you came into the role of Sarah?

JB: Um, I wasn’t…I mean, I was familiar with the images of Rambo, but I had actually never really watched any of the movies. I was more of a fan of the “Rocky” franchise. I’m very much a girly-girl. (laughs)

BE: Well, at least you still had a history with Stallone, anyway.

JB: Yes!

BE: Did you enjoy working with him? Was it everything you’d hoped it would be?

JB: Yeah, I learned so much from him about filmmaking and about acting, and about…you can’t…I mean, I found him to be very inspiring. You watch him walk on set, and he’s committing 150 percent of his energy to every frame that’s filmed, every moment. I’ve never seen anybody work harder in my entire life, and to me, that’s what makes him Sylvester Stallone. That’s why he is an international film icon and probably one of the most recognizable people in the world. It’s his dedication to his work. He works harder than anybody I’ve ever met.

BE: When I found out I was going to be talking to you today, I mentioned to one of the other editors that I hoped I’d get a screener before doing so, since I hadn’t been able to catch the movie in the theater. He responded, “Well, not to spoil anything for you, but she spends most of the film ducking gunfire and locked up in a cage.”

JB: (starts laughing)

BE: Would you agree with that assessment?

JB: I do run around a little bit! I spend most of the movie covered in dirt. I’m very thankful that they don’t have Smell-O-Vision, because we were one stinky bunch by the end of the movie!

BE: I was going to ask you if you had any problems with the film’s violence, but given that you followed “Rambo” by doing “Saw V” and “Punisher: War Zone,” I guess you’re okay with it.

JB: You know what? The violence in “Rambo” for me…um, shooting the movie really changed my life, in that it made me more of an activist. Because the violence we show and portray in “Rambo” is what’s really going on in that part of the world, and it’s actually a mild, watered-down version of what’s going on in that part of the world. So it’s…it was very important to tell the story and get the message across of what’s going on in Burma and how violent that country is. For me, it was a very important movie to make.

BE: I got the impression that it was very much a personal issue for Stallone.

JB: Yes. If you look at all the Rambo movies, I think one of the things that makes them so iconic is that they’re not just action movies for the sake of action. There’s a very timely social message behind each one, and this one’s no different. You look at what’s been going on in the news in the country, especially for the past few weeks, let alone the past eight months. It’s really been illuminated by the cyclone that hit about three weeks ago. You see that this is an extremely violent government that doesn’t care about their people, and it was a very important story to tell. It’s very timely.

"I learned so much from (Sylvester Stallone) about filmmaking and about acting. You watch him walk on set, and he's committing 150 percent of his energy to every frame that's filmed, every moment. I've never seen anybody work harder in my entire life."

BE: I know the film itself is a serious subject, but when you were on the set, were there any particularly funny moments that stand out?

JB: Well, one day, an elephant crashed through the set, which was kind of surprising! You’re shooting in the jungles of Thailand, and all of a sudden, here comes an elephant, and we’re, like, “Whoa!” (laughs) Only on location! You know, we did have fun shooting it. I mean, there’s always something very exciting about taking off across the world to shoot on location, in a jungle. There’s always something exciting about it as an actor. It’s difficult, but there’s also a lot of excitement.

BE: To jump subjects to your role on “Dexter;” Dexter and Lila more or less went full circle during Season Two, going through quite a lot but ending up basically where they were when the season began.

JB: I think you mean Dexter and Rita.

BE: D’oh, sorry, that’s what I meant.

JB: For a second, I was, like, “Wow, do you know something I don’t know?” (laughs)

BE: Yeah, sorry about that! Okay, so here’s my question: how different was the way Rita reacted to Dexter’s actions to how you would’ve reacted?

JB: Wow. (laughs nervously at first, then slightly more deviously) Um…very different. He would’ve been out on his ass! No, I don’t know. I mean, I think Rita’s situation…I don’t know, I haven’t been put through all the abuse and suffered through all the violence that she suffered through very early on, and I don’t have two kids, so me, Julie, I would’ve thrown him out on his ass. But I do understand the psychology of Rita and the importance of Dexter in her life, and she was able to find a way to forgive him. (slyly) She’s a much bigger person than I am.

BE: I know you do the “Buffy” and “Angel” conventions with some regularity, but given how much you’ve accomplished since then, if Joss Whedon called you and said, “We’re doing an ‘Angel’ movie, and there’s a flashback scene with Darla in it,” would you still be in?

JB: Sure! Of course! Of course. She was an amazing character for me to play, and it was just a lot fun to play somebody who’s so sexy and dangerous. Very different from me. (laughs)

BE: And here’s a multiple choice question: between “Payne,” “Ask Harriet,” and “Hi Honey, I’m Home,” which is most deserving of a DVD release?

JB: Hmmm. Um…maybe they could fit all three of them in one DVD set? There aren’t too many of any of them! (laughs) I don’t know. “Ask Harriet” was a lot of fun to shoot. I knew that show wasn’t going to last, because we were having way too much fun on there. I mean, we used to have bake-offs and all sorts of stuff. It was a blast, one of those where the whole cast got along and everybody loved going to work. So I knew it wasn’t going to last.

BE: I spoke to one of the cast members of “NCIS” recently, and he said he can’t believe that show has lasted as long as it has, given how much the cast enjoys each others’ company. He said it’s a bad karma thing: whenever a cast gets along really well, their show is canceled.

JB: Oh, don’t say that! Because on “Dexter,” we all get along! (laughs)

BE: Well, maybe it’ll be an exception like “NCIS.”

JB: Yes!

“I spend most of (‘Rambo’) covered in dirt. I’m very thankful that they don’t have Smell-O-Vision, because we were one stinky bunch by the end of the movie!”

BE: And just to reconfirm that I’m a total cult-TV fan, did you enjoy working on the remake of “Satan’s School for Girls?”

JB: I loved it! Absolutely loved it! I didn’t even know what the original movie was, but, wow, I got to meet Kate Jackson, and that was kinda cool, y’know? I mean, she was a real Charlie’s Angel! But was it a real career high point? (laughs) I have no idea!

BE: So I mentioned that you’re in “Saw V,” but did you enjoy stepping into that role, given the history of the franchise and the controversy surrounding the violence? Was it still a fun role?

JB: You know, it was a very fun role. The movie itself? Shooting the movie really…I mean, I was having nightmares while filming it. It really affected me, which I think just goes to show you how it’s such a…it’s basically a psychological horror film. It’s not your typical slasher movie. I mean, I would have moments where I would forget that it was imaginary, and I would really think certain things were going to happen. (laughs) And that’s never happened to me before! And I was having nightmares, and…my character, she’s a very posh woman, and I wouldn’t say she’s… (hesitates) She’s not a very nice human being, and it’s hard to play a character like that and to live with that energy. So it was a challenge for me.

BE: Was “Punisher: War Zone” fun?

JB: (emphatically) Yes! It was the first time I’ve gotten to do an accent in my entire career, so that was a lot of fun. And, also, working with Ray Stevenson and Dominic West. All the men in that movie are these big, strapping British guys. (giggles) It was a lot of fun.

BE: Are you at all a fan of the comic-book movie genre?

JB: Y’know, I am. I enjoy watching them. I think…you know, they really take imagination and run with it. It’s a part of movie-making that I love.

BE: And the last question, to keep you on track: what’s the one role you’ve done that didn’t get as much love as you thought it should have?

JB: Hmmm. (laughs) Let’s see. You know, I did a TV movie for the Hallmark Channel called “The Long Shot,” and that was really…it was just a TV movie, but it was an amazing experience, and it was based on a true story about this woman with a horse that went blind, and the script was written by her father. For me, it was…just to be handed someone’s life to bring to the screen, it’s an honor. I really enjoyed that movie.

BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

JB: Thank you!

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