Interview with Julie Benz of "Defiance" on SyFy - Primetime Article From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Interview with Julie Benz of "Defiance" on SyFy 4/4/13

Julie Benz is one of my favorite actresses, and this is the second time I've gotten to speak with her over the phone. She is always so sweet. I first started watching her years ago when she played a teen in the sitcom "Hi, Honey I'm Home", which was a joint venture with ABC and TVLAND. She went on to prove her merit in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Angel", "Dexter" and many other roles.  She's kind to fans on Twitter, too.  What a wonderful actress, and here in "Defiance" on Syfy she is playing the mayor of the town in the future. She does so with panache. I hope you enjoy this interview, and her work on "Defiance", as much as I do!

Moderator: Maureen Granados
April 4, 2013
5:00 pm CT

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen thank you for standing by and welcome to the Defiance with Julie Benz conference call.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Syfy’s Maureen Granados. Please go ahead.

Maureen Granados: Hi everyone. Thanks so much for calling in today for our call with Julie Benz. We're really excited for Defiance which as everyone knows premieres Monday, April 15 at 9:00 on Syfy. And if you haven't picked up the game already it is currently available for purchase.

So I think without further ado we will turn this call over to Julie and open it up to all of your questions.

Julie Benz: Hello?

Operator: Our first question will come from the line of Paulette Cohn with Xfinity. Please proceed with your question.

Paulette Cohn: There are several post-apocalyptic shows on the air now. Can you talk about what makes Defiance special that people should turn (sic) into this one?

Julie Benz: I think what sets Defiance apart from the other post-apocalyptic shows is that we are really dealing with what happens after the war, after the apocalypse. How can we rebuild our planet and can aliens and humans live peacefully together? It's more of an immigration show and less about the actual apocalypse. Does that make sense?

Paulette Cohn: Can you tease a little bit about people should look for? A must-see moment, something really special that you think people should look for.

Julie Benz: I think the show has just on an epic scope - the special effects are truly amazing and very cinematic. Nothing like you've ever seen in a television before.

I'm partial; I mean, my best friend Jaime Murray who plays Stahma Tarr I think her performance is absolutely brilliant as Stahma and definitely worth tuning in to seeing, especially the bathing scene. And I'll just leave it at that without giving any spoilers.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Jamie Ruby with Please proceed with your question.

Jamie Ruby: So can you talk a bit about how you first got the role?

Julie Benz: It was pretty normal. It was during pilot season and they sent me the script and I read it and I really liked it. I went in and met with Kevin Murphy and I had known Kevin for many years socially. So I went in and met with him and we talked about the character and then I did a chemistry read with Grant and that's how I got the part. It was, you know, so not exciting in the way it happened.

But what I really loved about the script especially during pilot season was it was one of the few scripts out there that had very dynamic female characters that were very complex and interesting. Every woman on this show has a very complicated back story, a very rich character. And it's not like any other character you've seen. There's no, what I liked to deem the, mother/wife/victim role in the show. And for me it was really important to find a bad-ass female to play and that's exactly who Amanda Rosewater is.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Tim Holquinn with TVOvermind. Please proceed with your question.

Tim Holquinn: So, well my first question about Defiance pertains to your friendship with Jaime Murray. In the first three episodes, I notice you really didn't have any scenes together. And I'm just wondering if your characters possibly form a friendship or an alliance later throughout this season that might allow you two to be in more scenes together or some scenes together.

Julie Benz: Well I can't give away any spoilers because that would be wrong. Unfortunately we did not get to work together as much as we would've liked to in Season 1. But I hope that will change. I mean, part of the problem is, we're like two bad kids on set when get together. So we cause a lot of trouble off set as well as on set. So I think that it was good to keep us apart during Season 1.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Jamie Steinberg with Starry Constellation Magazine. Please proceed with your question.

Jamie Steinberg: I was wondering if you could talk about Amanda and Nolan's relationship. Could you explain it a bit?

Julie Benz: Oh. I don't even think Amanda and Nolan understand it. It starts out as, he's a newcomer in the town and he obviously peaks her interests. But it gets complicated and it…I don't want to give away too many spoilers but it does get complicated.

And, you know, she does eventually come to rely on him, though, to help lead the town; he becomes a Lawkeeper. And she knows he's a bit of a wild card but at the end of the day he has his heart in the right place as far as, you know, his moral compass between right and wrong. And she leans on him a lot. But it's just a very complicated relationship and not something that either one knows how to define it.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Steve Eramo with Sci-Fi and TV Talk. Please proceed with your question.

Steve Eramo: Could you tell us what sticks out most in your mind about your first day stepping on and working on the Defiance set?

Julie Benz: Well, you know, our first day was at the production office because we were taking up two weeks early for rehearsals and prep and all of that. And the first day at the production office seeing all the departments, seeing all the detailed work that had already been done before we were showing up: the drawings of the characters, the drawings of the set, walking through the back lot and watching it be built -- they built a three-street post-apocalyptic town -- watching the sets being made.

It was inspiring and very overwhelming on so many levels because you realize that people had been working on this for, close to five years in development. And that the world they created was so multi-layered and rich and fully developed. And, we had to all be basically given a bible of what had already, you know, been created so we could step into that world.

Our first day on set was quite fun. The weather had been really lovely up until the first day of shooting and then it decided to snow on our very first day. And my very first scene - my very first shot in my very first scene of the pilot it started to hail as soon as soon as they called action. So I was being pelted with hail in the middle of this rock quarry. And it was kind of crazy and it was springtime in Toronto so the weather is crazy in the spring. So they kind of used it for the show that the environmental elements are kind of out of whack in post-apocalyptic Earth.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Paulette Cohn with Xfinity. Please proceed with your question.

Paulette Cohn: Hey, I'm back. I was curious, you know, not all of the aliens on the show are CGI. They're real actors with prosthetics and stuff. So is that a different acting experience for you when you are interacting with somebody dressed as an alien? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Julie Benz: You know, it's always great to work with an actor dressed as an alien versus, you know, a CGI where there's nobody there and you have to create it all yourself. And it's so great to see the way the makeup transforms the actor. You look at Doc Yewll. That makeup is so extensive where she's covered from head to toe. And you don't see the actor at all. Like - you don't see Trenna at all in that. It's fascinating.

And I love the fact that I'm not in prosthetics and I get to watch everybody else be in prosthetics and they really do have an affect on you as the actor. I mean, I forget sometimes what Jaime Murray looks like outside of her makeup. I totally forget because I, you know, she’s Stahma so much I forget what she looks like. And same with Tony Curran. I forget how he looks because I'm working with him and I see him so much and we're having all these moments on screen together and then all of a sudden I see Tony, you know, out of makeup and I'm like whoa, oh.

I prefer having actors in prosthetic makeup versus working against the green screen with CGI aliens. It's much more complicated.

Operator: Our next question will come from Robin Burks with Please proceed with your question.

Robin Burks: What did you have to do in order to prepare for the role of Amanda?

Julie Benz: In order to prepare for Amanda I - well first, they sent us to automatic weapons training which was pretty awesome. Mia and I both had to go and learn how to use machine guns. And I really loved it - I love learning about that kind of stuff and learning different things when I take on a character. So learning how to use a machine gun was probably one of the most bad-ass experiences I've had and I really enjoyed it.

And as far as preparing for it, just really finding her strength. Really realizing that her power comes from within even though she is in over her head a bit. But I don't have to be the loudest in the room to prove my point and I'm not always used to that. I think in my personal life I tend to try to be the loudest in the room to get my point across. And Amanda actually doesn't have to do that but people hear her better when she's quieter that she comes off stronger and more in power if she's more in control. And so for me it was just really kind of channeling that level of strength into a powerful stance in some ways.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Joshua Maloney with Niagara Frontier Publications. Please proceed with your question.

Joshua Maloney: Julie, it seems like more and more TV shows are made - filmed - in Toronto these days. I'm wondering what do you like about being in the city and what do you like about things to do maybe after work in the city?

Julie Benz: Oh, I love Toronto. I had a great time when I was there. I got to go to a TFC game. I went to a Marley's hockey game. They put me on the Jumbotron and I got to lead a cheer, which is pretty awesome. I was like the biggest tourist in Toronto the whole time we were there.

My husband and I, we ate our way through all the great restaurants. So many great restaurants in Toronto. We made a lot of friends outside of work and just had a blast. There are so many great dog parks and my dogs were with me so I spent a lot of time in the dog parks. And I just - it was such a great city to be in and especially in the summertime. There seems to be a festival or a fair going on every weekend. And we hit everything.

And the city really welcomed us there and really made us feel like it was our second home away from home and that we really belonged. And it was as great experience.

Operator: Our next question will come from Tony Tellado with Sci-Fi Talk. Please proceed with your question.

Tony Tellado: I wanted to ask you she is appointed mayor your character and there's a little bit of reluctance at first on her part. And how does she handle that transition to kind of being an assistant to being the full blown mayor?

Julie Benz: Well, I mean, she definitely is in over her head and she's really just trying to do - stick to her ideals and in many ways fulfill what Mayor Nicky had set out to do and really stick to Defiance maintaining their independence as a city.

And it's a tough road for her. I mean, she was not bred to be a mayor. I don't think she expected to be put in that position. It is revealed later on, you know, that there is an obvious reason why she was appointed. I think what we see through the season is we see Amanda grows stronger and stronger within the role and it becomes a better fit for her.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of John Soltes with Hollywood Soapbox. Please proceed with your question.

John Soltes: Yes, hi. I'm curious: you've had a lot of success on TV. How does Defiance sort of match up against your previous work in the sense that Defiance seems like a very involved production, perhaps tougher than other roles. I mean, how does it compare to Buffy and Dexter?

Julie Benz: Wow. I think that for me it's all within the characters and the strength of the characters in the writing. And I think it definitely holds up next to Buffy and Dexter in that regard. When I look at to sign on to a project I really look at the writing and the character and is this the character I want to play for seven, eight years? And is this a story I want to be part of that's being told?

And I think it has a very strong narrative with obviously very strong creative behind it and it's just as rich as, you know, the Dexter script and as the Buffy pilot script, both the pilot scripts that I read. So yes, I think it definitely holds up. I mean, the scope is epic. It's like nothing I've ever been a part of in television and then the amount of detail that went into creating this whole fantasy world is tremendous. So I feel like we're doing a feature film every week. That's what it feels like.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Lisa Macklem with SpoilerTV Please proceed with your question.

Lisa Macklem: I was actually wondering if you could talk a little bit more about how Amanda compares to the other women that you've portrayed. And also I was hoping to know if we're going to get to see you do lots of action with those machine guns.

Julie Benz: Yes, there'll be a lot of action but man, I could've used more with those machine guns. I love that stuff, so. I love doing my own - or trying to do my own - stunts. I don't always succeed. I enjoy that a lot and I hope that, you know, in the future we get to see more of that as well.

As far as comparing to other roles that I've played, I've been so fortunate not to be typecast to be honest. And every character I've played has been completely different. But the one thing they all share is that is me at its core and they're all a different side of me. So they're all just a different side that I illuminate.

You know, where like Rita is the more vulnerable side of me and Darla was obviously the more, dare I say, bitchy side of me. And on Desperate Housewives, Robin was kind of the goofy side of me. I think Amanda is more my inner strength.

But to compare them it's so hard because they're such completely different women struggling with different issues. I don't know if I answered your question. I hope I did.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Suzanne Lanoue with the TV MegaSite. Please proceed with your question.

Suzanne Lanoue: I know you're an actor and not a writer, but do they ever let you give any input into the character or how you do the role or anything?

Julie Benz: Yes. I mean, we definitely get input. The great thing about Kevin Murphy and Michael Nankin and everybody involved in Defiance is we're all about the creative process.

And so they allow the actors to have a create process as well. So even though we walked into a world that was fully created and that had five years behind the creating of it they did allow us to come in as - each actor come in and develop the characters and tailor them to us. So - and they get inspired by the creative process, the powers that be. So they're inspired by it. So they encourage us to be creative and to bring more to the table than what's written on the page.

So it was a really warm and wonderful environment as far as having input into the character. And certain things, you know, certain things we would suggest work and then certain things done because of the narrative they're trying - the overall narrative that's trying to be told. But they really encouraged all of us to push the envelope, to create a rich life for our character and to, you know, throw ideas out that them and, you know, that inspires them as well. So it was a really wonderful environment to be part of.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Diane Morasco with Morasco Media. Please proceed with your question.

Diane Morasco: I have to ask how did you prepare physically, emotionally and spiritually to take on the role of Amanda?

Julie Benz: Wow. Well physically, obviously, I mean, I always train hard but I trained even harder just because I figured, you know, living in post-apocalyptic Earth you have to - you're probably in really good shape just that with the hardships of how life is and how you don't have all the luxuries of what we're used to having, so. And also I wanted to have my endurance up for the long shooting hours that were required of us and some of the action sequences as well.

Emotionally, it was more for me about finding her strength in an inspiring way. So it was more me focusing on trying to find power within the quiet moments. The way I work as an actor, it's very organic and I sit down, I talk, I spend a lot of time talking with the writers and the creatives about the world that's being created, the story that they want to tell.

And then I get inspired through that and certain things really resonate with me that they say and then I can take those little bits of inspiration and blossom them into more.

So for me it's just a lot of time really thinking about the character and spending time alone just thinking over Amanda's life and what she's been through and where she's going and this world that she's living in because you can't really research the future. It's not like I can go out and read a history book about what happens in the future because there is none. So the world only exists in the minds of the creatives. So it's really just picking their brains as if they are a history book and figuring out what that is that they're trying - the story they're trying to tell.

And then - so it was emotionally, physically and spiritually. I guess that's the same answer as emotionally. I didn't really say that I could do this, that I could play the mayor because I tend to still think of myself as a 20-year-old girl that doesn't know what she's doing. I have to remind myself that I'm not, that I'm actually 40 and I could be mayor if I wanted to, so.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Ernie Estrella with Please proceed with your question.

Ernie Estrella: There are so many alien races in the show and it seems like diplomacy and politics is a big part of the series. Is that the case? And did you look to other women who are world leaders or mayors for any type of inspiration?

Julie Benz: You know, politics is a huge part of the show and it was interesting because when we were filming the show it was during the presidential election. So it was for me a great time, you know, I watched all the debates and watched all the body language and everything so I could learn more about being in a debate situation as a politician. So yes, it was great timing in many ways. It was very timely for us to be shooting at the time of, you know, the last election.

And as for looking towards, you know, world leaders I think, you know, Amanda's a diamond in the rough. I mean, she's not necessarily your typical mayor. She's not Mayor Nicky. I mean, obviously Mayor Nicky had risen through the ranks to be bred to be mayor and Amanda started out as a janitor really and then, you know, moved into assistance and then all of a sudden was given the reins to take over.

So I think her journey's a little different. Kevin Murphy had said to me very early on that Amanda was very much like Allison Janney's character in The West Wing in the beginning when she's just starting out on the job and her heart's in the right place and she makes mistakes but she always manages to pull through because her intentions and her heart's always in the right place. She, you know, might not take the right action but her intentions are pure.

And that's Amanda at her core. And I don't know if there are many world politicians out there that still have that quality.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Tina Charles with Please proceed with your question.

Tina Charles: So, you know, without giving away any spoilers after the pilot is there an episode that really epitomizes Defiance and is really going to be the one that hooks sci-fi fans? And can you give a hint as to why?

Julie Benz: I think every episode really deals with that. I mean, that's what Defiance is about, you know. But I think through every episode we learn more and more and more about what the town stands for and what the name stands for. And, you know, it's a - there's so many elements going on in the show because you have, you know, trying to see if aliens and humans can live peacefully together in this one town.

But then there's also these outside factions trying to take over the town. So they don't believe aliens and humans can live peacefully and they want either a pure human race or all-alien race. Like they don't want they don't want to mix it. They, you know, so Defiance is about the struggle to keep your independence and then, you know, more - we've - every episode reveals another element of that.

Tina Charles: Great. Thanks.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Jamie Ruby with Please proceed with your question.

Jamie Ruby: Hi again. So did you play the game at all?

Julie Benz: I've tried to play the game. I'm terrible at it. I blew myself up and I ran into a wall and blew myself up. I set myself on fire.

Jamie Ruby: The other thing I wanted to ask you is you talk a lot about, you know, the action scenes and shooting the guns and that but did you have any actual stunts that you can talk about?

Julie Benz: Nothing major, not as much as I would've liked. Not as much as I would've liked. I wish there was more for me to do. I really enjoy that stuff.

In episode 5 there's a scene where we're all in a stagecoach and - like a futuristic stagecoach. And so they were bouncing us around in this truck and of course none of the actors put the seatbelts on because we were told it wasn't going to be that forceful. And then we go to shoot and we're like flying all over the place inside this stagecoach which is really funny and not supposed to happen. But that was kind of fun to do.

But yes, I mean, as far as stunts for Amanda I didn't, you know, there weren't as many as I hope for in the future.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Tim Holquinn with TVOvermind. Please proceed with your question.

Tim Holquinn: The first three episodes were brilliantly written. I foresee a Hugo nomination in your future. I'm wondering will the show be paneling at San Diego's Comic-Con this summer?

Julie Benz: Oh, that's a great question. We didn't have a panel there last year so I'm certainly hoping that we'll have one there this year especially now that the show's on the air. So it seems to be the right place for it. But that's a great question for Syfy. I will definitely be asking them that question.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Robin Burks with Please proceed with your question.

Robin Burks: It seems that you've done a lot of acting in science fiction and I was wondering if there is something in particular about sci-fi that keeps drawing you to it.

Julie Benz: Yes. You know, it's interesting because I got into this business thinking I'd only do comedy. And it wasn't until I met Joss Whedon that all of that changed for me. And what I have discovered over the years is that sci-fi genre material offers better female roles and allows me to be more creative as an actor. The givens are so extreme that you have to bring to life and make believable that it really challenges your imagination more and really forces you to bring your A game everyday.

And it - I - it just kind of happened. It wasn't like I set out to do only be work in this genre. I still love to do comedy but what I love about sci-fi genre material is I get to experience acting on a different level. It pushes me into other areas. It forces me to think about things in a different way and forces my creativity to be stronger.

And the female characters are just - they just write them better. And the older you get as a woman, as an actress you see fewer and fewer strong female characters that I feel fortunate that the sci-fi genre still offers the opportunity to, you know, be a bad ass at 40.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Tony Tellado with Sci-Fi Talk. Please proceed with your question.

Tony Tellado: You're a bad ass at any age, Julie. Don't worry about it.

Julie Benz: Oh, thank you.

Tony Tellado: I wanted to ask you kind of a hypothetical question. Do you think Amanda would close down the NeedWant to better serve Defiance even though it's her sister? Would she actually do something along those lines?

Julie Benz: Oh. No - that's a hard question to - in episode - I think in episode 3 we start to see the struggle - I don't want to say struggle - but how complicated Kenya and Amanda's relationship is. And I think that it's interesting because in every frontier show, every western there's always a type of a NeedWant bar situation, brothel or whatever. It's part of, when you're faced with when people are in desperate times it's part of human connection, needed to be with others.

So I think it's a core element to Defiance as a town and I don't necessarily think that Amanda would close it down. Now if it turns into a really ugly element and it was extremely violent and became like a fight club then maybe yes, she would definitely try to shut it down regardless of whether her sister was running it or not.

But I do think too it, you know, it complicates Amanda's role as mayor to have her sister running the brothel and it complicates their relationship tremendously.

Maureen Granados: Well thank you everyone so much for joining. I really appreciate it. And Julie, thank you so much for your time.

Julie Benz: Thank you.

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