Defiance: Julie Benz Interview

Discover who she thinks Mayor Rosewater should cop off with, and who gets her heart pounding when she has a scene with them

“That’s a good question but not one I’m allowed to answer,” she laughs.

We didn’t realise it would be a big spoiler!

“I’m teasing. I’m teasing,” she reassures us. “No, he doesn’t play it.”

There you go. You heard it here first. Unlike REM’s “Shiny Happy People” which you won’t hear here or on Defiance.

Defiance ’s Mayor Rosewater is the latest in a bewilderingly varied range of roles for Benz. For many SFX readers she will always the actress who played Darla in Buffy and Angel , but since then she’s won a whole new fanbase with a recurring role on Dexter , starred in A Gifted Man and No Ordinary Family , and guested on everything from Supernatural to Desperate Housewives . There were the big screen appearances too – Saw V , Punisher : War Zone , Rambo , to name a few.

“I’ve been very lucky to avoid any type of typecasting,” she says, adding that, “It’s not conscious, it just happens. It’s the luck of the draw. I’ve been very lucky to have played such different characters.”

And now she’s playing the new mayor of a post-apocalyptic frontier town, built on the ruins of St Louis which was destroyed when Earth was accidentally terraformed following a brief war with the alien Votans. That war also left the various Votan races stranded on Earth too, and now humans and Votans are living in an uneasy and delicate alliance.

With such a varied array of roles behind her, was there some new challenge involved in the role of Amanda Rosewater?

“Yeah, playing a woman in power was new for me,” she says eagerly. “And to be able to play this woman as a woman without losing her femininity, but still being powerful. That’s a hard balance to strike with Amanda. And the evolution of her as a character, is what interests me as well, but I can’t tell you about them without giving spoilers.”

Benz says that when she won the role and the character was being developed for the pilot, Amanda was described by the show’s creators as, “a cross between Roslin in Battlestar Galactica and Allison Janney’s character in The West Wing . She’s a powerful woman, but she’s also new to the job, and she’s in over her head. Because her heart’s in the right place she always wants to do the right thing, but she doesn’t necessarily go about it in the right way.”

She didn’t look to anyone she knew for real-life inspiration though, preferring to draw on more personal experiences. “I don’t know any powerful woman,” she jokes. “Me! I’m the most powerful woman I know! No, what I can relate to – as far as playing Amanda – is I’m a bit of a workaholic myself, and I’m extremely competitive, so I understand a lot about Amanda inherently. I mean, these days I have a little more balance in my life but I didn’t always have that. I’ve had to work at having a balance between work and personal life. Whereas Amanda only has work. It’s just work. She doesn’t have any room in her life for any kind of personal life.”

NEXT PAGE FOR: Who Benz would like to see Amanda in a relationship with and more…

She also describes Amanda as, “the voice of the town. She’s the vessel through which the audience can believe, in many ways, what Defiance stands for,” which can cause its own acting challenges.

“Yes, it does. It’s a hard role to play. There’s nothing showy or fancy to do. She has to be, in some ways, a bit of a Pollyanna .” Pragmatically, she adds, “It also leaves her a lot of room to grow. It’s always good to start out at one extreme and have a character grow and change.”

She admits that it was the chance to appear in a show where a whole new world was being created that appealed as much as the role itself, and she’s full of praise for the large-scale sets.

“They built Defiance!” she enthuses. “It’s a working backlot; it’s not facades. They’re actual buildings. You open a door and they have interiors. They have upstairs and downstairs. And it is fun wandering around them during the day but at night when the lights are off it’s really creepy. I’ve been a bit scared walking through there a couple of times at night. I did it, to see what it was like, and I got really creeped out.”

There are a lot of quirky alien character on the show but Benz is happy to play a human. “I hate prosthetics. I’ve paid my dues in the prosthetics department. If I had to be an alien I would chose the Castithans, which is just make-up, it’s not prosthetics. Also the Castithans are supposed to be the most beautiful of the Votans. They’re supposed to be super gorgeous and beautiful and really tall. So I would like to be that.

Her favourite scenes on the show are any which involve the Macbeth and Lady Macbeth aliens in the show, Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) or Stahma Tarr (Jaime Murray), each of them for very different reasons.

“Any time I get to act with Jaime Murray is always fun because she’s one of my best friends. We met on the set of Dexter and she was at my wedding last year. Any time I get to work with her is a real treat – we have a lot of fun. We get into too much trouble at times, though.

Defiance also has a very liberal attitude towards sex, with various sexes and races intermingling quite happily, in various numbers and combinations. Does Benz ever open a script worried about what the writers may have cooked up for her?

And before we say goodbye, surely the mayor must know the answer to the most curious mystery in Defiance : why is the bike rack at NeedWant on the first floor balcony (or second floor in the States)?

“Ahhh. It’s top secret,” she whsipers. “I think it’s equipment used in the six-legged monkey crawl…”

Which, if you watch the show, you’ll know all about…

Defiance is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 15 July