Today I spoke with Dexter's better half, Julie Benz, who plays wife Rita. She hints at a major, major, major season finale, which has us going crazy with anticipation. One of Joss Whedon's former vamps, Benz told me why Dexter and Angel are alike, and why Saw V made her throw up. And Julie, if you're reading this – sorry for hounding you for spoilers!
Rita has gone through some big changes this season: new husband, new baby, new house. How is she handling it?
She's the happiest she's ever been. She has the perfect husband, the great kids, a new baby, the big house in the suburbs she's always dreamed about. It's just a normal life, and that is something she has always wanted.
But in the world of Dexter, it can't last forever.
Really? You think so? What do you know that I don't? [Laughs.]
Rita is bound to start clueing in to Dexter's secret life.
I don't think she thinks he would ever lie to her. Wait, that's a lie, because he has lied to her in the past. I just don't think her mind goes to, "He's a serial killer." If you're married, would you think that about your husband? You would think affair, or something like that. And as we have discovered, Dexter is a master liar. He's able to cover very, very, well.
So Rita isn't going to start doing laundry and find a speck of blood on one of Dexter's shirts?
That's a good question! I don't know what goes on with the laundry in the Morgan household! I don't know if he ever actually washes his kill suit – I think he just throws it out. I'm not sure. But the season finale is very shocking this year. It's so shocking that I think we go either way – we could gain fans or lose fans. It definitely changes the show as a whole. We see everyone's world starting to collide over this season. There are all sorts of collisions that happen, with all the characters on the show. It is a very monumental season.
You are making me crazy with anticipation here!
I know, but it's not fair to give away spoilers. The finale is so shocking, it really shocks all of us as actors. We were all… shocked by it. I don't know what other word to use!
So when you got the script for the last episode, did you go to the writers and producers and say, "What the…?"
No, not really. We have an amazing writing team and they really know what they are doing. The end does leave you breathless. It's going to make people want to see season five even more. They know what is best for the show. At the end of the day, we are just actors. I am an actor, not a writer or a producer – I'm not the creative force behind the show. My job is to bring to life what is written on the page. I trust that our team of writers and producers know exactly what they are doing. They brought the show to life in the first place.
I heard a rumor that Rita and Dexter start going to marriage counseling. Is that true?
That is true.
So soon in the marriage?
There are some people who go to marriage counseling even before they get married, so it's not necessarily a bad thing. When you have a communication breakdown in any relationship, counseling is a good thing, and obviously, Dexter is not very good at communicating, and Rita is a little overly emotional, so it would make sense that they would go.
Is there anything that sets it off?
Yes there is. That's all I'm going to say. I understand the need to know, but I don't want to ruin the season. This season, none of us knew where the storylines were going, not even Michael [C. Hall]. It's an adrenaline rush to see how it all plays out.
Okay, I'm sorry for all the pushing. I just get too excited!
I know, it's okay. My parents do the same thing. I can't even tell them what happens!
The series has now outpaced the books. Did you used to read ahead and get an idea of where you character was going?
The only book that we actually followed was the first book. They own the rights to the first book and the characters. We were specifically told not to read past the first book. I will admit, I read the second one. I'm a big, big fan of the books. I think [author] Jeff Lindsay created great characters and great suspense. They are fun reads. It's one of those books that you can get on an airplane, read the book, and five hours later, you've landed and you don't even notice. I did feel like I was cheating by reading the second one, but I have not read past the second one – though that doesn't mean I'm not going to. It's a little too close while working on the show. It gets a little confusing because you know what happens in the books, and then you are trying to marry the characters in the books to what the writers have created in the show, and it is very different. So maybe when the show is over, I can sit down and read them.
You have a fairly extensive list of horror credits to your name. Was this by accident or by design?
Totally by accident! I'm the biggest scaredy-cat in the entire world! It's ironic that this is where my career has gone. When I first got into the business, I wanted to do comedy. I wanted to be the next Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts – I wanted to do romantic comedies. I never thought I was a dramatic actress – even in acting school, my instructors told me I was comedy. It wasn't until I met Joss Whedon that that changed. He saw something in me, and his belief in me that I could be a dramatic actress really changed my career.
Working in the horror genre is more challenging as an actor. You are working with these extreme givens. When I played Darla, she was 400 years old – I had to make that believable. It's so exciting and challenging to do that, though, that it fulfills me more as an actor.
Do you ever get scared while you are on set, shooting all these intense scenes?
Yes. Saw V was a very emotional experience for me. I was so excited when they asked me to be part of the franchise. The Saw movies scare me – they chill me to the bone. I think they are psychologically terrifying, and I think they stand out because of that. They are not just slasher movies. They affect you at your core. So the challenge for me was "Could I act in a movie that scares me to death?" I had nightmares about shooting that film – not typical actor nightmares, where you show up naked on set and can't remember your lines, but nightmares about the actual Saw traps, about Jigsaw. I got so scared when we were doing the last trap, I actually threw up on set. I was shaking. I wouldn't go near the saw. Even though I knew it was fake, just the idea of it all was terrifying to me. That movie really got to me. But it was fun [laughs].
It is fun to be scared to a point.
Yeah. I know a lot of fans were like, "If you were so scared, why did you do the movie?" Part of it was that, as an actor, I like to challenge myself. I like to see if I can conquer my own fears. When I did Rambo I did a lot of my own stunts, and I was scared to death. I was hiding behind a tree, crying, right before I had to run through an exploding building. I guess I'm a bit of an adrenaline junkie. There is something cool in saying, "I did it!" But right before, it's "Oh my God, I can't believe I am doing this."
Were you ever able to watch the finished Saw V?
No. I saw a lot of it when I had to go in and do ADR, but I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the whole thing. I've seen all the other ones though. I just can't bear to watch myself go through it. It was such an emotional journey for me while on set that I feel like I have experienced it already.
Which role do you think you get recognized for more: Darla or Rita?
I think it's mostly the same audience, but I will say that, right now, it is probably more for Rita. In many ways, Dexter is a similar show to Angel, but without the supernatural element. Both shows ask the same questions. In Angel, you find yourself rooting for a vampire with a soul, who could go evil any second. And Dexter is kind of the serial killer with a soul, in a weird way. He is only killing other killers, but could he go evil any second? Dexter could drop the code any minute, or Angel could experience one moment of pure happiness and turn into Angelus. It's the same theme, and I think it appeals to a very similar audience.