Dexter is one of those shows that TV elitists and genre fans can both agree on. It's smart, engaging and filled with fantastic actors. It doesn’t skimp on the blood and violence, either. At this weekend's Spike TV Scream Awards, we caught up with Julie Benz, a.k.a. America's ubiquitous genre sweetheart, who plays Dexter’s girlfriend, Rita. In addition to chatting about her hit show, Benz gave us a sneak peek at her next upcoming project, Punisher: War Zone...
How did you land your role in Dexter?
I auditioned for it. I fought tooth and nail for it. Originally, they thought I was too pulled together to play the role of this very damaged woman, so they asked if I would come in with no makeup on. I took it one step further. I came in with no makeup on, after having just had red wine the night before, so my eyes were really puffy, and I wore frumpy clothing. They didn’t even realize I was the same person, and they gave me the part.
Your first impression when you read the script for Dexter?
One of the reasons I fought tooth and nail was because I read the script and thought, "This is the kind of programming I like to watch." I’ve been wanting to work for Showtime for a long time. I really feel like they are hitting their stride, and on the forefront of cutting-edge television. I just really wanted to be part of the show. It is provocative, it challenges you as a viewer, it raises so many questions about your own moral code, and it doesn’t force-feed you any answers. I watch a lot of cable television because of that. I thought it would be a hit from day one.
Tell us about your role in Punisher: War Zone.
I play Angela Donatelli. I am the wife of a cop, I’m a mother - I have a young daughter. She’s a tough woman, kind of like a momma bear who will do whatever it takes to protect her daughter. She’s kind of pissed off at everyone.
Do you get to be rough-and-tumble in it?
A little bit. A little more than normal.
Do you have a preference between TV or film?
I don’t. For me, there are joys in both. With film, you are usually taken away to some really great location, and you work in this kind of isolated world. All you are doing is working, since you are on location. So you can check out of your real life and just focus on your work. There’s something really refreshing about that. You don’t have to worry about home and juggling and balancing other stuff. But there are so many great joys in television, too, like the family that is created. We’ve had the same crew since the beginning of the show. There’s also something really wonderful about being able to play the same character over the span of a couple years. I constantly discover more things about Rita. She’s changed me as an actor. I’m constantly being challenged and deepening my work playing her.
What's coming up for Rita this season?
Well, she’s pregnant. Dexter is not the most emotionally available man. I always say, Rita is the tugboat in that relationship. She constantly has to tell him what the next step is. I always say season one Rita was very damaged, like a fragile bird. Season two, she had a really bad headache. In season three, she is really coming from a place of love in dealing with Dexter. She really does love him, and is very patient with him.
Do you have any say in the direction Rita goes?
I leave it all up to the writers. We have the best writing staff in town.
In real life, what's your biggest fear?
I am afraid of rats, or any wild animal that could get into the house. Anything. An armadillo. Or a raccoon. I think raccoons are so cute, but I don’t want one crawling through the dog door.