Julie Benz talks “Dexter,” skating and superpowers

Julie Benz has been on Whedonites’ radar since she first appeared on Buffy as Angelus’ vampire sire, Darla.

 

But subsequent turns as Robin, the lesbian ex-stripper who captured Katherine’s heart on Desperate Housewives, and Rita, the ill-fated wife of Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) on Dexter, brought Benz to the attention of mainstream viewers — and garnered many a crush in the process.

In No Ordinary Family, Benz plays Stephanie Powell, a scientist who came home from a nightmarish family vacation with superhero-style speed.

Her family has superpowers, too – husband Jim (Michael Chiklis) has incredible strength and can leap over tall buildings, daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker) can read minds and memories, and son JJ (Jimmy Bennett) has mega intelligence that includes the ability to learn a language in minutes and visualize complex mathematical equations. (A math superpower? That would be just my luck.)

The series has a fun premise and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the episodes I’ve seen. Unfortunately, No Ordinary Family usually airs opposite Glee, so I catch it at odd times. This week, though, the show moves an hour later to make room for Skating With the Stars and perhaps will find new viewers in the process.

Benz talked to Movieline about her role as Stephanie and the transition from playing Rita on Dexter. Here are some highlights.

On whether she is asked to audition for stereotypical roles:

I don’t think I could ever be pigeonholed. There were a lot of scripts out there with stock characters and I definitely try to shy away from characters that were too similar to Rita coming off of Dexter which is why I was very lucky to find Stephanie Powell and No Ordinary Family.

 

On her reasons for deciding to take the role of Stephanie:

Well, the whole script was just a fun read and it married all of the things I like to do as an actor. It had comedy, it had drama, it had action … of course, working with Michael Chiklis was a big appeal to me too. Having worked with Michael C. Hall for four years, I had a little trepidation about whether I would be able to find another co-star of that caliber and I found it with Michael Chiklis.

On what she has learned from working with Chiklis and Hall:

Michael C. Hall has a very intellectual approach and a very internal approach. Just watching him working was like watching a master violinist play in concert … Chiklis works the way I work, which I love. It’s about being really present and we’re able to have a lot more fun on set. But that’s also because the material is different.

On Rita’s final scene in Dexter:

Oh, it was traumatic. I mean, I only found out the day before we shot [that Rita was being killed off]. They had kept it a secret from everybody including me. It was … emotional for me because here I was, saying goodbye to an entire family I had known for four years — and having to do it so quickly. Meanwhile, I was just trying to wrap my head around the fact that I had just lost my job … I tried to have fun with the scene as much as I could. I knew it was a visually shocking scene with the baby nearby in Rita’s blood.

There were some fans that were so turned off by that image that they stopped watching the show while others were fascinated by it. A lot of people told me that that image disturbed them for weeks. I would walk into a restaurant and have people just gasp that I was still alive. It was a brutal image and I don’t think people are used to seeing those images on television, especially involving characters that they have grown emotionally attached to. It happens in the movies but not on TV.

On learning to emulate running at super speed:

Well, special effects guys and the producers figured that out … It was a lot of experimenting on the treadmill with a harness and seeing what looks best. They did a lot of specific studies about what it would be like to run that fast and the force fields that would be created around you at such a high speed. And how you would have to avoid creating so much friction that your clothes would burn off. My trainer helped me a lot. We watched a lot of the Matrix movies to get ideas.

On Skating with the Stars:

You know, I haven’t really paid attention to it. I know that it’s coming out because it is actually preempting No Ordinary Family for a little bit of time. But I know that they tried to do the same show on Fox awhile ago and they actually offered it to me back then. I turned it down [because being a national competitor would have been an unfair advantage] and then a week later I got Dexter so that worked out.

On her favorite movie scene:

The end of Seven when Brad Pitt’s character is standing in the middle of this big open plain and you know, in the audience, that Gwyneth Paltrow’s head is in that box. It is a bone-chilling scene. It is just a horrific moment and Brad Pitt did such an amazing job … it is just so shocking. And to me, that is always what Dexter had — these shocking scenes that you could not believe were actually unfolding in front of you. And I think that that scene is similarly traumatic as Rita’s final scene was.

Wow. No wonder she loved being on Dexter.

Check out the rest of the interview at Movieline and let us know what you think. Are you a fan of No Ordinary Family? And have you recovered from Rita’s stunning demise yet?

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