Interview With Julie Benz Of Showtime’s Dexter

Julie Benz Photo

Photo: Dan Littlejohn / ©2007 Showtime. All Rights Reserved.

DEXTER is a crime drama about Dexter Morgan, a man who leads a double life as an incredibly likeable forensics expert for the Miami Police Department and as an emotionless vigilante serial killer. While sentiment and feelings elude Dexter, he struggles to find a kindred spirit of sorts in his emotionally damaged girlfriend, Rita (Julie Benz), who keeps him grounded in the realities of "normal" life and provides him respite from the dark corners of his mind.  The series is based on the acclaimed novel, "Darkly Dreaming Dexter," by Jeff Lindsay.

Dexter Premieres Sunday, Feb. 17 at 10PM ET/PT on the CBS Television Network.

TakeFiveGal: I tell somebody how great Dexter is once a day.  I just finished convincing my dad to watch it.  Are you guys excited about being on CBS?

Julie Benz: I am!  I think it will be a great opportunity for people that don’t have Showtime to be exposed to this really great show.

It’s so funny how much people have identified with a serial killer as the lead character but it’s a show that’s not just about that.

I think one of the really great things about it is that moral ambiguity and you do find yourself rooting for a guy who is a serial killer but yet you want him to kind of get away with.

It’s exciting to get to talk about season 1 again!  What originally made you want to play Rita?

It wasn’t so much about wanting to play Rita as much as wanting to be a part of the show.  I read the pilot script and was like, this is one of the best scripts that I’ve ever read, and this is the type of show that I like to watch and I’ve been wanting to work with Showtime for a really long time and I really felt that they were on the verge of doing some really great television.  So for me, it was like, ok, who can I play?  I went in and read for the casting assistant.  I did what they call free read and I actually read for the role of Debra and Rita.  And I really like the role of Debra because I really wanted to swear but it was not believable at all.  And they were like “oh my god you’re our Rita” and I just said “okay” [laughing]

I don’t think I can imagine anyone else playing the role.  It seems like a role that was made for you.

Oh wow, thank you.  I like to think of it that way.  It’s always nice to think that nobody else could play the character.  I’m sure there are people that had different interpretations on it.

What is your favorite thing about Rita and what is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing about her is, I really love in spite of everything that’s happened to her, in spite of the fact that she was in a very abusive relationship that was physically and verbally abusive and all that.  In spite of that, she still has this romanticized view of love.  She’s not jaded.  She still has this Knight in shining armor romantic view of love.  What I don’t like about her…it changed a lot.  In season 1 she didn’t have much of a back bone although towards the end she was developing one.  In season 2, obviously we saw her grow into a much stronger woman.  For me, it was nice to see that growth and change because in the very beginning she was so damaged she was almost unable to function in a lot of ways.  That’s sort of what makes her great, too.

Do you want Rita to find out about Dexter?

Hell, no!  I want to stay on the show [laughs].  If Rita ever found out about Dexter, first and foremost, she’s a mother.  First and foremost, she has a lot of guilt about exposing her two children to the amount of violence that they’ve been exposed to already.  I think she would leave Dexter if she knew, to protect her children.  It would be a very difficult thing for her, but her children come first.  The amount of violence that they’ve been exposed to; it’s the guilt that she lives with every single day.  The fact that it was her daughter Astor that made the phone call the last time she got beaten up by Paul, prior to meeting Dexter. I remember I talk about that in a scene, the fact that it was her, her 10 year old daughter because she didn’t have the strength to do it on her own.  She doesn’t want to expose her children to anymore of that violence.

The kids who play Astor and Cody – you guys have a really great familial rapport.

Thank you – both of them, they’re just so lovely to work with.  Especially Christina, we have a special bond.  

What’s your favorite episode of Season 1?

Oh wow.  Must be when I dressed up as Lara Croft.

What would you say to somebody that hasn’t had Showtime, or hasn’t made the move to watch Dexter yet?  What is a reason to tune in?

I think if they really want to see some great programming.  Dexter is a show that doesn’t force feed you an opinion.  It really challenges you to think and ask questions of yourself.  On top of it, it’s just great drama that’s played out on screen.  The performance that Michael C. Hall delivers as Dexter, it’s unbelievable.  You see very few actors of his caliber on television.  It’s just amazing, he’s brilliant.

I worry about Jennifer Carpenter with all of the cursing.

I know, I told her, like “I’m scared for you baby!” [laughs]  We’ve done TV covers all along, and ADRs, so that’s already done.  You hear a lot of frick and French.    You hear Mother Fudge.  I think that’ll be Doakes.  “What are you looking at Mother Fudge?”   I don’t know if it’s Mother Fudge, but it makes me laugh.  

Do you guys get along well as a cast?

We really do.  I think the tone of the show is always built around the lead actor and Michael C. Hall couldn’t be more humble, more generous, more giving as an actor and as a friend.  He really sets the tone.  We have no divas on the show and we all get along great.  I was in a hard situation in the first season, because I only worked with Michael and the kids.  I didn’t really work with the other cast members.  And they, Erik King especially, made such an effort to make me feel included in the cast, to really make me feel that they realize I’m never there on the same days that they are.  They all went the extra mile to make sure that I didn’t feel isolated, that I didn’t feel like I wasn’t a part of the group.  Jennifer and I are really close. You know, Michael, and Erik King, he texts me all the time, he calls me and leaves me really great messages.  He’s very positive, and he’s always leaving me these great inspirational messages. And Lauren, we’re a really close cast.  I think we’re lucky that we do only do 12 episodes a year.  I always say that just as we’re getting sick of each other, we’re done haha.  I’ve been on shows where you do 22 episodes a year.  It does become like a family and it does become a lot of infighting and bickering. It’s because the show becomes your life.  The demands are pretty grueling and you start kind of resenting the hours and the work.  We’re very lucky because with 12 episodes, we get 12 really great episodes that challenge all of us as actors.  Sometimes in a 22 episode show, you have a couple episodes that really drag.  You get into the grind, and everybody feels it.  The writers, the producers, the directors, the actors, it’s like “ugh, 9 months of this!”  So we’re lucky.  4 and a half months, it’s great.

I want to switch gears a bit – let’s talk about Rambo!  I’d imagine shooting with Sylvester Stallone was pretty amazing.

It was.  First of all, he was a big fan of Dexter and that’s how I got the role.  He loved the show and called to ask if I’d be available to do the movie, and I was like, sure!  To work with someone of his level, someone who is just a film icon who has created two very iconic characters, international franchises. I’m pinching myself.  I still can’t believe that I know him.  Not just that I know him, but that I actually worked with him.  He’s a really amazing filmmaker.  If you watched Rambo, you see really amazing filmmaking.  He thinks of himself as a writer first, a director second, and an actor third.  I learned so much by working with him.  He’s hard on you, too, he’s tough.  He kept saying “Dexter’s gonna seem like a cakewalk after this” and I’m like, “you’re right”.  It really made me appreciate working on Dexter.  Working on Rambo we were in the middle of the jungle in Thailand, working in horrible conditions.  Very treacherous.  The location sometimes was so dangerous that you really needed to ask yourself twice if you really had to go the bathroom [laughs], ya know what I mean?  You had to make the climb up a dangerous hill.  It was tough, being the only girl.  I didn’t show much weakness, I didn’t allow myself to show much weakness. I may have been hiding behind a tree crying because I was scared to death of doing a stunt, but I didn’t let anybody know!

Overall, who are some of your favorite actors and actresses?

Michael C. Hall.  I think he’s absolutely brilliant.  I’ve been a fan of his since Six Feet Under.  I’m still a big fan.  I love Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett.  They do the type of work that I strive to do.  I don’t know if I actually ever achieve it.  They completely transform themselves in each role.  You never see Cate Blanchett the celebrity.  You see the world she’s created.  It’s really, A) checking the ego at the door and B) really being creative and not being afraid of taking risks.  She’s recently played Bob Dylan.  I mean, come on.  She’s not afraid of that.

What TV shows do you watch when you get time?

I love Grey’s Anatomy.  I do love that show.  I don’t know if it’s because I always wanted to be a doctor. My father was a doctor, and I’m watching it, like oh that’s what it’s like to be a doctor.  I think the work on it is great, I think Katie Heigl is amazing.  I love Entourage, a lot.  It’s very inside the business.  I love Weeds and Californication, my new favorite.  I love cable shows, Nip/Tuck, all of those.  It’s great that cable is pushing the envelope, because it’s pushing the networks, too.  I love House.  I think he’s amazing.  I’d love to work with Hugh Laurie.

Is there anything else you’re doing besides Dexter, or Rambo?  I know Punisher is coming up.

Yes, Punisher: War Zone will be out in September.  And that was a great experience, especially getting to work with Ray Stephenson and Dominic West.  I’ve had my own little vacation.  I worked nonstop last year, so I’m enjoying life a little bit right now.

When would you go back normally if it was a normal world (the strike hadn’t ended when we chatted)?

End of May.  We’re on a natural hiatus.

Hopefully that’ll end soon, and…

Everyone can get back to work!