Julie Benz plays a New York City police detective who goes to Russia to hunt for her missing daughter in the made-for-television film “Taken: The Search for Sophie Parker” this Saturday (9/21) on Lifetime. It’s a role light years away from her indelible performance as doomed Rita Gordon on “Dexter” — one that fits perfectly with Benz’ predilection of late for playing powerful women.
“This woman is very strong and very direct — a kind of woman I haven’t played before. There were a lot of physical aspects to the role and I loved that. I’ve been an athlete all my life, so I loved being a bit of a badass,” she says of her NYC cop character. “I enjoyed the challenge of containing the emotion, taking the fear of what’s happened and turning it into action versus reaction.”
“Taken,” which was inspired by real-life events, is set against the world of international human sex trafficking, something that also intrigued Benz, who is outspoken in the cause of stopping such trade.
She points out that “It’s the third largest crime, globally, behind drug and arms dealing. And it doesn’t just happen overseas in some foreign country. It happens in our own backyard. It happens in states like New Hampshire and Maine and California. It happens in New York City and all over America. The fact that it still goes on is just unbelievable.”
Shooting took place in Bulgaria, which, she says, “was fun. We had such a great cast to work with — at the end of the day, you’d be tired but also filled with a sense of exhilaration. We would meet back at the hotel and go out for dinner and rehash the day.”
Benz found the film industry there much changed from 10 years ago, when she made another film in that Eastern European land. “We have a burgeoning industry, particularly in Sofia, and we have growing craftsmen within the industry. About 10 years ago it was very rough, but going back for this movie, I was so impressed. The city itself had changed a lot as well.”
Benz, who rose to fame as Darlah on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” found that in Sofia, she wasn’t recognized from “any of the normal stuff, but from the last ‘Rambo’ I did,” she admits with a laugh.
The NYU-educated, self-described workaholic is at the other end of the spectrum from “Rambo” girl now. “Especially at this point in my career, I’ve been looking for very strong, dynamic women to play. I look for deeply-flawed women in positions of power; I think that’s just the juiciest of all roles. I look for that,” says the actress, who married marketing executive Rich Orosco last year. She adds, “I read a lot of scripts. I go on lots of auditions. I think I end up with the roles that were meant for me. They’re like a perfect fit.”
Certainly she feels that way about her part in Syfy’s hit “Defiance,” in which she’s been playing the mayor of the title post-apocalyptic town, circa 2046, where humans and extra terrestrials of all sorts dwell together.
“Defiance” is several episodes into filming of its second season, and Benz is enthusiastic about it, to say the least. “It’s intense, it’s crazy and the gloves are off.
“Every character starts in a completely different place at the beginning of season two from where they ended after Season 1. My character specifically, Amanda — she starts in a much darker place. She’s lost her job. Her sister has disappeared and her ex-husband was killed. And she has to find herself in this new ‘Defiance,’ because she doesn’t know where she fits in. It takes its toll on her. Her sister being gone, that’s like her one close relationship, so it’s like her anchor is gone.”
She adds, “We had a table read yesterday for Episode 4 and Episode 5 and — it’s such an amazing cast — even at a table read you’re getting performances that are exciting and gut wrenching. Everyone is just so excited about the new episodes. It’s exciting to go to a table read when the scripts are so good.”