Picture it: The town of Defiance, 2047, seven years after war between humans and aliens has destroyed the planet. Both groups have formed a fragile peace as they work to rebuild, but that peace is threatened once more in Season 2 of the Emmy-nominated Syfy series. Julie Benz, perhaps best known as Darla on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and as Dexter's wife Rita, plays former mayor Amanda Rosewater on "Defiance." She chatted with me about figure skating, playing characters that defy social mores, the Defiance video game, and her favorite apps.
After an injury, you quit figure skating to become an actress. Are there any parallels between figure skating and acting?
It was actually a very easy transition for me from skating to acting. I had a bad injury and had to sit out of the competition season for a year. My mom didn't want me to be bored, so she came up with the idea that I should try acting to enhance my performance on the ice. I started taking acting classes and really liked it. All the performance anxiety I felt while skating dropped away. When it came time to return to the rink, I realized I had found a new passion. Figure skating and acting are both performance-based art; they're both critiqued and judged. The one important lesson I took away from my years on the ice is that it takes a lot of commitment, sacrifice, and hard work to achieve success. I am very disciplined in my life on and off screen, so much so that my nickname around the "Defiance" set is the Benzinator.
You've famously played a vampire vixen on "Angel," a stripper on "Desperate Housewives," and a butt-kicker in "The Boondock Saints" and "Jawbreaker." Which was the most fun role to inhabit?
All three were challenging and a lot of fun. However, I will say that playing Robin Gallagher on "Desperate Housewives" was a real treat for me. She was such a quirky and sexy character that allowed me to stretch my comedic muscles. Plus, I got to work with the amazing women on the show who have inspired my work over the years.
Is "Defiance" a metaphor for the sociopolitical climate that we currently live in?
The science fiction genre has always been used as a metaphor for the sociopolitical climate that it's created in, and "Defiance" is no exception. We are able to explore current issues such as environmental issues, racism, religious freedoms, equality, sexuality, and immigration reform in a creative and interesting way.
What's it like being mayor?
It's nice being mayor; however, Amanda lives and breathes her job, which leaves little time for a personal life. Amanda is the idealist of the show; she truly believes that Votans [aliens] and humans can live peacefully together, because they have to! It's the only way they will survive. In a world where the rules have been broken, Amanda's idealism can be very dangerous to her well-being and safety. In Season 2, Amanda is no longer mayor of Defiance. We start to see her life unravel, because all the ways in which she defined herself are gone, and she's really struggling. We finally get a glimpse into the darkness of her world.
You clearly defied an acting coach who told you you'd never make it as an actress. How did you overcome that?
Big ego! I was only 16 when an acting teacher told me that I would never make it as an actress, because my speaking voice was horrible. What teacher says that to a 16-year-old? I remember at the time feeling a bit crushed, but I was raised knowing that if you had a dream, no one had the power to take it away. My mother used to make us listen to really cheesy self-help and motivational tapes as kids, and I had a motivational coach when I was a young ice skater to help me handle the pressures of competition. So, fortunately I was prepared to handle the harsh criticism. When I told another acting coach what had been said, she told me, "Sometimes the thing that someone doesn't like about you is the thing that makes you unique as an actor." I've always carried that advice with me.
How does the social aspect of the show work with the Defiance video game?
The Defiance game gives the viewers an opportunity to have a deeper experience with the show and vice versa. It's the first time a show and a game have been released simultaneously. Characters move between the game and the show seamlessly, and the game continues the story while the show is on hiatus. It takes a huge amount of coordination between the game producers and the show producers to make this happen! Last year, Trion had a contest to put an in-game character into the show, and the winning character appears this year in Season 2!
Do you ever play the Defiance video game?
I'm not much of a gamer, but I have tried playing the Defiance game. I ran into a wall, set myself on fire, and blew myself up, so that obviously speaks to my skill level! I was amazed by the graphics of the game, though; it really looks and feels like the show.
Which app that currently exists today could most help save humanity from destruction in 2047?
PopTok will save the world from destruction. It's a fun way to learn language vocabulary and specifically the word "peace" in 11 different languages. I'm hooked on saving the world and PopTok.
What are your top five mobile apps?
1. PopTok makes language vocabulary easy to learn.
2. OpenTable rocks. Instant restaurant reservation, no calls to make, and quick email to my friends where to go.
3. I'm house hunting, so I'm spending way too much time on the Redfin real estate app. It makes it easy to map out our Sunday open house adventures.
4. MailOnline, because when I want quiet time, I hand this to my husband to read about world soccer news on MSport.
5. BlogTO is an awesome app for all things Toronto. I spend time there every year, and it's my go-to for cool things.