I spoke with Dexter-alum Julie Benz about playing the mayor of a multi-galactic town on her new sci-fi Western series, Defiance.
Syfy’s ambitious new series, Defiance, has a few taglines. The first is “New Earth, New Rules” which speaks to the fact that this sci-fi show takes place on a future Earth where humans no co-exist with numerous alien species who arrived as exiles from a dying solar system. The other is “Watch the Show, Play the Game, Change the World” which is all about the multi-platform launch of this project/product, including an MMO game version which coincides with the events portrayed on the show.
In Defiance, Julie Benz (Dexter, Angel, No Ordinary Family) plays Amanda Rosewater, the newly appointed Mayor of the war-ravaged former St. Louis – now called, naturally, Defiance. I had a chance to speak with Benz about her new role, the amazing amount of energy spent creating the world of the show before she ever stepped on set, and the sexiness of co-star/friend Jaime Murray.
Showrenity: Most shows have the luxury of being able to find their footing after a few episodes, but this series had to have a fully established world right off the bat. What was that like?
Benz: God, you know what? It was refreshing. It made our jobs as actors much easier because there was so much thought and backstory put into everything. I mean, the show had been developed for years before I even knew about it, so to step into that and have the show’s mythology already built around us, we didn’t have to create much on our own. And so it really gave us an opportunity to gain a familiarity with the world. We were also able to have a two week rehearsal process, which is extraordinary. You don’t get that in TV. So we had the opportunity to do two weeks of prep, with rehearsals, talking to the director and the writers to pick their brains. Discovering more and more about our characters. And they were very flexible too. They wanted us to help flesh out parts of our own storylines.
Showrenity: When we first meet your character, Amanda, it’s her first day on the job and she’s dealing with chaos. We don’t learn much about her but I assume her past will get filled in.
Benz: It’s like life, isn’t it? [laughs] Because even when it’s the first day on set, you’re dealing with chaos. No, but it was interesting because we had to create backstory, especially between my sister (played by Mia Kirshner) and I, to make that connection believable. So we actually did a lot of rehearsals and had discussions about what our backstory was. What kind of relationship we had. So we could play that in the few brief scenes that we had together, so that you could see that we are sisters. And it’s a very complicated relationship. and that’s definitely explored throughout the whole series.
For me, it was great to come into it and play this character who doesn’t really know what she’s doing, but she knows what she believes. She makes mistakes along the way, but because her heart’s always in the right place, she tends to land on her feet. And that’s her saving grace in the beginning.
Benz, with Jaime Murray, Tony Curran and Graham Greene.
Showrenity: Given that you’ve been a part of so many beloved genre shows, do you think that’s given you a particular skill set that allows you to easily find the humanity within sci-fi and fantasy productions?
Benz: I would say the only skill set my, shall we call it, pedigree gives me is that I know how to operate and maneuver around Comic-Con. [laughs] Because on each set it’s different. Each story’s different. Each prosthetic’s different. Every character’s different. And they affect you differently, and so I was able to give some advice to some of the other actors who had to deal with heavy alien make-up, based on what I know about what I went through. And some of the parameters you might have to set up as far as comfort issues go, but other than that I’d say the only thing I’m able to do is get from Point A to Point b at Comic-Con.
Showrenity: What was it like to work on this set? It looks very impressive.
Benz: This is probably one of the most creative sets I’ve been on in a long time. It was really amazing. From the minute we walked in and saw the backlot that was built – they built this amazing town, and it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before. It was inspiring and it inspired us creatively as actors. And it allowed us to nurture our creativity and nurture each others’ creativity. To try and push the envelope as much as we could within the storylines we were given. And I think that’s what you see with the Tarr family storyline. Jaime Murray (who plays Stahma Tarr) is…I mean talk about someone who pushes the envelope. She pushes it and pushes it. And she was so great at creating such a realistic alien who’s so sexy and diminutive while also being diabolical. Just watching her was extraordinary. Her and Tony (Curran, who plays husband Datak Tarr) have such a great creative process together.
The whole process itself was like that. It was all-encompassing. Everyone had been working on this for so long before the actors even showed up that it was like “Come and join our party. Look at how much fun we’re having!”
Defiance premieres on Monday, April 15th at 9/8c on Syfy.
Matt Fowler is a member of the Television Critics Association. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler