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Francesca Simon Talks to
Julie Benz of Rambo
Rubenststein Communications
1345 Avenue of the Americas
January 22, 2008

Opposite Photo: Julie Benz and Matthew Marsden in Rambo

“It’s hard to live in New York and make a living,” says actress Julie Benz sitting safe and dry in Manhattan earlier this week. Who is she telling!? But even in a town where eating is optional for creative crazies, I still doubt that many of us would be willing to do jungle duty in a movie co-starring with ten-feet-snakes, stinging scorpions, biting spiders and a flimsy bamboo pen filled with 400-pound-pigs. As the only woman on the set of the action movie Rambo (which opened Friday, January 25, 2008), this actress had to keep up with Sly Stallone and eight other tough guys. She literally swallowed jungle mud, ran in pouring rain, tromped through the jungle in 100 plus degree heat and dodged ear-shattering make-believe bombs and machine gun barrages. Like I said before, she should get a special award from somebody for all the mud, blood, and, rain, endured to collect her paycheck. (See Francesca's Review of Rambo).


Julie Benz and Sylvester Stallone in Rambo

True, this actress was fearless as the bad bitch, Darla, the evil vampira and nemesis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But sitting a few feet away from her in a conference room it’s hard to believe this 5-foot-4 inch slim-framed female spent 48 days in Thailand on a movie set of waking hell horrors which Sly called “a gloriously brutal experience.”

“It felt like we were camping out,” she says with a giggle and then adds “a lot of people got food poisoning. And I lost weight because of the heat!” It makes one wonder why this self-proclaimed “girly-girl” would want to audition for a part like this. The answer is when Sly Stallone calls, you answer. And you got to give the girly-girl her props. She’s made her mark.

In one of the most critically acclaimed and cult classic TV series of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Benz starred as what appeared to be an innocent school girl who was actually a fanged demon and Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) nemesis. The series was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Shows of All Time, one of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, and was voted #3 in TV Guide’s Top 25 Cult TV Shows of All Time. Darla also made a jump to the Buffy spin-off series Angel, in which Benz starred alongside David Boreanaz who plays Angel’s forbidden lover.

Julie currently stars on Showtime’s two-time Golden Globe®- nominated hit series, Dexter as Rita Bennett, the titular character’s (award-winning Michael C. Hall) tormented girlfriend, oblivious to her partner’s homicidal tendencies, a role for which she won a 2006 Golden Satellite Award for “Best Supporting TV Actress.” And good news – look’s like the show will return next season, providing the writer’s strike is settled.

Julie says Sly is a big fan of Dexter and likes her work on the show. He decided she was perfect for the character of Sarah. She read the script and agreed to take the challenge. Although she never saw the Rambo movies, she grew up watching Rocky Balboa do battle in the movie screen ring. She knew the film will be full of blood and body parts but she found movie concept intriguing. “This is not the body-oiled Rambo of twenty years ago,” says Julie Benz, who portrays Sarah, a missionary bringing medicine to the Karen tribe. “This is Rambo decades later, worn down by life, much more sympathetic. You see how everything he has gone through and experienced – in Rambo I, II and III – has affected his life.”

Working with Sly, Julie says, was both demanding and inspiring. “You would watch Sly on the set and he'd be in there, literally shoveling pig shit, chopping down trees and then turning around and delivering this amazing, fully intense performance, then going back to figure out the camera work for the next shot, He inspired everyone around him. He's very smart, really funny and has amazing charisma. He was tough as a director, brutal sometimes, but he pushed us all to go the extra mile and do things we didn't think we could do."

Listening to this beautiful, bubbly girly-girl talk about “roughing it” it was impossible to picture her running through the jungle with no makeup, no manicure and mud-soaked clothing. But watching the film you will be amazed by the tenacity and discipline she pours into her character, Sarah. Julie had never worked on an action film before so she hired a trainer as soon as she got the role. “I started training twice a day, six days a week because I knew as the only woman in the film I was going to have to hold my own against all these very, very tough men, including Sylvester Stallone,” she says.

In addition to the physical tortures provided by Nature there was another major challenge – language. Stallone based the production in the northern Thai capital of Chiang Mai, an ancient city that was the closest possible base to the war-torn Thailand-Burma border. Logistically, Rambo was a huge, complex production, with actors from seven different countries, plus approximately five hundred crewmembers comprised of thirteen different nationalities and communicating in five different languages.

“It was hard to communicate,” Julie says. But she was very impressed with the Burmese actors who worked through the language barriers. “They seemed to know what to do,” Julie giggles, “maybe acting is not that hard to do.” Don’t you believe it.

Julie worked her way through NYU in three years to graduate with honors with a Bachelor in Fine Arts in Acting. She moved out to Los Angeles immediately because while “theatre is fulfilling” Julie wanted to bring in the bucks. She earned her first guest-starring role on Married with Children, which helped open the door to features, including a role as the receptionist in the two-time Academy Award winning film, As Good As It Gets, with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. However, it was her turn as the devilish vampire Darla in Buffy the Vampire Slayer that made Benz a star.

If you see Julie now on the street, don’t think her hair will be still full of mud just because she’s not a blonde anymore. She’s gone brunette to play the vengeful blue-collar wife, Angela, of a murdered cop in The Punisher:War Zone (slated for release on September 12th, 2008). Based on the popular Marvel comic of the same name, The Punisher is in reality former FBI agent Frank Castle, who arrives in New York to wage a one-man war on the world of organized crime, setting his sights on mob boss, Jigsaw, a vicious crime lord seeking control of the underworld.

These roles will return her to cushy Hollywood sets lifestyle that she had to leave behind when she landed in Thailand for Rambo. “My trailer was a 1952 bomb shelter,” she says. “I had to walk a mile and half in the dark to get to the set. After the first night I asked for a flashlight to get back.” When she was offered a ride to the set it was on a motor bike and they didn’t even have a helmet to put on her head. “The other option to get to the set was to ride on the back of a pickup truck.”

Navigating on a slippery, muddy set for scenes filmed near the river Julie relied on two bamboo poles to keep her from falling down. “It made me think twice about going to the ladies bathroom,” she giggles. She reminded herself “it’s not for an eternity – just three months. We felt like we went to war.” Because of her life-changing experiences shooting Rambo, Julie is going to shoot some Public Service Announcements for the charity “U.S. Campaign for Burma” to increase awareness of the Burmese-Karen conflict. But don’t expect any major personal lifestyle changes as a result of her Rambo adventure. “I don’t go camping in real life, but I will go for a movie!”


 



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