Julie’s hot date

It’s about her (fictional) taste in men …

She started out dating a 250-year-old reformed vampire. Then she shacked up with a serial killer. She can currently be found in the jungles of Thailand, keeping company with a muscle-bound, monosyllabic mercenary. In September, she’ll be riding shotgun with a homicidal comic-book vigilante.

On the other hand, she never has to worry about getting mugged.

“I think I’m just attracted to dangerous men,” laughs Julie Benz of these risqué relationships – on television, with former Buffy beau Angel and the serial sociopath Dexter, and in the movies, currently, with Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo and, later, Rome ruffian Ray Stevenson playing the second screen incarnation of The Punisher.

“I don’t know why,” she shrugs. “That’s just love, I guess.”

For her part – or rather, parts – Benz will admit to getting a little tired of constantly having to be rescued. “Yes, yes … though in Punisher 2 (which recently wrapped filming in Montreal), I am a little bit more disgruntled. I am a little more angry, and I do get to wield a gun. It’s about time, isn’t it?

“Mind you, I don’t ever get to fire. I haven’t fired one yet. That would be a nice change.”

The Punisher role is already a nice change – of hair colour, at least. After a lifetime as a natural blonde, Benz, 35, has had a makeover as a sultry brunette.

Indeed, when she enters the room, I can hardly recognize her from her best-known role, as the vulnerable but resilient Rita in the record-breaking Showtime series Dexter (see sidebar).

“Still the same girl, just a different hair colour,” she shrugs. “Are you saying that as a brunette, I come off as more dangerous?”

Maybe not so much dangerous as glamorous. Certainly next to Dexter’s wan and worried (though considerably less so lately) Rita.

“They originally thought I was too put together to play Rita,” she recalls. “So they asked if I would come in with no makeup on, un-showered and looking all frazzled. And I took them literally – I just rolled out of bed, wearing sweats that were mismatched, things that I wear when I am sick, didn’t shower, didn’t even wash my face. And I went to the auditions that way.

“I felt so vulnerable doing that, that whole mask just completely off. Whenever you are in a room full of people that you are auditioning for, you are used to wearing this mask, to putting on this outer shell. And here you are kind of removing it, you know, and it’s like, `If I don’t get this job …'”

Which, needless to say, she did. But her next, at least in terms of style, and definitely location, was not much of an improvement.

“In Rambo,” she deadpans, “I play … Rambo. Okay, okay, I play a missionary, and I come to the northern part of Thailand, and I want to go into Burma with my missionary pals to bring medical supplies to the people who are being massively killed, because there has been mass genocide in that part of the world for over 60 years.

“So we convince Rambo to take us into Burma, and once we get there we end up being kidnapped by the Burmese military, and then he has to come back as a mercenary to try and kill them all.”

After all those weeks roughing it on location in Thailand, she was just as happy to leave it all behind. And that’s all of it …

“They told me I could keep my wardrobe, that it was in my contract,” she says, rolling her eyes. “And I’m like, `Who put that in?’ I mean, seriously, a dirty, smelly tank-top, with bugs crawling in it? My wardrobe from Rambo could have walked away on its own.”

Not that she isn’t grateful for the work – this is, she says, the first year of her career that she has worked every single day as an actor. But she does look forward to one day being able to trade “damsel in distress” in for “damsel in a dress.”

“I am dying to do a romantic comedy where I play a fashion designer and live in Manhattan and wear glamorous clothes, and when it’s done I get to keep everything – to just be the girl. I just want to be the girl.”

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