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Benz has been working consistently as an actress since her planned figure skating career ended with a stress fracture in 1989. She began acting in small local theaters, and a few years later managed to acquire a small speaking part in Dario Argento and George A. Romero’s horror flick Due occhi diabolici. In 1996, Benz auditioned for the leading role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and although she lost the role to Sarah Michelle Gellar, she was kept around for a part as Darla, which she believes ultimately helped jump start her career.

“I was a young actor, I was new, and I wasn’t right for the role of Buffy…I don’t think I was even ready to be that, to be a star of a show at that age. But I was fortunate enough that [Buffy producer] Joss Whedon really responded to the choices that they made and really liked me as an actor and created Darla. I started out as Vampire Girl Number 1, and that’s how I was referred to on set - Vampire Girl. And then he, because of my work, and I don’t know, something, Joss responded to in me. He developed Darla out of that. That’s how a lot of work has happened actually. I don’t necessarily get things through auditioning, I get them through once I’m on set and I’m working, people really like me and respond to me and then they want to give me more work, I’m just lucky that way.”

Benz is indeed lucky, but she has acting abilities to back it up, proof being her work with Sylvester Stallone in Rambo, in which she got to play the leading lady, missionary Sarah Miller. Her athletic abilities also came in handy as she had to feign fighting off the brutal Burmese army and endure the climate and conditions of Thailand and Burma, where the movie was set and shot. “I took on the challenge of doing an action film because I wanted the challenge of it. I wanted to try and do my own stunts; I wanted to be pushed as an actor by a man who I think is a really good director….and [Stallone’s] not gentle. He’s not gentle at all, he’s extremely, brutally honest, and I really had to toughen up. I’m pretty tough anyway, but I went into it wanting the challenge of everything, and I told him in the beginning, I said, ‘The worst thing you can do to me, you can yell and scream at me all you want, it won’t effect me, and I’ll hear what you have to say, but the worst thing you can do to me is lie to me about my performance because then I won’t trust you.’ He doesn’t lie at all.”

He might be big and brutal, but it’s still a once in a lifetime chance to work with Sly, so how exactly did Benz manage to snag such an opportunity? “You know, I think, he hired me after doing research on me and he’s a fan of Dexter. He knew I was pretty tough, he knew I had an athletic background, he knew that I was up for the challenge of it all…[and] he knew that I was a team player wanting to do good work and was not a diva.”

Though both deal with violence and death, Dexter is quite a stretch after being a kick-ass Christian chick in an action film. On Dexter, Benz plays Rita, an emotionally scarred girlfriend who doesn’t have a clue that her boyfriend is a crime scene investigator by day and a serial killer by night. Having previously been in an abusive marriage, Rita is just looking for a trustworthy friend in Dexter, and for some odd reason, whether he truly has feelings for her or only believes that it’s what’s expected from him, he befriends her.

“She doesn’t know he’s strange,” said Benz. “I think Rita, because of what’s happened to her - I think in all relationships and I think that the majority of how we operate as human beings is we really want to see the best in the people that we’re with. We really want to believe the best about them. This is a woman who was with such an abusive man and was verbally abused by her mother, and here’s a man who’s just kind. He doesn’t hit her, he supports her, he doesn’t dress her down in front of others, he’s not rude to her and he’s great with her kids. She just thinks he’s dreamy. He puts on a good mask; she’s not capable of seeing past it. I think in Season Two obviously she sensed that there was something up and just assumed it was drug problem and dealt with that. I think even if he told her that he was a killer, she would think he was joking.”

Who knows, Rita may one day end up being Dexter’s accomplice. But Benz doesn’t think that’s exactly how it’ll work out. “My dream is that she gets married and lives happily ever after and she never finds out.”

She also confessed to Dish that Rita is the character that she’s played that is most like her. “She really is like that vulnerable woman inside of me, that’s really me. People think I have my shit together. People think I’m a lot sunnier than I am, but I also choose to put that energy out there like that, I choose that for myself. I strive to be that stronger person but to be very honest, in those deep dark moments in the middle of the night, I’m not. Nothing [has] happened to me in my past, I just think it’s, it’s just who I am, it’s my true nature.”

There’s definitely more to Benz than star power. In fact, she seems to be pretty normal and doesn’t let the obsession with fame and fortune go to her head. “I don’t define myself by being an actor”, she says. I mean I am an actor, and it’s part of who I am, but I’m other things as well. I’m more than that. I’m a great girlfriend to my girlfriends, I’m an aunt, I love being an aunt to my niece and nephews, I’m a daughter to my parents, I’m a friend, I’m a lover. I have other interests, I cook, and I love to work out. I constantly try to learn new things.”

On top of all that, Benz is also an activist and one reason she took the role in Rambo is because her resulting ability to increase awareness of the hardships currently happening in Burma. “The Burmese people are so repressed by military government, and there’s been a lot in the news lately, that they are starting to try to revolt. They want democracy, they want freedom, but their military has such a tight stronghold on them. They have the largest child army in the world. It’s a horrible situation, and one of the reasons why Stallone set the movie in Burma was to give voice to what’s going on over there. We hear so much about what’s going on in Sudan and other parts of the world, but we never hear about Burma, and this was a chance to give them a voice, give the situation a voice.”

It’s obvious that Benz loves what she does and she also uses her love of acting to give back and help out in other ways. Yet, she knows that in her line of work, nothing is ever certain, and you can be in the spotlight one moment and out the next. But she’ll keep on trying anyway.

“Last man standing wins,” Benz told Dish. “You have ups and downs in your career. For me, I’m always going to be an actor whether I’m successful at it or not successful at it. It’s just part of who I am, it makes me happy. But yeah, I work hard at it, I hang in there. I believe that in the end, I will be the last one standing.” / Issue 79 - September 4002
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