Julie Benz has been dead for a couple years now — well, to a lot of people who follow “Dexter” religiously. Thankfully, in real life, the 39-year-old actress has kept busy even after her shocking fourth-season offing from the hit Showtime series, popping up in roles on “Desperate Housewives” and “No Ordinary Family,” amongst other projects. In writer-director Matthew Leutwyler’s new film, “Answers To Nothing,” she plays Frankie, a hard-charging Los Angeles police investigator working to solve a case involving a missing little girl. ShockYa recently had a chance to sit down and talk to Benz one-on-one, about “Answers To Nothing” and the extremely short preparation time she had for the project as well as what sort of reactions she gets from “Dexter” fans. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: “Answers To Nothing” falls into what could be its own little subgenre in a videostore — tapestral, emotional, Los Angeles-set ensembles. Given that so much of what you read or look at is probably more rigidly defined by genre, is something like this that incorporates so many different elements, characters and emotions, and is almost a “theme piece,” a particularly tough read?
Julie Benz: It is a little scary, because I don’t think that any of us worked more than six days on the film, and so to create characters that have big lives [is tough]. I mean, I’m always bad on the first day. (laughs) So then I’m down to five days! (laughs) No, but the first day you’re still kind of walking in someone else’s shoes, to so only have six days to create a character with a life and flaws and everything is kind of overwhelming. But I like being a part of a huge ensemble because everybody’s carrying the ball together rather than just one person. I think in a movie like this you have the potential to see actors working at their peak, because you have the best moments of the characters.
ShockYa: I guess generally speaking but also specifically here, in ensembles, what types of conversations do you typically have with the director and/or writer about all the scenes that you’re not in, in order to find some sort of tonal consistency within the overall piece?
JB: The only character that I really had to worry about was the relationship with Elizabeth [Mitchell]’s character, and make sure that felt like we had been friends for years, and then of course the people that I’m investigating, and my daughter. In the script I had an ex-husband, and we actually still talk about him briefly, but we actually shot all the stuff about the ex-husband, where I’m stalking him. (laughs) I sit outside his office and spy on him while I’m talking to Elizabeth’s character on the phone. She doesn’t know where I am — she’s thinks I’m on a stakeout. But I’m actually on lunch, eating sandwiches and spying on the ex-husband. Every character is kind of stuck, in a way, and needs a little nudge to move forward. And nobody really tells the complete truth in the movie, which is I think how a lot of people live — with these little, tiny lies, because it’s too hard to reveal all the issues or problems you’re struggling with. It’s hard to be that honest all the time.
ShockYa: You were cast quite quickly on this, right?
JB: Yes! I didn’t get to have many conversations on this, I was basically cast the night before. I think they had someone else and she fell out. I got a phone call from a friend saying, “What are you going tomorrow?” And I said, “Nothing, why?” And they said, “Okay, they’re going to send an offer over for this movie. You don’t have time to read the whole script, but here’s the gist of the film and the story.” (laughs) So I barely read the script before I showed up to wardrobe and then went on set. So I had a lot of questions, and that’s what makes Matt such a wonderful director. He had lived and breathed these characters for so long that he was able to kind of help guide and craft the performance out of that. But it was a lot of thinking on your feet, too. Everyone’s like, “Did you get to do any ride-arounds with cops?” (laughs) I’m like, no, I literally showed up and they slapped a badge on me. That is overwhelming, when you don’t get enough time to research. I mean, let’s face it, I’ve watched a lot of cop movies and seen a lot of procedurals on TV and so have an idea of what I would like to reveal, but I also tried to relate being a cop to my own life by approach[ing] it as I would approach a part that I was researching, and asking questions and trying to piece things together.
ShockYa: There does seem to be an unfortunate currency to the film, with several high-profile child kidnapping and abuse cases currently in the news. But one of the interesting things is that even though your story strand is probably the most dire or stark, it doesn’t necessarily stand apart or overwhelm the other narrative strands of the movie. They exist on equal footing.
JB: I think what’s really wonderful is that we live amongst this news all the time. We see a news story about a missing child and then we see them interview the family. …So I think [the movie] is trying to create that slice of life where we’re affected by it on one level, in peripheral ways, but we have to go on with our own lives. That’s how it resonated with me. I’m upset about this missing baby [in the news] right now. I don’t know any of the people involved, but it gets upsetting. I want them to find the baby. Still, I’m at the gym working out. I think it takes a toll on us. We do become numb to it, and form snap judgments and opinions. We walk around with these tragedies, and we may not be personally affected, but we’re still affected.
ShockYa: Given that you had such a short on-ramp for the film, what was the thematic shorthand that Matthew used in talking about the movie?
JB: He told me something that I felt was very telling. He said this movie was about the little inch that people move in their lives. It’s not about a big, giant grand journey, or a single life-changing moment, but it’s about the little inches that you move that get you to those big movements.
ShockYa: A parting “Dexter” question, because the show is one that has a big, juicy hook, but I think everyone who watches it gets really taken in by how its psychology seems to fit together in such a realistic manner, notwithstanding the conceit. What’s been your general experience with fans, and some of the feedback you received over the years?
JB: (laughs) People are shocked when they see me walking around still alive. They think I’m really dead. I’m like, “It’s not a snuff film!” (laughs) Especially right after the season four finale aired, it was crazy. I walked into a restaurant here in town — and people in L.A. are typically jaded and not into celebrity — but it was like the whole room gasped, and I had people coming up to me and shaking and crying and wanting a hug. They couldn’t believe I was standing in front of them. And I was like, “What’s going on?” But it was because they had such an emotional reaction to Rita’s death that they couldn’t believe that “Rita” was standing in front of them, still alive. I think that’s what so wonderful about that show in particular — that they’ve managed to, like you said, make it seem so real despite such extreme givens.
Written by: Brent Simon