As the star of ABC’s newest dramedy “No Ordinary Family,” Julie Benz proves art imitates life, and her life is anything but ordinary.
Photo by Andrew MacPherson; styling by Joey Tierney; makeup by Kelsey Deenihan and hair by Jonathan Hanousek
Julie Benz, a Murrysville, Pa., native and graduate of Franklin Regional High School, has been sinking her teeth into juicy roles in Hollywood films and TV shows for more than a decade, beginning with her role as the vampire Darla in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its successful spin-off, “Angel.” She rankled Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, fought alongside action icon Sylvester Stallone in the last Rambo flick and romanced a serial killer in “Dexter.”
Now, she stars as a mom with super powers in ABC’s “No Ordinary Family.” Here’s Benz, a 38-year-old L.A. resident, on her life and show-biz career.
Q: What does a typical day in the life of a TV star look like?
A: Getting up around 4:30 in the morning, feeding my four dogs and scrambling to get to work. I rush to work, work 12 to 15 hour days, come home, crash into bed and do it again the next day. I try to fit the gym in there somewhere, try to fit in a little social life if possible. Episodic TV is the hardest job in Hollywood; I refer to it as sprinting a marathon.
Tell us about your hit show on ABC, “No Ordinary Family.” Do you enjoy working opposite Michael Chiklis, who plays your husband?
I met Michael 10 years ago. He has a wonderful spirit, and he’s an extremely talented actor. After “Dexter,” my concern was to find somebody with Michael C. Hall’s [personality] to play opposite. I believe that, in acting, you’re only as good as who you are working opposite. I was fortunate to get [a role on] “No Ordinary Family” and to work opposite Chiklis.
It sounds like all we do is work, but the hours fly by. It doesn’t feel like work. A lot of it has to do with Chiklis. He’s probably the most loved man in Hollywood. He’s so kind, funny and is always in a good mood. He’s a big papa bear on the set. He treats everyone the same and makes everything OK.
Was morale a problem on “Dexter?” The cast of the Broadway play Amazing Grace, also about a serial killer, told me during their pre-Broadway run in Pittsburgh that dark material affects the cast.
Yes and no. “Dexter” was definitely a more somber set, but it was a naturally more somber cast of actors in general. But I still had fun! I find that the darker the material, the more I joke around. It’s my way of dealing with the darkness of it all.
Is it a relief to have a hit show in terms of artistic validation and economics?
I still worry about paying the bills. The majority of actors always worry because you never know what will be a hit and what won’t. I have confidence that we’re making a good show, but there’s never a guarantee.
You also never know where the storyline will go. I thought I’d be on “Dexter” until it ran out. I had no idea I would be killed off.
Did you feel mixed emotions about your character being killed off on “Dexter” but getting a chance for what every tragedian yearns for: a good death scene?
I felt mixed emotions, totally. That was my first reaction.
Seeing my character’s death from a storytelling point of view, I realized the emotional impact it would have. This was the only character you could kill and have that impact. Rita suffered the most abuse, and she still had this hope about life and love. To kill the person who represents all that was shocking.
Do I still feel blessed? Yes. Everyone still talks about that moment.
Like many people, you're on Twitter. What do you tweet about?
Nothing is off-limits. I tweet about my dogs, about work, about my perspective on the world. I have a lot of fun with Twitter. It’s a great way to have fan interaction. Some fans have changed my perspective on the world.
Funny, I would think you’d want to escape from fandom in your free time.
I still feel like this little girl from Pittsburgh who got lucky. That girl from Pittsburgh comes out a lot. I got to present at the American Music Awards. I thought: How did I end up here? This is crazy!
What’s given me a sense of joy over all of it is that I didn’t grow up out here. I chose the profession. I struggled, worked hard, still struggle, work hard. That grounded personality comes from the values that you’re raised with in Pittsburgh.