From Buffy to Defiance, why Julie Benz likes being a bad-ass

Defiance - Amanda Rosewater

Actress Julie Benz has been looking for a role like Amanda Rosewater on Syfy's Defiance. As Defiance's idealistic mayor, Benz gets to be tough, deal with aliens and shoot guns, a whole world away from being a vampire on Buffy and Angel, or being serial killer's wife on Dexter

“It was one of the few scripts out there that had very dynamic female characters that were very complex and interesting,” said Benz during a press call. “Every woman on this show has a very complicated backstory, a very rich character. And it's not like any other character you've seen. There's no what I liked to deem the mother/wife/victim role in the show. And for me it was really important to find a badass female to play, and that's exactly who Amanda Rosewater is.”

The TV series has a companion MMORPG videogame, and both take place in the near future when Earth has been partially terraformed, a terrible war has been fought between humans and aliens called the Votans, and eventually an uneasy peace has been struck. The series takes place in the boom town of Defiance, which sits on the ruins of St. Louis, and follows town mayor Amanda, Lawkeeper Nolan and his adopted alien daughter Irisa. Grant Bowler, Stephanie Leonidas, Graham Greene, Mia  Kirshner, Jaime Murray and Tony Curran also star.

“What sets Defiance apart from the other post-apocalyptic shows is that we are really dealing with what happens after the war, after the apocalypse. How can we rebuild our planet, and can aliens and humans live peacefully together? It's more of an immigration show and less about the actual apocalypse,” said Benz.

While it may be “more of an immigration show,” Benz prepared for Amanda by getting automatic weapons training, “which was pretty awesome. Mia and I both had to go and learn how to use machine guns. And I really loved it. I love learning about that kind of stuff and learning different things when I take on a character. So learning how to use a machine gun was probably one of the most badass experiences I've had,” she said. In fact, “I could've used more with those machine guns. I love that stuff. I love trying to do my own stunts. I don't always succeed. I enjoy that a lot, and I hope that in the future we get to see more of that as well.”

Defiance - Nolan and Amanda

When it came to playing Amanda, it “just really was finding her strength. Really realizing that her power comes from within even though she is in over her head a bit. … And so for me it was just really kind of channeling that level of strength into a powerful stance in some ways,” said Benz.

“When I look at to sign on to a project, I really look at the writing and the character and is this the character I want to play for seven, eight years? And is this a story I want to be part of that's being told?” said Benz.

“I think it has a very strong narrative, with obviously a very strong creative team behind it. It's just as rich as the Dexter script and as the Buffy pilot script, both the pilot scripts that I read,” she said. Defiance “definitely holds up. I mean, the scope is epic. It's like nothing I've ever been a part of in television, and then the amount of detail that went into creating this whole fantasy world is tremendous. So I feel like we're doing a feature film every week. That's what it feels like.”

As far as “comparing to other roles that I've played, I've been so fortunate not to be typecast, to be honest. And every character I've played has been completely different. But the one thing they all share is that is me at its core. They're all a different side of me. So they're all just a different side that I illuminate. Where like [Dexter's] Rita is the more vulnerable side of me and [Buffy's] Darla was obviously the more, dare I say, bitchy side of me. And on Desperate Housewives, Robin was kind of the goofy side of me. I think Amanda is more my inner strength. To compare them, it's so hard because they're such completely different women struggling with different issues.”

As the town's appointed mayor, “she definitely is in over her head, and she's really just trying to stick to her ideals and in many ways fulfill what Mayor Nicky had set out to do and really stick to Defiance maintaining their independence as a city,” said Benz. Of course, she doesn't know that her mentor and former mayor Nicolette Riordon has a mysterious agenda that may just bring down the town.

“It's a tough road for Amanda. I mean, she was not bred to be a mayor. I don't think she expected to be put in that position. It is revealed later on that there is an obvious reason why she was appointed. I think what we see through the season is we see Amanda grows stronger and stronger within the role, and it becomes a better fit for her,” she said.

“Amanda's a diamond in the rough. She's not necessarily your typical mayor. She's not Mayor Nicky. I mean, obviously Mayor Nicky had risen through the ranks to be bred to be mayor, and Amanda started out as a janitor, really, and then moved into assistance and then all of a sudden was given the reins to take over,” said Benz.

Defiance - Julie Benz

As for her relationship with Nolan, “I don't even think Amanda and Nolan understand it. It starts out as he's a newcomer in the town and he obviously piques her interests. But it gets complicated and it … I don't want to give away too many spoilers, but it does get complicated.” Possibly it gets a bit complicated because he's sleeping with her sister, Kenya, owner of the local bar and brothel, the NeedWant.

Amanda does “eventually come to rely on him, though, to help lead the town. He becomes a Lawkeeper, and she knows he's a bit of a wild card, but at the end of the day he has his heart in the right place as far as his moral compass between right and wrong. And she leans on him a lot. But it's just a very complicated relationship, and not something that either one knows how to define it,” said Benz.

As for what we can expect, Benz promises we'll be sucked into the mystery and fascinating characters in Defiance. “Through every episode we learn more and more and more about what the town stands for and what the name stands for. And there's so many elements going on in the show, because you have to see if aliens and humans can live peacefully together in this one town,” she said.

“But then there's also these outside factions trying to take over the town. They don't believe aliens and humans can live peacefully, and they want either a pure human race or all-alien race. They don't want to mix it. So Defiance is about the struggle to keep your independence, and every episode reveals another element of that,” said Benz.

The actress, a genre favorite, admits she's a little surprised to be involved in yet another sci-fi project. At least to a point.

“It's interesting, because I got into this business thinking I'd only do comedy. And it wasn't until I met Joss Whedon that all of that changed for me. And what I have discovered over the years is that sci-fi genre material offers better female roles and allows me to be more creative as an actor. The givens are so extreme that you have to bring to life and make believable that it really challenges your imagination more and really forces you to bring your A game every day,” said Benz.

“It wasn't like I set out to do only work in this genre. I still love to do comedy, but what I love about sci-fi genre material is I get to experience acting on a different level. It pushes me into other areas. It forces me to think about things in a different way and forces my creativity to be stronger,” she said.

“And the female characters are just, they just write them better. And the older you get as a woman, as an actress, you see fewer and fewer strong female characters. I feel fortunate that the sci-fi genre still offers the opportunity to be a badass at 40.”

Here's a look at tonight's episode, "“Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go”:

Defiance airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. on Syfy.

How does Amanda Rosewater stack up to Benz's other genre roles?