Defiance Season 2: Exclusive Interview with Julie Benz

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When Defiance debuted on Syfy last year, it postulated that in 2046 Earth had been partially terraformed by an alien collective known as the Votans, resulting in drastic changes to topography, the extinction of many plants and animals and the emergence of all-new species.

Things kicked off with Joshua Nolan and his adopted Irathient daughter, Irisa, arriving in the town of Defiance, where humans and aliens are struggling to live in some form of peace. By season’s end — perfectly encapsulated in the finale title “Everything is Broken” — the townspeople and Defiance itself is in complete turmoil. As year two kicks off, it’s nine months later and a lot has changed.

Of the characters feeling that change is Julie Benz’ Amanda Rosewater, former mayor of the town who, like everyone else, is doing her best to adapt to the new situation. Benz, known of course for such previous shows as Buffy/Angel, Dexter, No Ordinary Family and Desperate Housewives, discusses some of the evolution of the Amanda character and the show itself — which has its second season premiere tonight on Syfy — in the following exclusive interview.

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GEEK EXCHANGE: When we spoke last season, you were pretty excited about Defiance. How’s that excitement level going with season two?

JULIE BENZ: Season two is amazing and I think the fans are going to be super excited about it.

Well now you’re going to have to tell me why they’re going to be so super excited about it.

Well, basically in season one everyone’s world blew up, and in season two, all the characters start in a completely different position. Those who had it all no longer have it all, and those who had nothing now have more than they can handle. So we start to see the slow unraveling of characters, especially Amanda Rosewater.

I remember when we first talked about the show, you were very pleased to be able to present her as a very strong woman. How would you describe the journey she’s on?

In season one, in many ways Amanda was the heart of Defiance. She represents the ideals that the town of Defiance is based on, and she really believes in those ideals. And her idealism in many ways led to her ruin. She believes in the good of human kind and alien kind, and that we have to get along because we have no other choice but to survive, and to rebuild the planet. And unfortunately, that led to her losing the election at the end of season one. In season two she’s still a very strong woman, but what we begin to see are her flaws. What I love about that is we have so many male hero characters who are deeply flawed on TV, but we don’t have many women who are deeply flawed. We’re starting to see more, but Amanda, she, without giving anything away, at the beginning of season two is just not in a good place, but you’re still rooting for her.

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Her strength is definitely conveyed, but is any of that sort of a front she puts up?

Definitely, and a lot of that is revealed in season two — what her dark secrets are, and what has happened in her past, why she has this very strong tough veneer and she doesn’t let people in. The two ways in which she defines herself was through the town of Defiance and through her sister. Both of those are gone, and she doesn’t know how to define herself anymore. She doesn’t know where she fits in, she’s really struggling with that, and you see the cracks in the veneer happening. As a result, you get to see her slow unraveling through the season.

Which for you must be a beautiful thing to play?

It’s awesome! I mean, it’s one of the reasons I love working in genre TV, they can go to extremes of characters because the world is so extreme, so you can play the hero one season and then be completely destroyed the next.

As the show has gone on, what have been the biggest surprises for you?

I think what surprised me was, at conventions, how quickly people were to cosplay the characters. I think that’s because the characters are so rich and well-defined. It was fun to show up at San Diego Comic-Con last year and see people dressed up as the different characters. In my experience, that kind of thing usually happens a few years down the line.

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We talked a minute ago about the evolution of the character – how about your own?

Well, I don’t have any kind of feeling that I’ve done it before. I’m constantly surprised and every day I play Amanda I view as an opportunity to grow and learn from her as much as I get to inform her life. I think especially with season two I got to really explore her drinking, which I had set up in season one just because I didn’t want to be carrying a coffee mug in every scene. So it was a little throwaway thing with props, because they kept giving me a coffee mug and I was, like, “You know what? Give me a glass of Scotch instead.” And I turned Amanda into a drinker without even realizing it. But that was because I wanted her to have something that was different. I imagined that in season one that with the pressure of the job and the pressures of her life that she would go home at night and drink herself to sleep. I could imagine that she was a high-functioning alcoholic, so I brought that to the role so we could explore more of her addictions issues in season two.

As an actor, I always try to find the flaw in the characters, because characters, especially when you’re playing the hero, can be so good and virtuous that there’s nothing interesting about them. So I asked about her Achilles Heel; what’s the one thing that sets her off? Nobody’s perfect. We’re all deeply-flawed human beings, and we present a side to the world that we want people to see, but, ultimately, we all have some secret that we’re hiding. And so, for me, to play a character I need to know not just what her good side is, but also what the underbelly is.

Haven’t you been able to do that with most your characters?

I’ve been fortunate, I’ve done some great characters. I feel very blessed for the career I have. I feel like I stumbled into great roles… well, not really stumbled, because I fought tooth and nail for them, but they’ve always exceeded my expectations.

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On a show like this, is it fun being thrown into an environment where there are a lot of strong women?

Yes. What drew me to the script in the first place was how strong all the female characters are. There are no victims in the show; all the women are extremely complex and intricate and they have strengths and weakness and they’re just very well defined. I really was excited about that – you don’t often see a script where all the women are clearly defined and very strong.

And evolving.

Constantly evolving. There are so many surprises with the women of Defiance this year, and I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but all the female characters, I think, have a twist and a surprise this year. It’s not even just with my character; it’s with other characters.

How has the show changed?

I think in season one we were establishing the world and a lot of time had to be spent doing that, introducing the characters. I think with season two we kind of rip apart the world and are now able to rip apart the characters in a way that the audience is really going to be able to respond to. Season one on a show, especially because we filmed so far in advance before it aired, just because of all the special effects, I felt like we played it a little safe. In season two, now that we know what the fan response is, there’s no playing it safe.

For season two, reach out to the unwashed public. Why should they watch Defiance?

People should watch Defiance to see some bad ass women! And great drama. The show deals with so many issues that we deal with in the world today, but in a very creative way and it’s all wrapped up in sci-fi. But you don’t have to be a sci-fi fan to actually enjoy the show, because it offers all different elements. It has political intrigue and drama; it has some very comedic moments, and it just happens to be wrapped in sci-fi.

We have a couple of new cast members this year and probably one of the most amazing female actresses around that’s coming on to our show is Linda Hamilton. Talk about genre queen! And so she’s going to be joining our cast this year and we’re super excited to have her. I think my initial reaction was — I’m going to swear — “Holy shit! How the f*ck did we get her?” It’s because she was a fan of the show and wanted to be on it! I kind of stalked her during lunch. I mean, seriously, if there’s ever an icon for the very first female action heroes, it’s Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver. Those two really paved the way for all the rest of us.

Defiance premieres tonight on Syfy.

Images: Syfy Channel

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