As Rita Bennett, the fiancée of Dexter's eponymous leading man, Julie Benz radiates vulnerability, tenderness and belief that she'll soon have a normal, married life with her main squeeze, who's secretly a serial killer (Michael C. Hall). But on the cusp of their wedding day, danger looms over the couple — including a vendetta from the family of Dexter's recently deceased enemy, as well as Dexter's own nagging concerns about what giving up his independence will mean.
In addition to her role on Dexter, Benz plays Angela Donatelli in Punisher: War Zone, the third big-screen adaptation of the Marvel comic series. As the movie hits theaters for the second weekend and Dexter's third season finale arrives Sunday (9 pm/ET, Showtime), the Buffy alumna chatted with TVGuide.com about the dynamic between Rita and Dexter and whether the pair is headed for a "train wreck."
TVGuide.com: What was it like playing [Dexter's] Rita vs. [The Punisher's] Angela? Did you draw on inside toughness?
Julie Benz: I contrived Angela to be much tougher than Rita. At the end of the day, Rita feeds off the softer, more vulnerable side of my energy. Even though she's grown stronger every day, and every season, there is that element where you're not sure if that's because Dexter's there — like what would happen if he left her? Would she still be strong? A lot of her inner strength comes from him, and what she perceives as his love of her and her family. That's what makes the relationship so heartbreaking, and a train wreck waiting to happen. If he ever got caught — it would just be mass destruction. I think there was even a voice over in his mind, where [Dexter] says, "Your ex-husband was a rapist and your boyfriend's a serial killer. How can you not take that personally?"
TVGuide.com: What would happen if Rita ever found out about Dexter?
Benz: I hold on to the romantic notion that she would never believe it...not that she'd be in denial, not that she's stupid, but I think she really just believes in Dexter's goodness...Her perception, what she believes is they have this bond. They are, in many ways, soul mates. ... He's so gentle with her and her kids that there's no way he could be this bad guy. I just don't think she would believe it. But that's also part of me, not that I would believe it — I'm more skeptical than Rita.
TVGuide.com: You've mentioned that the relationship is a bit of a "train wreck." Does that mean Rita will ever be thrown into doubt?
Benz: Oh, I hope he's like Pinocchio and becomes a real boy — a real man, and puts this part of his life behind him. Because that's me, that's the romantic side of me. [Laughs] I really do [hope]...that with the right love and the right amount of compassion, he'll become a real boy.
TVGuide.com: Dexter's been tested a lot this season, but he pulls through each time. Does Rita ever get sick of doing the tugging? Will we see repercussions of that?
Benz: We don't delve into it [at the end] of this season. I don't know what they have planned...but it will be very interesting if and when they move in together. It's not just that he's moving in with her and the baby that's on the way, it's the two other children in that house, and they're two very inquisitive children. Where are you going to hide? I think the real question that hopefully [producers will] delve into is, how long can your really hide the truth from the person that loves you the most?
TVGuide.com: Dexter has some obstacles to attending his own wedding. Is he going to make it to the altar in the finale?
Benz: I'm not saying either way!
TVGuide.com: Are we going to get a glimpse of the wedding, regardless of what may — or may not — happen at it?
Benz: Yeah, you'll get a glimpse of the wedding.
TVGuide.com: Rita's come into her own this season. How has that transition been, having played her for three seasons now?
Benz: It's been fun. It's great when you have a character that's growing and definitely not in a rut. I can explore her issues, and explore them over a long period of time. I like seeing the stronger Rita because it adds more to the element of a train wreck. The stronger she becomes, her look is changing...she's becoming comfortable with herself and everything in her life. I'm just waiting for the rug to get ripped out from underneath her.
TVGuide.com: That's so painful! Do you have personal opinions of how she is each season — for example, it was hard for me to see her as a weaker person.
Benz: She was a very fragile, damaged little bird that fell out of the nest that you had to nurse back to health. This season, she is a freer spirit. I love that it's very sexy. Almost like, the bad headache's all gone away, and there's this woman. That's how I see her this season.
TVGuide.com: Is that how we're going to leave her, too? Or is there going to be a threat to this blossoming before it's all done?
Benz: There could be a threat — there's always a threat.
TVGuide.com: Is there a direction you'd like to see Rita go in the next two seasons?
Benz: Obviously we're going to see her be more of a mother — and her struggle is finding a career and all that — and I'd like to see her find something that she's really good at, give her a little more drive than just the kids. I personally wouldn't mind a little more interaction with some of the other actors in the show.
TVGuide.com: What about with [Dexter's sister] Deborah? Are we going to see that relationship evolve at all?
Benz: Yeah, it would be nice to see that evolve a little bit more. There's so much that Rita can evolve to. I know some people want Rita to evolve to be a killer!
Benz: You read some of the message boards, and they'll say, [we'd be like] Bonnie and Clyde, killing together! But she's not going to become a killer [Laughs].
TVGuide.com: Are there any other viewer reactions that have surprised you over the past few seasons?
Benz: Even when I do read that stuff, I'm pretty open to people's opinions, and understand...what they're talking about. There are a lot of people that don't like Rita and Dexter, and a lot of it is because they want to see more killing...but in a lot of ways Rita is what gives you permission to love Dexter.