Julie Benz, <EM>Rambo IV</EM> Julie Benz, Rambo IV

We first loved/hated Julie Benz as the sweetly malevolent vamp Darla in Buffy, now she's loving a serial killer in Showtime's Dexter, which CBS will start airing in reruns on Sundays at 10 pm/ET, starting February 7. Benz also makes forays onto the big screen with a couple of action flicks: Rambo IV (opened on Friday, Jan. 25) and The Punisher: War Zone. She gives us the lowdown on working with Dexter star Michael C. Hall and Sylvester Stallone, plus some memories from the Buffyverse.

TV Guide: Congratulations on Dexter coming to CBS. I bet you didn't think this quirky little cable series with a serial killer hero would ever go wide on network TV, did you?
Julie Benz:
No! It definitely was a big surprise. Because of the writers' strike, it's kind of bittersweet, but at the same time it's an opportunity to gain more exposure for the show. So many people say to me, "Oh, I've heard so much about it but I don't get Showtime," so hopefully now they'll see it on CBS and get Showtime.

TV Guide: Are you worried that an edited Dexter will lose something in translation?
No. The show is inherently good. The writing is so phenomenal, you still have the incredible work of Michael C. Hall. All along we've been doing coverage on language for the possibility of it being repurposed down the line.

TV Guide: And there's not that much naked sex, right?
There are a couple of scenes. Even though the stuff between Dexter and me has always been lovely, I'm hoping any shots that includes me and my naked butt [laughs] are taken out.

TV Guide: Do you think a wide audience will get the show?
Benz: I do. It's such a great show and I love the way it challenges you as an audience to really think and question your own moral code. I think that's something people are looking for in today's world.

TV Guide: What can you say to people so they won't be scared away?
It's really a dark comedy. Yes, it deals with serious issues and a serial killer, but there are also very funny moments in it. And once you start watching, it's really addictive!

TV Guide: For the uninitiated, you play Rita, the sweet single mother who's dating Dexter. Does she have any suspicions about his hobby — killing really, really bad people?
Not at all. Rita really sees the good in him and wants to continue seeing that.

TV Guide: Should she run like hell or do you want them to stay happily together?
I want them to stay together forever, of course. I love my job, so I want her to be naïve for the rest of the series. But she is stronger now. She's not so fragile. With the support of Dexter, she's coming into her own.

TV Guide: Michael C. Hall is extraordinarily intense on the show. Does he stay in character while you work?
 He's a very sweet, gentle man actually. He takes his work seriously but he's not scarily intense. I tend to joke around a lot, especially when we're shooting the real emotional stuff. I'll be laughing and making jokes up until they yell "Action!" and then I burst into tears. I guess I'm a little psychotic.

TV Guide: You went from "psycho" to Rambo. Who do you play?
I'm a missionary who asks Rambo to take us into Burma to bring medical supplies to the Karen tribes people who are being persecuted. Against his will, he does it and we end up being taken hostage and all sorts of action ensues.

TV Guide: So does Sly Stallone still have it?
Definitely. He's in amazing physical condition. I run a lot, I'm really fast and extremely competitive and very few men can beat me. But in all our running scenes, I could barely keep up with him!

TV Guide: Do your characters hook up?
It's a more spiritual love interest. He puts his life on the line for me, but are there kissing scenes? No. We're busy running around from the bad guys.

TV Guide: Why did you go out for this movie? Do you like to violent action movies?
It turns out that Mr. Stallone is a fan of Dexter, so they called me and asked if I'd take a meeting. I was fascinated by being a part of the Rambo franchise, plus there's a real social message behind the movie about the most underreported war in the world.

TV Guide: Where did you film and was it one of those tough jungle shoots?
In the jungles of northern Thailand. It was the most physically and emotionally demanding job I've ever had. It was 120 degrees, gunfire going off and buildings exploding. Your body doesn't know the difference between reality and fantasy! I felt really scared a few times. In one scene, I was tied up and a 400-pound pig burst through a fence towards me. They kept the camera rolling when I was freaking out.

TV Guide: Was Stallone sympathetic?
Totally. But at the same time, he said it would make for a richer film if I tried to do my own stunts and it was my face hitting the dirt. I also felt you don't take on an action movie to be a wimp.

TV Guide: You must have liked the pain, you just did another franchise action flick, Punisher: War Zone.
Yeah, It stars Ray Stevenson from Rome and Dominic West from The Wire. I play the wife of a murdered cop and everyone seems to be after me. I do some action, but it was not nearly as intense for me as Rambo was. We were shooting in the jungles of Montreal. [Laughs] But we shot nights and it was extremely cold, so give me 120 degree weather any day!

TV Guide: Is there any truth to the internet rumor that you'll be playing Sue Ellen in the much delayed Dallas movie remake?
There's absolutely no truth that I know of. I would love it though. I was a big fan growing up and playing Sue Ellen would be awesome. That's why a lot of people think I'm now brunette, but I went brunette for The Punisher.

TV Guide: A lot of us got to know you in the Buffyverse as the vampire Darla. Was playing that sweet-faced evil character liberating for you?
It was. When I got cast, I was only doing comedy and Joss [Whedon] thought it would be a great twist if someone who looked and talked like me was the most evil vampire on the earth. I loved playing her.

TV Guide: What was your favorite moment as Darla? I almost cried when she staked herself to save her unborn child.
That was definitely one of my favorite moments, plus when David Boreanaz and I were shooting in a water tank and I take a cross out and burn it into his chest and said, "God doesn't want you but I still do." That for me was the key to Darla. A scorned women who was never going to get over it.

TV Guide: Before you were an actor, you were a competitive figure skater. How were your double axels?
I could do a killer lay back spin, but the double axel was my nemesis. That's what I got injured doing at 13. By 16, I was retired. I saw more longevity in acting. In skating, you're washed up at 18 and in acting, you're not washed up until 40. [Laughs]

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