EXCLUSIVE: Interview With ‘Defiance’ Stars Julie Benz and Tony Curran

By June 26, 2013
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With filming on hiatus, the stars of SyFy’s ‘Defiance’ are back in town. Julie Benz (Mayor Amanda Rosewater) and Tony Curran (Datak Tarr) recently joined me at GeekNation’s studio to discuss the audition process, the pain of prosthetics, and some past characters they’d love to insert into the show’s post-apocalyptic town.

So, what’s in store for the characters in the coming weeks? The two actors are understandably tight-lipped. “I’m a politician,” Julie jokes. “I have to talk in such vague sentences.”

“Kind of like Amanda; it’s very ambiguous,” Tony chimes in.

“You’re going to start to see the unravelling of the characters and of the town,” Julie confesses. “And something will happen that will set in motion a game changing element of season two.”

“Amanda’s trying to keep this town together,” Tony adds. “She’s been trying to do that from the very beginning. There’s a lot of elements that are surrounding the town, surrounding her authority, and they’re challenging her authority. And not from within Defiance, but from outside Defiance as well; there’s an element called the Earth Republic which rolls into town. And also within Defiance, there’s many characters who are really trying to knock her off of her perch, as it were. So that’s definitely challenging for her. But then, the Tarrs–they’re socially trying to climb the ladder.”

Skewing away from the dangerous territory of the show’s future, I bring the pair back to its inception. What was the audition process like?

“I just got offered the role,” Tony jokes. “No, I didn’t. I auditioned for it; I met Kevin Murphy, one of our producers and writers; I met Scott Stewart, who directed Legion and Priest films. And when I was there, Grant Bowler [Nolan] was also in the room, and I read, and I was asked back a couple of times.”

Eventually, they brought in several actresses to read opposite him. “This English girl ended up sitting on my knee one day, and it turned out to be Jamie Murray. And then, there’s a funny story; her heart was beating quite fast. I could feel it, and my head was on her chest. But on the outside her demeanor was very calm, and she was doing her Stahma conniving, but it was quite funny. We laugh about it, because I put my head on her chest and I said, ‘God, you look so calm, babe, but your heart was like ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom–banging away.’

“So I auditioned, and then ended up having to go back for the network, because they’re very specific, aren’t they sometimes, and they want you to be a certain way. And then eventually, after jumping through quite a few hoops, I got the offer. Julie probably just got the offer.”

“No,” Julie protests. “I got sent the script early on in pilot season, and I really liked it. But there was a part of me that really wanted to do a comedy at this point in my life, and I decided at that time that I was gonna pass because I really wanted to go for a comedy.”

So what changed her mind? “I started reading the comedies,” she admits, “And I kept thinking about ‘Defiance.’ I’ve known Kevin Murphy forever, and he’s been a longtime personal friend, and I really loved this script. I just wanted to just branch out and do something different. And I kept thinking about the script, and then Jamie got cast, and she kept going, ‘You know, they still haven’t found Amanda.’ And I was getting frustrated; I was reading some really stinky comedies. And I was like, ‘You know, what am I doing fighting for a role in something that I don’t even like when there’s this great script?’ And so, I decided to throw the comedy thing out the window. I felt like the universe was telling me that.”

Having read an earlier draft of the script, Julie was given an updated version. “It was still very good,” she says, “And I was really fascinated by all the characters. And then I went and I read with Grant to make sure we had chemistry, and then I got the offer.”

“You want to make sure that you’re not a square peg being shoved into a round hole. I think the audition process is very important. Not just for the producers, but also for the actor. And I like going through the process, or going through certain steps of it. Because it’s also my time to see: Can I work with these people; do I like what they’re saying; are we on the same page about the character? Because too many times, you get an offer and you get hired, [but] your vision is completely different from their vision, and then you can either conform or fight, and either one is hard to do.

“So, it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into and be on the same page, and so I actually embrace the audition process, and I actually wanted to do a chemistry read, because I wanted to make sure. Every show, every pilot I do, I think of it in terms of ‘it’s going to last seven years.’ That is my hope. And I need to make sure that I like these people I’m gonna go work with.”

So, what comedy would Julie have enjoyed being a part of? “‘The Brady Bunch’.” She laughs. “That was a joke. No. I loved the era of ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Mad About You’ and ‘Will and Grace’ and all those really great NBC shows–‘Friends’, all of that. So I would have loved to have been on any of those. ”

It takes Tony two hours to get into his Castithan makeup. So what does he do while he waits? “I’m normally passed out–it’s an early call. I put on some music; normally when you get in the makeup truck, it’s a very tranquil place, isn’t it?”

“Not when I’m in,” Julie replies. “I’ve got the dogs in there.”

“Yeah, when Benzie arrives, it becomes less tranquil,” Tony agrees. “In a good way, though. But I just sometimes close my eyes and sleep if I’m allowed to before they start touching around my eyes and I have to open them. I just sort of relax and listen to music, and just go through the scenes in my head, and talk to myself about the scene, and end up saying it out loud.”

Julie points out that “two hours is not that long for hair and makeup for women.” Fortunately, Amanda’s make-up only takes “an hour and three minutes.” Stephanie Leonidas (Irisa) takes three and a half hours.

“She’s got a prosthetic piece stuck to her head,” Tony says. “I’ve done jobs where me and a friend of mine, Jason Flemming, called it prosthetic depression.” The infomercial begins. “Do you get depressed in prosthetic makeup? Call this number now. Because we both worked on a film called League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I was invisible and he played Dr. Jekyll, so he had a big prosthetic head. I was bald and wearing a blue suit.”

So what’s the worst part of wearing a prosthetic?

“The removal. It rips your skin off,” Julie says.

Tony agrees. “It took my hair off before. It can be tough to get off. But just having seven hours makeup sometimes.”

“The smell of the chemicals when they’re putting it on…” Julie shudders. “Ugg. Everything.”

“In Underworld I did it and it was six and a half hours sometimes,” Tony explains. “Got it down to about five. You’re in the makeup truck at 4:30 in the morning and you may get on set at about 1 pm.”

“And you’ve still got a full day to shoot. It usually takes six hours to put on; it’s three hours to take off,” Julie says.

“Yeah, just rip it off,” Tony adds.

Julie looks surprised. “You did?”

“Yeah, on the last day I did. So it’s not so bad then, the makeup for Datak or Stahma.”

“I think Doc Ywell’s the toughest,” Julie says, and Tony agrees.

“Yeah,” he says. “I mean, Trenna [Keating], who plays Doc Ywell, could just play the beautiful Trenna, because she obviously looks nothing like her. There’s no shape or form to her face; there is, but it’s not, obviously, human. She could moonlight as another character! That would be quite cool.”

“I think they’ve talked about that, actually,” admits Julie.

So which Votan race would Julie want to moonlight as?

“I would do Casthithan, because they’re supposed to be the most beautiful.” She laughs. “And pretty tough.”

“I thought you wanted to play a Sensoth,” Tony protests.

“I know. But I was going to say, I’d probably end up being a Sensoth, because–” She laughs again– “I’m not tall enough to be a Castithan. You have to be tall and super skinny to play a Castithan.”

“You’ve got to be pretty cute to be a Castithan, is that what you mean?” Tony asks.

“Yeah. You have to be beautiful. They’re described as the most beautiful people in the world.” She looks askance at Tony. “What’re you looking at; my phone?”

“I was looking at your nose,” he says. “You’ve got a good Casti nose.”

So what don’t we know about the Castithans?

Julie doesn’t miss a beat. “Three penises. I’m just saying.”

“I know, right. Look at that.” Tony holds up three baby carrots. “Three penises.”

“And it influences the way he plays,” Julie adds.

“Two of them are detachable,” Tony says. “Oh dear. No, I’m sure there’s a lot more. There’s a lot of information [in the Votan Bible] that they still haven’t disclosed to us.

“I think finding out as much backstory as you possibly can before you play any character is always very helpful; essential,” he continues. “It can in many ways influence your choices of how you’re gonna walk, talk; the way you’re gonna behave; obviously, [there’s] what’s written on the page, but how you can work with that, manipulate it, bring it to life. In the case of Datak and Stahma, she’s a sort of cunning woman. Wise. Datak’s cunning as well, but he’s more of a street-taught, back-alley type of individual. Whereas his wife is more high-falluting, more aristocracy. So I think his past has definitely shaped his future, but he’s definitely trying to change his future. But you can never change a zebra’s stripes.”

Moving from their present roles to the past, I asked the pair which characters (that they had previously played) would be fun to have in Defiance.

Julie laughs. “It would be funny to put Robin from ‘Desperate Housewives’ in Defiance. She’d be working as a stripper in the Need/Want. She’d be having some crazy fun time. I think her wonderment…it’d be nice to have. Because Robin was really such a sweet character, such a good person with such a sweet heart. So not jaded and we don’t really see that in Defiance. We don’t have that one character that is that sweet and nice… Well, I mean Christie is.”

So who would Tony want to bring in? “I think it would be fun to have Vincent Van Gogh go to Defiance. I don’t know what he would make of it, but it would be quite funny to see. Or Marcus from Underworld. He would be a power player. Like Datak, you know. They’re both quite ruthless.”

So how would these characters get to Defiance?

“We need Doctor Who first,” Tony decides. “Pick up Matt Smith. Matt Smith can pick up Vincent and…” He looks at Julie. “Have you played many historical figures?”

“I haven’t played one historical figure,” she replies.

“Go to New York, pick up your bird from ‘Desperate Housewives’, and then we can all bang forward to–”

“She’s not in New York; she’s in Paris,” Julie interrupts, but Tony doesn’t miss a beat.

“–Paris,” he continues, with an affected French accent. “Pick up, and we can all head over and join the 46.”

Julie sums it up: “I think basically we came down to: We need Doctor Who first.”

They move on to guest stars the show has actually had.

“I think there’s a lot of interesting characters so far, and some really cool cameos,” Tony says. “The astronaut–the actor who played the astronaut. He was great. Was he nice to work with?”

“He was so sweet,” Julie says. “So lovely. Very genuine. I loved when he hugged Rafe McCaully. I’m just like, ‘Oh no you didn’t! You didn’t just hug him, did you? Nobody hugs Rafe.'”

“Nobody touches Rafe,” Tony agrees.

The episode contained a dramatic struggle between Amanda and the astronaut (played by Brian J. Smith). But Julie was unphased.

“I’ve been choked before,” she explains. “I worked with a stunt coordinator. They had a stunt double for me, and they kept telling me I don’t need it. They were afraid I was gonna get bruised or I was gonna get hurt. But, I mean, stuff like that, as actors, we can do it. There’s ways you trick it. I basically was controlling his hands. I worked it out with Brian and the stunt coordinator, what we were gonna do and where the action was gonna be, and what the struggle was gonna be like. And I needed him to put pressure on me, but his hands were never really up here.” She points at her throat. “They were kind of down here [closer to the clavicle]. I mean, we really fought; we really struggled. I’m like, ‘I’m gonna just kick, so protect your balls. Just protect yourself; I don’t wanna hurt you. But I will kick and fight you off.'”

“For the record, protect your balls.” Apparently, Tony’s learned from experience. “I learned…The Benzinator…Through no fault of her own.”

“They eventually come off.” Julie laughs. “It’s just the way it happens. I emasculate all men. No…is that what the Benzinator means? What does that mean? Why do you call me that?”

But Tony is tight-lipped. “Keep the Benzinator as ambiguous as you want, my darling.”

“It’s like I’m the Terminator,” Julie concludes.

“Defiance” airs on Monday nights at 9/8c on SyFy.