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Julie Benz (darla) - Tv-now.com Interview

By Tony Bray

mercredi 14 avril 2004, par Webmaster

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Tolo, Benz and Mason

For a former vampire, the actress is a terrific horse woman. It’s as if the talent for it runs in her blood.

Take the following statement as an admission of partiality : Julie Benz was the prettiest vampire to ever stalk Joss Whedon’s universe when she starred as Darla in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel." It was Darla who put the first love bite on Angel (David Boreanaz), turning the rake into an evil being who liked to snack on humans. Since I truly believe that "Buffy" was the best series to ever grace the little box, it’s easy to guess what my answer was when Hallmark Channel asked if I’d like to talk with Benz about her new movie, "The Long Shot : Believe in Courage," which premieres on Sunday, April 18 at 9pm ET. I accepted faster than the Slayer beheaded the Ubervamp. "Long Shot" tells the story of Annie Garrett (Benz) and her young daughter, Taylor (Gage Golightly), two decent people who were left to care for themselves and their wonderful horse, Tolo, after the man of the house, Ross (John Livingston), took their last dollars and abandoned them in a strange city — vampire note : Darla would have sucked his neck dry for the fun of it and she would not have allowed him to feed on her.

The movie also stars multiple Golden Globe winner Marsha Mason as Mary Lou O’Brian, a legendary dressage champion who thinks that Annie’s obvious abilities as a horse trainer can help her manage Shamrock Farms better. With Mary Lou and Shamrock barn manager, Guido Levits (Golden Globe winner Paul Le Mat), in her corner, Annie gets an opportunity to turn her life around and train Tolo to be a future dressage performer. Just when things seem to be the brightest, Tolo turns up blind and the debt Annie incurred when she used Tolo as collateral comes due. Their only hope rests with a prestigious dressage competition that offers a large cash prize.

"Long Shot" is based on the true story of Amy Gaston, a brave woman who chose to train her own horse for an important dressage competition after her beloved Appaloosa went blind. Putting the animal down was not one of her options. Love and faith ruled her day. Imagine the judges surprise when they found out that the horse they chose as a winner was flying blind with the help of his best friend.

There are no major surprises in "Long Shot." It is a beautifully photographed movie that shows a deep side of Benz that I didn’t get a chance to see when she played Darla. Her many scenes as trainer and rider are very impressive, making me think beyond a dark shadow of a doubt that the actress is capable of surviving in the world as a horse whisperer, dressage competitor, or — dare I say it ? — beautiful, resurrected vampire. Are you listening, Mr. Whedon ?

Our interview follows.

Can you tell the readers a little bit about Amy Gaston and her story that inspired the new Hallmark Channel movie.

It is based on a true story. I play Amy Gaston. It was written by her father. It’s a story of a woman overcoming tremendous odds, one of the odds being her horse, who is her best friend, ends up going blind. She ends up re-training him and winning this big dressage competition on him. But there is so much more to it than just that.

The guy who played your lousy husband was superb.

He certainly was. He is a wonderful actor. John Livingston did a really great job.

Any time an actor can make you hate him within five minutes, it says something about his ability.

I felt really bad for John because he came in during the last two weeks of production. At that point, everyone had fallen so much in love with the Amy character. He was so good at being such a jerk. He’s really not a jerk at all in person. The people really were taking it personally on the set. That just shows you how wonderful of an actor he is. He is really very sweet and quiet, not at all like his character. Some of the crew guys were getting upset with him.

I’m surprised he survived the shoot. Any gentleman would have clocked him real early.

Yes. The first thing we filmed together was the end scene where he comes in with the shovel. That was just so difficult to walk in and do that scene as the first scene up.

All downhill from there.

Yeah, but he was really wonderful, he really was.

I’m wondering if you should be an actress or a horse whisperer. The comfort you have with the animal on screen is amazing. Those are big animals.

They are. I did have some training. I did know how to do some basic riding. But I never worked with a northern horse before. They are very different from western horses. Their temperaments are very different. During the rehearsal process I got thrown off the horse. That kind of rattled me a little bit, but it also made me respect the power that these creatures have. You can’t compromise that. It’s a 1200 pound beast. You have to be relaxed enough to be able to do the work that is necessary. The scariest moment in filming, with the horse, was the scene where they had the horse laying down because that is not natural for a horse to do. The way they’re designed it causes them a lot of pain to lay down.

I would imagine they’d have trouble breathing.

They do. The trainers told me if I felt the horse start to toss his head up, for me to just bolt. At one point, he did toss his head up and I just ran out of there.

I think animals can sense a friendly soul. You must have one because the horse seemed to love you.

When we were filming the scene with him laying down, it was a very emotional scene for me. I ended up preparing while they set up the shot. I was down at the end of the stables. There was a bunch of regular horses there. I was doing my emotional preparation. I was standing in front of one of the stalls and didn’t realize that one of the horses came up behind me. He just slightly nudged my head with his nose. I honestly felt that he knew I was upset and was trying to comfort me.

My belief is that animals are our gifts from God and what we do with them is our gift back to him. I think animals can sense a lot.

They do and they give us so much more. I think they really give us so much that I don’t know if we’re able to give them as much. You know what I mean ? They give us so much more fulfillment.

Do you think that the discipline you learned as a figure skating helped you any with this role because you had to learn so much dressage work ?

Oh definitely. I think being an athlete really helped me with the physical aspects of it, of how to look in the saddle, the proper way of sitting, the proper form and function. Having been an athlete all my life definitely helped. I think it also helped knowing what discipline is involved in a competition.

You looked natural on the horse. I love the scenes with the prancing. Your horse was like a ballerina up on her toes.

At one point, one of the dressage trainers thought I was actually my stunt woman. Which was a compliment to me. It meant I was doing it right. She thought from a distance, the way I was seated on the saddle and the way I was handling the horse, I was the stunt woman.

Speaking of your athletic career just for a second ... did acting help you overcome the fact that an injury ended your skating career ? You were a world class skater.

I think my mother has a lot to do with it. Anytime something traumatic or bad happened, she was always the first to try and find a positive or alternative way to deal. Being raised with a woman who has that kind of attitude instilled it in me. I was very upset about my ice skating career, but at the same time, my mom knew I loved to perform. She is the one who encouraged me to get into acting, to try it as an outlet because of my love of performing. I don’t think we ever expected me to have a career out of it because it is not an easy thing. She didn’t want me moping around the house. There were a couple of years where I was skating and acting at the same time. I think for me it was a natural transition to move full time into acting rather than figure skating. After you suffer a bad injury and you’re not as good, it’s just difficult to stay.

It’s hard to get back into the saddle.

When I got thrown off in rehearsal, I had to go to the hospital because I was having trouble breathing, but I was OK. I did get back up on the horse the next day. This horse jumped four feet into the air and bucked. All the horse people at the stables were impressed.

They were probably impressed that you survived.

Exactly. They were pretty impressed with my ability to come back the next day and get on the horse. Everybody was expecting me to quit.

You’re not a quitter.

No, I’m not. The story was so beautiful. I wasn’t going to let a horse stand in my way. Eventually, they had to get me another horse because that horse tried to throw me off the very next day as well. He wasn’t the right horse personality wise for me. I wasn’t going to let that stand in my way of being a part of such an amazing story.

How did they get a sighted horse to play blind ?

That was our big joke on the set. Quinn, who was my movie horse, is a professional movie horse. He’s been in more movies than all of us combined in the whole cast. He’s an old timer. I used to joke around that he knew when he had to be blind. It was just a bizarre thing. He would just act blind. We were always amazed. He really knew when he was supposed to be blind. There was this scene where I lead him around with some cookies and try to get him into the pasture. Every time we filmed that, it was like he was trying to walk over me as if he couldn’t even see me.

They say anytime you’re in a movie with an animal you’re going to lose. You had the animals and two darling little girls there competing in scenes.

The little girls were absolutely brilliant.

That’s for sure. Do you mind if we discuss your vampire adventures before we end it ?


What was it like to work on "Buffy" or "Angel" with all those great Whedon characters ?

I always sound like I’m gushing when I say this, but it’s true. For me, it was such an honor to be in that group of talent, to be working with them, to have David Boreanaz as my partner. It was a dream job in every way possible because the writing was so good and the show is so well conceived. It was just the best job ever. I pinched myself every single day.

Whedon even gave you a wonderful way to end your character.

She was such a wonderful character to begin with. To have such a beautiful ending. For me, it felt like they gave me a gift, a really special gift. After playing her for so long ... it was such a beautiful way for her to go. The last 20 minutes redeemed her in the eyes of the fans as well. She was able to finally do something good after four hundred years of evil and terror.

She sacrificed her life for a child, which is really unvampirish. Your human trait came through at the end.

Working with David, there has always been a trust between the two of us that no matter where we have to go with the characters, it’s going to be OK. He’s always been there to pick me up off the floor after those hugely emotional scenes where I’m sobbing. He’s always there to pick me up off the floor and make everything okay again ... to bring me back to Julie.

If fans are lucky, Whedon will do a Buffy/Angel flick in the future.

I would love to re-visit Darla. I miss her. I really do. You don’t realize how much a part of your character is part of yourself until you are no longer playing that character.

Darla vamped for about seven years, right ?

Yeah, since the beginning of "Buffy."

What a surprise series. So well conceived and executed.

I agree with you about it being one of the best conceived shows ever on television. I think it doesn’t get the respect it deserves, including the actors. I think Sarah Michelle Gellar has done some brilliant work as Buffy. James Marsters is just brilliant ... David as well. They just don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Did you watch the last season of "Buffy ?"

I watched it off and on. I didn’t’ watch the last episode. I can’t watch it. I never read the end of a good book. I just don’t like things to end.

Maybe it wasn’t the end. Giles did mention a new Hellmouth that opened up in Cleveland. I do hope you get to see most of the last season sometime, if for no other reason than to enjoy Nathan Fillion’s great work as Caleb.

He is really a wonderful actor.

I tried to get "Buffy" and "Angel" interviews for years. You are my first vampire.

Oh my God. You know, we’re not really awake during the day.

So, you’re phoning this in from the coffin.

Yes, exactly.

Maybe Whedon will notice that and resurrect Darla. It’s something nice to wish for.

I think we all do. I honestly feel they cut the "Angel" run short. I think "Angel" was just hitting its stride.

The WB didn’t even hang with "Buffy." The Sci-Fi network should have ponied up the bucks and taken both of them.

I know there’s a big campaign to save "Angel." I was over at The WB lot the other day and there was a group of fans outside with signs protesting the cancellation. It really was hitting its stride. I was excited about David directing. The chemistry between him and James was really great, so I really felt this year was an amazing year for the show. It deserves to go on two more years.

You really have entertained us. You’ve been part of a universe I think one day will be appreciated. Thanks for your time and for such a nice movie as "Long Shot."

Thank you.

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