|May 1, 1972|
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The daughter of a surgeon father and a competitive ice skater mother, Julie Benz was born May 1, 1972 in Pittsburgh, PA. She followed in her mother's footsteps at the age of three, quickly rising to 13th in the United States in ice dancing. A stress fracture at the age of 14 brought her skating career to a halt, so after graduating from Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, PA, she briefly entertaining the idea of becoming a doctor like her father. However, one glimpse at an operation convinced her that she lacked the stomach for the job. Instead, she became involved in local theater, and soon developed a passion for acting. A bit role in "Two Evil Eyes" (1990), a horror film co-directed by Pittsburgh native son George Romero and Italian suspense master Dario Argento, marked her professional debut. Benz soon lit out for New York to hone her craft at New York University, from which she graduated in 1993.
Benz soon made the rounds of episodic television, frequently appearing as an attractive and occasionally clue-free young woman sought after by male performers. She briefly endured a season as a 1950s-era TV character trapped in the real world in the sitcom "Hi Honey, I'm Home" (ABC/Nick at Night," 1991-92), then progressed to guest appearances on youth-oriented shows like "Boy Meets World" (ABC, 1993-2000). Her Hollywood feature debut came with an uncredited role in the Chris Farley-David Spade comedy "Black Sheep" (1996); the following year, she earned some critical notice as the receptionist who quizzed Jack Nicholson on his ability to write about women in "As Good As It Gets" (1997).
That same year, Benz began her long tenure as the seductive vampire Darla on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spin-off, "Angel." A truly ferocious and scheming bloodsucker, her path of destruction took her from the 16th century, when she was turned into a vampire by the cult leader the Master, to the 18th century, when she transformed Irish villager Liam into Angelus, later known as Angel (David Boreanaz). The pair cut a swath of terror through the next three centuries before Angel split from her, citing his inability to harm innocent victims. After both turn up in suburban Sunnyvale in the 20th century, Darla made life miserable for Angel and his new love, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) until being staked by her former companion. Darla then returned for multiple episodes of "Angel," the crux of which saw her impregnated by Angel, despite the impossibilities of such an event. Realizing that she would be emotionally and physically impossible to care for a child, she staked herself, leaving behind an infant who grew quickly into the deeply conflicted Connor.
Though her appearances on "Buffy" and "Angel" raised her profile, Benz struggled to find other projects of similar quality. Features were few and far between, with the black comedy "Jawbreaker" (1999), about three popular high schoolers (Benz, Rebecca Gayheart and Rose McGowan) who attempted to cover up the murder of a friend, the best of the lot. Subsequent projects like "Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th" (2000) and "George of the Jungle 2" (2003), with Benz as the title hero's love, Ursula, were best forgotten. TV kept her busy, most notably with recurring appearances as the kind-hearted FBI agent who impersonated a school guidance counselor on "Roswell" (The WB/UPN, 1999-2002) and in a rare lead for the Hallmark Channel movie "The Long Shot" (2004) as a woman who recovers from her failed marriage at a horse ranch. She would headline several more TV features for the network and the Lifetime Channel, including "Held Hostage" (Lifetime, 2009), a true-life drama about a woman forced to rob a bank by criminals who hold her daughter captive; the romance "Uncorked" (Hallmark, 2009), with Benz as a business-minded executive who fell in love with a handsome widower; and "Circle of Friends" (2006, Lifetime), about a woman (Benz) investigating the deaths of several friends in her hometown. Benz even ventured briefly into voiceover work with the bestseller game, "Halo 2" (2004), for which she provided the voice for the ill-fated heroine, Miranda Keyes.
In 2006, Benz received the role that would largely define her post-"Buffy" career. She played Rita Morgan, whose damaged past - abuse at the hands of her husband - made her an appealing mate for the title character, a crusading serial killer. Although reluctant to become intimate with Dexter, she eventually grows to trust and even love him, despite numerous warning signs about his hidden nature. The couple eventually has a child together, though domestic bliss is short-lived. After dispatching the Trinity Killer (John Lithgow), Dexter returned home to find his last victim - Rita herself. Audiences were somewhat surprised to see their homicidal hero show a degree of genuine emotion at her loss. For her efforts, Benz received two Screen Actors Guild nominations as part of the ensemble cast, and a 2006 Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Once again, the exposure of a popular series led to more roles for Benz; amusingly, her connection to "Dexter" seemed to have great appeal to casting agents for horror films and violent dramas. She was one of the few victims to survive the murderous games of the killer known as Jigsaw in "Saw V" (2008), then played the wife of an undercover agent accidentally killed by Ray Stevenson's implacable vigilante in the ultra-violent "Punisher: War Zone" (2008). Her trifecta of high-octane film appearances was completed by "Rambo" (2008), Sylvester Stallone's fourth go-round as the taciturn Vietnam vet, who aids Benz on a humanitarian aid mission in Thailand. The latter was the most successful of the three pictures, netting over $150 million at the box office and providing Benz with her biggest motion picture to date.
After a supporting turn in "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" (2009), the largely unseen sequel to the cult hit, Benz began a five-episode arc on "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004- ) as Robin, a former stripper who endured the scorn of the series' matriarchs before launching a lesbian relationship with Dana Delaney's Katherine Mayfair. The following year, Benz was announced as returning to "Dexter" for its fifth season while pulling double duty as a co-lead with Michael Chiklis on "No Ordinary Family" (ABC, 2010- ), about a suburban clan who develop super powers as the result of a plane crash.