When her child goes missing in Russia in Taken: The Search for Sophie Parker (premiering on Lifetime on September 21st), NYPD detective mother Stevie (Julie Benz) will stop at nothing to track her down and get her back home. When 18 year-old Sophie Parker (Naomi Battrick) goes on spring break to Moscow with her best friend, the two girls are drugged and abducted by a Russian sexual slavery ring operating in the heart of the city. After an alarming and mysterious call from Sophie’s cell-phone, Stevie takes the next plane to Russia, where she embarks on a frantic and action-packed quest to save her daughter.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Julie Benz talked about what attracted her to this film, wanting to play a woman in power, the research she did for the role, working in Bulgaria, how intense and invigorating the shoot was, and how much she enjoyed doing all of the stunts. She also talked about returning for Season 2 of the hit Syfy series Defiance, having a supportive fan base, hitting the reset button for all of the characters and adding some new blood, as well as what it was like to have been a part of the Showtime series Dexter. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
JULIE BENZ: They came to me with the script, and I read it and it really resonated with me. What I really liked about it was that it was a woman in power and not a woman in peril. Too many times, in these TV movies, you see a woman in peril, saved by a man. I really loved the idea that it was a woman in power who takes control and takes matters into her own hands and fights to save her daughter’s life.
Is the finished film pretty close to the original script that you read, or did it evolve at all?
BENZ: The script that I read is pretty much what we shot. There were some rewrites, along the way. For me, I really wanted to approach Stevie as a woman, but in many ways, with the strength of a man. In today’s television, we don’t really see that too often. It’s rare. It sucks that, to this day, we have to label it as a strong woman when, if there were a man in the role, it would just be a great role. Why can’t we have women who are just as capable as men and who have the strength, and are also flawed and can kick ass, in the same way? We can and we do, in everyday life, and we are flawed. These fully-rounded characters do exist, in real life. But for some reason, women get put into the mother/wife/victim role on television.
With so many different aspects to this story, what sort of research did you do for this?
BENZ: To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of time. I got cast, and then literally a week later, I was on a plane to Bulgaria to film it. But, I’ve been lucky that my career has led me through weapons training and I’ve played cops before, so I’ve had training already, in that aspect. And my uncle is a cop. Growing up around him, I’ve learned a lot, as well. And as far as the issue itself, I had spent some time, a couple years ago, with the Children of the Night foundation. I went to the shelter and spent time with Dr. Lois Lee and the girls that she’s rescued from sex trafficking in the United States. I’ve always been fascinated that this still goes on and that this happens, and not just in foreign countries, but in our own country. It’s the third largest crime worldwide, behind drugs and weapons. It just blows me away that this is still going on, especially in today’s world where we have so much access to media and cell phones and social media, and all of that. What I liked about the relationship between Stevie and her daughter, Sophie (Naomi Battrick), was that you could tell that Stevie had trained Sophie to watch out for herself. She was able to act in an intense situation with sound thought, by dialing the phone and throwing it under the trash can.
There is a really natural and believable mother-daughter relationship in this, between you and Naomi Battrick. Did you get to spend any time bonding, or did that come very naturally?
BENZ: We didn’t have a lot of prep, but we were on location in Sofia, Bulgaria and we were staying at the same hotel. One of the beauties about being on location is that there’s an immediate bond. The whole cast would have breakfast together, every day, and we’d all meet for dinner, at the end of the day, or have a glass of wine to catch up and see how the day went. It’s almost like living in a dorm when you all live amongst each other. It really helped create that relationship. And Naomi is just a wonderful actress, as well. We really worked very quickly to develop a bond with each other.
When you do a movie like this and play a character like this, do you think about whether you’d be able to stay this focused and strong, if you were trying to get back someone you love, who had been taken?
BENZ: You know, that’s a really tough question to answer. First, it involves a lot of what ifs. What if I had a daughter? What if I was a cop? What if I had the resources that Stevie had, and the training that she had? I do think that I would go to extremes to try to rescue a loved one. I just don’t know if it would be the same extremes. I don’t know if I would take it on myself because I just don’t know if I’m fully equipped. Although, will all the training I’ve had now, I probably could. I would like to think that I’m as strong as Stevie, but I’m not sure that I am. What I liked about it was that there’s only one moment where you see her actually break down, and it’s with the realization of what’s happened to her daughter. That’s when you see her crack. The rest of the time, she’s gotta hole it together. She has to. She doesn’t have a choice. Her time to fall apart is after she gets her daughter back.
When you do something this emotionally and physically intense, do you just go home totally exhausted every day, or is it really rewarding to use so much of yourself for an acting role?
BENZ: It’s really invigorating. A lot of it really depends on the script. When the script is really well thought out and well-written, even though you’re exhausted at the end of the day, you’re very much excited to go back to work, the next day. I’ve worked on some scripts where they haven’t been as well flushed out, and I just feel so beat up and don’t want to go to work the next day. That’s really hard. But with this script, in particular, it was so well thought out and it tracked the arc of all the characters so beautifully that it was exciting to go to work. And it had to be that way because we shot it so quickly. It was a very intense shoot, and filming in Bulgaria has its own issues. So, the script had to be solid, at its core.
How difficult is it to do these physical sequences and the stunt work when you’re doing such a quick shoot with so little time to prepare?
BENZ: You just throw yourself into it. I’m fortunate that I’ve been an athlete, my whole life, and I work out like a crazy person. A lot of the reason why I do that is because I love doing these kinds of action films that do challenge me physically. I feel it’s my job to keep my stamina up and be as physically fit as possible, so that I can just jump in and do it. It takes its toll sometimes and it’s hard work, but I love that. I love being challenged physically, as an actress. As far as the stunt sequences go, I just have to put my faith in the stunt department that they’re going to show me how to do it right and I’m going to be able to do it. I’m one of those actresses who can’t do it during rehearsal, but if you throw a camera on me, it’s perfect. I’ve just learned that about myself. I’ve been an actor for 30 years now, so I pretty much know how to do the basics of a fight without hurting anybody.
BENZ: Yeah! It’s very exciting to have fan response and fan reaction, and have it be so well-received. Last year, we were working in a void, as far as not knowing whether people were going to like it or understand it, or if it was even working. Now, we have the support of a very strong fan base, so this season, the gloves are off. It’s crazier than last season. We had two very intense table reads for two scripts, and we were all so invigorated afterwards.
It seems like everyone is really torn apart in Season 2, and they don’t have the support systems that were there in the first season.
BENZ: Yes. The great thing about working on a genre show is that you can basically have a season finale where every character is left destroyed, and then hit the reset button and come back for the next season. Everyone starts Season 2 in a completely different place. It’s so great, as an actor, to have those challenges. We’re all playing something completely different this year.
What can you say about where Amanda is at this season and what her journey will be?
BENZ: I can say a little bit. Amanda starts in a very dark place. If you look at the end of Season 1, she lost her job, her ex-husband was killed, and her sister (Mia Kirshner) has disappeared. That’s as far as she knows. She doesn’t know how to define herself in the town of Defiance anymore, and she has a lot of time on her hands. She likes her scotch. And her only truly close relationship was with her sister, and she’s gone. It’s a really hard place for her to be in.
Is it fun to add new blood to the show, with James Murray, and get to have a little bit of a love interest?
BENZ: I don’t know if he’s a love interest for Amanda. It’s great! He’s been a wonderful addition to our cast. I can only imagine how daunting it must have been for him to come into this group. We’re a very tight family. From the minute we heard his name, we knew we were all going to love him. We already have a Jaime Murray, so why wouldn’t we love a James Murray? Jaime and I insisted on calling him Bob, for the first couple of days, and he was such a good sport about it, too. He truly brings such great energy. I do work with him a lot and we have some really amazing scenes together.
In Season 1, you have to establish all of the characters, and then in Season 2, you can bring in new characters and get to see the older characters in a new light.
BENZ: Yeah. With Season 1, you have to spend so much time, especially on a sci-fi show, focusing on who these characters are, what the world is that they’re living in, what the rules of the world are, and what rules they can break and what rules they can’t break. In Season 2, you actually get to have a lot more play.
As an actress, what’s it like to be a part of a project like Dexter, that’s coming to an end now, but that will always remain a part of TV history?
BENZ: I don’t want to think that it’s ending. That’s hard. I don’t want to see how it ends. But, that was such a wonderful show to be a part of. For the four years that I was a part of it, it was just such a blessing. As actors, we all felt, from the very beginning, that we were a part of something very special and very groundbreaking. We will always have that feeling. That we did that show will always be a part of us, as a cast. I don’t want to think about it ending! I have my theories on how it will end, and I just don’t want to know if I’m right or wrong.
Taken: The Search for Sophie Parker premieres on Lifetime on September 21st.