Julie M. Benz (born May 1, 1972) is an American actress who portrayed Layla Rourke in the Season 1 episode "Faith". Known for her roles as Darla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (1997–2004) and Rita Bennett on Dexter (2006–2010), for which she won the 2006 and 2009 Satellite Awards for Best Supporting Actress.
Benz was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her father is a surgeon in Pittsburgh. Her mother was a figure ice skater. The family settled in nearby Murrysville when Benz was two, and she started ice skating when she was three. She competed in the 1988 U.S. Championships in junior ice dancing with her skating partner David Schilling, finishing in 13th place. Her older brother and sister, Jeffrey and Jennifer, were the 1987 U.S. Junior Champions in ice dancing and competed internationally. When Benz was 14, she suffered a stress fracture in her right leg and had to take time off. She grew up in Murrysville, graduating from Franklin Regional High School.
At age 15, Benz was told by an acting coach that she would never succeed as an actress. According to Benz, "I remember the teacher telling me I should not even try acting. I still have the report card where she was like, 'You will never be an actor. Your voice is horrible.' That was the best thing that ever happened to me because I was like, 'I'll show you'". By 1989, with her figure skating career over, Benz became involved in local theater, where she was cast in the play Street Law. Her first movie role was a small speaking part in "The Black Cat" segment of the Dario Argento/George A. Romero horror movie Two Evil Eyes (1990). A year later, she was cast in the TV show Hi Honey, I'm Home (1991), which was canceled after two seasons.
After graduating from high school, Benz entered New York University to study acting. After graduation from NYU, she moved to Los Angeles. Two weeks after her move, she obtained a bit part in a 1994 episode of Married... with Children, playing a girl who wanted to lose her virginity to Bud Bundy. Her subsequent roles include an unaired Aaron Spelling television pilot Cross Town Traffic. She starred in another unaired TV pilot called Empire in 1995. Her other TV shows included Hang Time, High Tide, Step by Step and Boy Meets World, plus a small role in the TV movie The Barefoot Executive. She had an uncredited role in Black Sheep and appearances in Diagnosis: Murder, Sliders and The Single Guy. She played Christy in the TV movie Hearts Adrift and a lead role as Julie Falcon in Darkdrive.
In 1996, Benz auditioned for the role of Buffy Summers in the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), but lost out to Sarah Michelle Gellar. However, she was offered the small role of the vampire Darla in the pilot episode. Her performance was so well-received that her part was expanded to a few more episodes. The role helped launch her career. She appeared in more TV shows such as The Big Easy and Fame L.A. along with a small role as a receptionist in the movie As Good as It Gets (1997). She starred in the short spoof film Eating Las Vegas and the unaired TV pilot Veronica's Video, had a small uncredited role in the TV movie A Walton Easter and a small role in Inventing the Abbotts. In 1998, she had a recurring role as Joplin Russell in the TV show Ask Harriet (though the show was canceled and only two of her appearances aired), then guest-starred on Conrad Bloom and The King of Queens. She made two movies, the dark comedy Jawbreaker and Dirt Merchant, before landing a lead role in another TV show called Payne. She played undercover FBI Special Unit agent Kathleen Topolsky on Roswell during its first season, starred in the TV movie Satan's School for Girls, the unaired TV pilot Good Guys/Bad Guys and had a lead role in the horror movie parody Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth.
She reprised her role as Darla in 2000 for the Buffy spin-off series Angel appearing in every season for at least one episode. She was the only white actor featured in the principal cast of the romantic comedy The Brothers. She was a guest host for the TV show Rendez-View. She was cast as Ellie Sparks in Glory Days and appeared in the unaired pilot; however, she left the show. She guest starred on She Spies and was in the featured cast for the mini-series Taken. She did various voices for the video game Hot Shots Golf Fore!, appeared in the short film The Midget Stays in the Picture and took over the role of Ursula for George of the Jungle 2.
Benz appeared in Peacemakers, Coupling, NCIS and Oliver Beene. She landed the lead role of Annie Garrett in the Hallmark TV movie The Long Shot. Benz also provided the voice of Miranda Keyes for the video game Halo 2, though she did not return to the role in the sequel Halo 3 as Bungie wanted to try a new direction with the Miranda Keyes voice by giving the character an accent, replaced by Justis Bolding. She played the lead role of Danielle in Bad Girls From Valley High (a film shot in 2000 under the title A Fate Totally Worse Than Death) which was released on DVD in 2005. She had a small role in the critically acclaimed TV movie Lackawanna Blues. In the Sci-Fi Channel original film Locusts: The 8th Plague, she played the lead female role Vicky. She also appeared in the straight-to-DVD movie 8mm 2 as Lynn. The film was originally called The Velvet Side of Hell and was not supposed to be a sequel to 8MM. Benz appeared in episodes of CSI: Miami, Law & Order and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. She had a supporting role in a Swedish independent movie called Kill Your Darlings, a lead role in the Lifetime movie Circle of Friends and joined the cast of TV show Dexter as Rita Bennett. Benz played a lead role in the fifth film of the popular horror franchise, Saw V, as Brit, a real-estate developer who is one of Jigsaw's five victims. She had a supporting role in Punisher: War Zone as Angela. Benz co-starred with Sylvester Stallone in 2008's Rambo, the fourth film of that series.
She plays the title role in the short film Kidnapping Caitlynn, written by her close friend Jenny Mollen, premiered at the Vail Film Festival 2009 and was released online April 6, 2009. She starred in the Lifetime movie Held Hostage as Michelle Estey in July. She also starred in the Hallmark Channel movie Uncorked as Johnny Prentiss which premiered in the UK in July 2009. She is the lead female character Special Agent Eunice Bloom in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day which had a limited release on October 30, 2009, and was released on DVD March 9, 2010. She has been cast in another indie film called Bedrooms as Anna. She plays Frankie in the upcoming movie Answers to Nothing which is scheduled for a 2011 release.
Benz appeared on The Soup with Joel McHale. Benz next took a recurring role on Desperate Housewives as Robin Gallagher, a stripper with a heart of gold and a master's degree in education who gets offered the chance to transition into a more legitimate career. The character of Robin is further developed when the audience discovers she is a lesbian and begins an affair with housewife Katherine Mayfair (Dana Delany). After the Season 4 finale of Dexter, she returned for the Season 5 premiere.
In early 2010, ABC announced that Benz had landed a lead role as Stephanie Powell, in the network's drama pilot No Ordinary Family. Production of the series commenced the following May and it premiered on September 28, 2010, as part of the 2010–11 season. On May 13, 2011, No Ordinary Family was canceled after one season with only twenty episodes filmed. In 2011, she was cast in the new CBS TV show A Gifted Man. She was originally a co-star but was downgraded to recurring. A Gifted Man was canceled by CBS in May 2012 after one season of 16 episodes. She will also be starring in TV movie Ricochet as Elise Laird. Benz plays the lead female role, Mayor Amanda Rosewater, in the new science fiction series Defiance and also stars in the upcoming indie movie Supremacy and the unaired TV pilot Middle Ages.
Benz was married to actor and voice actor John Kassir. They were married on May 30, 1998 and she filed for divorce in December 2007.
In 2011, she became engaged to Rich Orosco, a partner at B360 Studios and they married on May 5, 2012.