BackTalk: Julie Benz from 'Dexter'

The opening-credits sequence for Dexter is an absolute wonder to watch and listen to on DVD, wouldn't you agree?Oh, yes. Those opening credits are brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. They're creepy; they're cool. Everything that the show is gets encapsulated in those opening credits. A certain genius was at work when they were put together. I also love the overall look of our show, thanks to our director of photography [Romeo Tirone]. We shoot in high-def, and he does a great job of making it look like we're on film. We have a certain number of directors who come in and keep the look of the show consistent. I think it's like nothing else on television.

Some actors get scared of being shot in high definition, afraid that "high-def doesn't lie." Do you care about that at all? Your character, Dexter's girlfriend Rita Bennett, doesn't exactly have the most glamorous look. I still think they make me look way too pretty! The shot in Season 1 where I'm watering the lemon tree is probably one of the most beautiful shots of me ever! When I saw that, I went into work and thanked the camera and lighting departments for it! [chuckles] The thing is, all of Rita's lighting - for every scene that she's in - has to have a certain warmth. The producers want that feeling of warmth in the show, so they always adjust the lighting for it.

Which scenes in Season 2 would you consider to be perfect examples of "visual warmth"? I'll be blunt and perfectly honest: any of the love scenes, the nude scenes. There you go! Oh God, they make me look amazing, yes! They make me look beautiful [chuckles].

And we appreciate that, of course. I like that you're comfortable enough with your appearance that we get to see the actual changes in expression on your face; they're not Botoxed away. That makes Rita seem more real. Yeah, you get to see everything. When I don't get a lot of sleep, you see it! [laughs] It's freeing as an actor, really, to be stripped down like that - to be able to be raw and vulnerable. When I worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, the budget for those shows was amazing. When you were "dying" on the WB, you got the false eyelashes and the lip gloss, but on Showtime, you get nothing. Let's really show this person dying, you know? Then you get feedback from people who say, "You look terrible. You look old." They forget that you're playing a character. But there are moments when vanity kicks in and you go, "Oh God, what was I thinking?"

But, listen, I'm playing a character who's raw and out there, and she is what she is. I try to play her as a real woman with wrinkles and age, and all that good stuff. What you see is it. Rita is definitely the more vulnerable side of myself. I don't have an abusive background at all, but her vulnerability, her insecurities - I understand all that. For whatever reasons, I can relate to those.

She is very much like me. I don't have to do that much to play her. I just have to be open and relaxed and allow myself to be vulnerable. I'm just - whenever I play Rita, I'm much more emotional in my own life. [chuckles] I end up sighing a lot more . . .

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I just think it's a thing. [MM laughs] It's just a thing. You'll have to ask people who deal with it every day if it's a good thing. They're on the other end of it.

What else stood out to you visually on the Season 2 DVD? I think a lot of the scenes with Dexter and Lyla stand out, especially in the finale. And the look of the fires that Lyla sets in a few episodes - you feel the sweat, you feel the heat, you feel Miami, you feel the weight of the air on film. Our people did a good job of creating the heaviness of that air.

What's your take on commentaries? I think they're more interesting when they come from the writers and creators. Sometimes, when you get too many actors together to do commentaries, you just get a lot of jokes. [laughs] I watched Rocky Balboa recently, and I found the commentary by Sly Stallone really interesting, because he was very focused on expressing exactly what it was he tried to create, especially when he talked about directing. It's great to hear commentaries from someone like that - a film icon who's articulate, very specific, and very clear about each and every frame and why the film was put together that way. He knew just how to describe the process of his craft. And he knows how to craft.

Do you think, especially after the events of Season 2 that changed their relationship quite dramatically, that Rita has an idea about Dexter's real secret? [He's a serial killer (albeit with a conscience.)] Like you've said elsewhere, she knows something, but doesn't want to know too much. Is that kind of how you have to play it? I honestly believe that if she found out, she still wouldn't believe it. She really sees the good in him, and that's what it is. She would just never believe in a million years that he was a serial killer. He could be on trial with the evidence laid out in front of him and found guilty, and she still wouldn't believe it. [chuckles]

I could see that. She does bring out a lot of good in him, and vice-versa. He'll protest that "I don't feel anything," but it's very clear he's a different person when he's around Rita and the kids. Yes. And the kids are definitely a factor.

There's a scene in Season 1 where he's swinging Cody around like an airplane, and you see he has a connection with him that he doesn't have with anyone or anything else. Yes.

Would you like to see Rita get out of the house more? Sometimes we see her at the hotel where she works. Are there other things you'd like to see her doing out and about in Florida? Well, I'd love to see Rita get a new house. [both laugh] The house she has right now - it's very dirty. Rita is not the best cleaning lady.

Wasn't there some incident with a neighbor's dog? In Season 1, I stole the neighbor's [noisy] dog and gave it away. That was Rita being a badass. [both chuckle] That was the extent of her criminal life.

What can you say about Season 3 so far [which premiered September 28 on Showtime]? Jimmy Smits has joined the cast, and it's great having someone of his caliber on the set. It's been quite amazing. Let's just say a lot of stuff happens. [giggles] It's very exciting. I think we have a great year ahead of us.

You've said elsewhere that you'd like to ultimately see Rita and Dexter get together and stay together. Is that still the case? Yes!

Okay, to springboard off that, Ill let you have the final word - where do they go, and what's your idea of happily ever after for them? Oh, he would still be doing his job in forensics and as a blood-spatter specialist. He'd find a new hobby, maybe golf or fishing. [laughs] They'd move into a nice, quiet house in a nice, quiet neighborhood. And she could just focus on being a mom, and maybe they have 27 kids [chuckles] - well, maybe not 27, but a couple of kids. They'd have a nice, quiet, simple life. I think both of them have been through so much in their lives and have experienced so much violence. I think in Season 1, there's a scene where they talk about being average and normal. They don't dream about being extraordinary, they just dream about being normal. And I think, to me, that's what would make them the most happy: Just be normal. Or just be.