Julie Benz talks about her time spent in the Burmese jungle with Sylvester Stallone
Actress Julie Benz was one of the only female actors on the set of the upcoming First Blood sequel Rambo. In the film, she plays Sarah, a Christian aid worker that employs John Rambo to take her and her team of missionaries up river to Burma. There, they will help a group of injured rebel soldiers.
When she comes up missing, Rambo must take a group of hired mercenaries back into the jungle to hunt down and free this captured team of freelance doctors. The movie turns into a visceral blood barrage from there on out. Rambo is one of the most violent action films of all time, and Benz couldn't agree more. Still, she is proud to be part of such an iconic franchise.
We recently caught up with Benz and discussed her experience working on the set of the film with director and co-star Sylvester Stallone. Here is our conversation:
When you read a script like this, how do you cope with the fact that you will be running around in mud, surrounded by all of this violence for two months?
Julie Benz: Actually, what happens is that you read the script and you forget that you are going to have to do all of that stuff. Then you show up on set and go, "Wait a minute! I have to do what? I didn't realize that I was actually going to have to shoot this part." You forget that aspect of it. I was just so excited to be the girl in a Rambo movie that actually lives. There was one girl in Rambo: First Blood Part II. I think as soon as she said, "Take me with you." She kicked it. It was nice to actually survive.
Were you familiar with all of the Rambo films before you got the script?
Julie Benz: I was actually not familiar. Who doesn't know Rambo? Right? I'd just never seen any of the Rambo movies. I am a huge Rocky fan. I have seen every Rocky film seven or eight times. But as far as the Rambo franchise goes, I am a girl. Not to insult anyone, but I am a girly-girl.
Was there an audition process? How did you get this part?
Julie Benz: It actually turns out that Sly is a big fan of Dexter. They called and said that he was interested in me for Rambo. They asked if I would be interested in taking a meeting with him. I said, "Of course." Do you say, "No?" No. I came in and met with him. That was it. I was very excited to be a part of the project. I loved the script. I loved the social message behind it. The fact that it took place in Burma and dealt with what was going on there was extremely important. For me, to be the only girl in an action movie was exciting. I wanted to rise to that challenge. And I got to work with him. To work with Sylvester Stallone as a director and a filmmaker. I am extremely impressed with the performances he gets out of his actors. I think he is really natural, and he gets nuanced performances. That's what I wanted to work with. I wanted him to take me there. Whatever it is he had to do, I wanted him to get me to that place where I could deliver that very natural, nuanced performance.
How did you prepare for the physical demands?
Julie Benz: I started training as soon as they said he wanted to take a meeting with me. I just assumed that I was going to get the job. (Laughs) No. I was, like, "I better start training now." I started training twice a day. I worked with a trainer, I ran a lot. I realized that, for me, what was going to be demanding for me was the cardio aspect. Also, working in extreme heat. I wanted to make sure my cardio was up. I needed to make sure I could handle all of the running. I also wanted to have a moment on set where I was running, and I blew everyone else away. So, I really upped my cardio a lot.
Did you find that the training you did for your ice skating helped you prepare for this?
Julie Benz: I think it is one of the reasons why they were interested in me for the movie. I think Sly did his research, and when he found out that I was a professional athlete growing up as a child, he knew that I could handle the rigors of what was going to be required of me in the jungles of Thailand. It is not Beverly Hills. It was pretty tough conditions. He knew that I had that competitive nature about me. And that I would definitely rise to the challenge. It helped me out a lot. A lot of my stunts were falling down. Which is something I do very well. That comes from my ice skating training. I know how to fall without getting hurt. I can't explain it. I don't know how I do it. But I don't get hurt when I fall. It comes from that, the ice-skating.
You say that you are a girly-girl. How do you react to the violence that is in the film?
Julie Benz: I think a lot of the violence that you see in the movie is taken from what is actually going on in Burma. So I think a lot of it is important to see. Granted, I will be watching a lot of the movie through my fingers. Even though I know it is fake. I was there. But it is still hard to watch. It is also a genre movie. The people that are going to go see this are going to go for that purpose. They want to see the action. That is the appeal. There is also a social message behind it. Hopefully it will raise more of the social awareness about what is going on in Burma.
That is a cause you have taken up since making this movie. What have you been doing with that?
Julie Benz: I've been doing work with the US campaign for Burma. I am trying to raise awareness. I am going to shoot some PSAs for them. Hopefully, I will go to Thailand and tour the refugee camps with a camera crew. I am raising money to raise awareness for them.
What was the worst day of shooting?
Julie Benz: I wouldn't say it was a day. I would say that it was a moment. There was one moment that became the big joke on set. I didn't think it was funny. Matthew Marsden and I were running, and I of course fall. He had to stop, turn around, come back and pick me up. Matthew has these giant feet. We were in the jungle. I fall. And his foot comes super close to my mouth. All of this jungle dirt flies into my mouth. My mouth was open. That dirt went right in and down my throat. Yeah, jungle dirt. They happened to have a close-up camera running at that time. I continued with the scene. I played it off like, whatever. When they yelled, "Cut!" Everyone was laughing. They had it on playback for the rest of the shoot. I would come to set, and everybody would be watching it and laughing, because they would run it in slow motion. You would see the foot come into frame, and you would see the dirt fly up. It was a lot of dirt. It was in my mouth. You would see me choke, eating this dirt. Everyone just thought it was the funniest thing.
How far away were you from a hotel and a hot shower?
Julie Benz: About an hour away. Yeah.
What was your favorite part?
Julie Benz: Working with Mr. Stallone. Watching him work as a filmmaker. I can't recall any other actor/director that has directed themself in an action movie. Action movies are really tough to direct. To direct yourself and be running the show is tough. We had seven cameras at a time. It was just unbelievable. There was one moment when we were on the boat. The sun was going down. It was magic hour. We were shooting some establishing shots. I had that moment where I turned around and went, "Wow, I am in a movie." You just have that moment, because the camera boat is out there shooting you. And there's Sly. And all of us. And the sun is going down. It reminded me that it was a really cool job.
Can you talk about Stallone's directing style?
Julie Benz: His directing style? He doesn't coddle you. He is brutally honest. There was not one day that he came to set where you could tell he was tired. And he must have been exhausted, because this was a huge film. We were all exhausted. He came to set completely energized. Happy. A "good morning" for everyone. He was just so passionate about what he was doing. He is very demanding as well. He expects you to perform at one hundred and sixty percent every single moment. And he delivers that himself. You quickly come to understand why he is who he is. You understand why everyone in the world knows his name. He is a film icon. He just has this intensity and this energy. And he is not above calling you out when you suck. I love that. I love knowing that a director is going to be brutally honest. I don't trust a director that is going to lie to me. I told him that form the very beginning. I told him to do whatever it takes, just don't lie to me. As soon as you lie to me, I lose my faith in you. We had moments where we'd be in the middle of a scene, and he would go, "You call that acting?" He'd be right. I'd know I wasn't in the moment. I knew I was pulling something out of the bag and trying to slide it through. He doesn't let you get away with that stuff. He raised the bare as far as my work is concerned. He raises my commitment to my work. He is just amazing. It was an amazing experience.
Does he make you do a lot of takes?
Julie Benz: We had two weeks rehearsal in Thailand. It was a huge movie that was shot in forty-eight days. It really should have had eighty-days. We didn't have that luxury. One of the reasons he was so demanding is that we didn't have a lot of time to mess up. You had to be on it. With seven cameras running, you are shooting wide, tight, close-up. You just have to do it. But, at the same time, he is a perfectionist. If he didn't feel he was getting it, he would stay until he did.
What is the secret in stopping Rambo?
Julie Benz: I don't know. I don't think there is anything. Maybe a screaming baby. With a stinky diaper. Maybe that would slow him down. Something completely out of the realm of what he is used to.
Were you comfortable enough on set to tell Stallone when you didn't feel he was up to snuff with his acting?
Julie Benz: I definitely had moments where I yelled back. At first, I had to get over the fact of just working with him. For the first couple of weeks, I didn't even know what to call him. He is so jovial. He tells you to cal him "Sly". I'm, like, "Okay. Sure I will." I went through that phase where I just called him, "Hey, you." He is Sylvester Stallone. I couldn't believe that I could just call him Sly. We would all joke about it. There did come those times where he would yell at me. And I would yell right back. That happened.
Rambo will hit like a bomb this Friday, January 25th, 2008.