Actress Julie Benz took on blisteringly hot weather, malaria-carrying mosquitoes and tough action sequences when playing the lone female character in the new "Rambo” movie.
But keeping the stars out of her eyes while working with Sylvester Stallone — who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the reboot of the action franchise that established one of his signature characters — was among the biggest challenges.
"To be asked, to be even thought of, to be part of the ‘Rambo' franchise, you know, is a pretty big deal,” Benz said in a recent phone interview from her Los Angeles home, where she tried to keep her 8-pound puppy Bamboo happy while she talked.
"One of the big hurdles I actually had to overcome was the fact that ... I had to stop thinking of him as Sylvester Stallone and actually think of him as, you know, Sly. And that's hard; I mean that's hard for everybody.”
Benz was 10 years old when the 1982 film "First Blood” introduced Stallone as scarred Vietnam War veteran John Rambo. Although she was a big fan of Stallone's "Rocky” movies, she said the "Rambo” films "weren't my genre of choice as a youth.”
"Rambo” picks up 20 years after the last film in the series,1988's "Rambo III,” which Stallone forbade her to watch. Rambo is now living a solitary existence in Thailand, running a longboat on the Salween River. On the nearby Thai-Burma border, the long-running civil war rages between the Burmese and Karen people.
A group of missionaries, including Sarah Miller (Benz), hire the reluctant Rambo to take them up the river into Burma so they can deliver supplies to the Karen tribe. The missionaries are captured by the Burmese government, and their pastor (Ken Howard) asks Rambo to lead a band of mercenaries on a rescue mission.
A former figure skater, Benz made her acting debut in the anthology horror movie "Two Evil Eyes.” Many small TV and film parts followed, and she auditioned in 1996 for the lead role in the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The starring part went to Sarah Michelle Gellar, but series creator Joss Whedon cast her as Darla, a recurring vampire character who became a fan favorite on "Buffy” and its spin-off, "Angel.”
But it was Benz's work on her latest TV project — the acclaimed Showtime series "Dexter” — that prompted Stallone to cast her. After meeting with Stallone, Benz, 35, hit the gym to prepare for the part, which involved a lot of running through the steamy jungles of Thailand.
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