When you say the name Julia Benson, the first thing that will probably pop in your head is the series SGU Stargate Universe. Julia played the tough 2nd Lt. Vanessa James on the popular science fiction series for several seasons. She won the Leo award in 2010 for her work on the series.
There is much more to the Canadian born actress then SGU Stargate Universe. She has trained in ballet, worked in the theater and has had several roles on television and film.
Currently she plays Jeri Drake on the hit Hallmark Channel original series Cedar Cove. Jeri is the ex-wife of Jack Griffith. Although their marriage was brief, she was with him during the darkest period of his alcoholism.
Julia sits down to discuss becoming part of the series, if Jeri is still in love with Jack and advice she would give to up and coming actors.
Pop Culture Principle – When you were first approached about joining Cedar Cove, had you watched the show before?
Julia Benson – I had never actually seen the show, but knowing that it shot in Vancouver, I had auditioned a couple of times. We are always familiar with the stuff that shoots here so I was aware of it, but hadn’t seen it yet.
Pop Culture Principle – What was it about the script that made you want to be part of the show?
Julia Benson – I loved the character. She’s a lot of fun and she’s definitely trouble which is really fun to play. Also, I had heard great things about everyone involved with the show, so I was thrilled when I got to be a part of Cedar Cove.
Pop Culture Principle – Do you think her being in Cedar Cove was planned or truly a coincidence?
Julia Benson – Well, that is interesting. I do believe that it was actually a coincidence and a pleasant one for her. I am not too sure how Jack and Olivia feel about that, but it was an innocent moment in the beginning.
Pop Culture Principle – Your character had a great scene with Olivia warning her about Jack. What was it like working with Andie MacDowell?
Julia Benson – She is fantastic! She’s so wonderful and lovely to work with on screen and off screen. She is a very giving actor, open to talking about the scene and very communicative.
Pop Culture Principle – In her first meeting with Olivia, Jeri tells her that things got really bad with Jack’s drinking and their relationship. Will we find out specifics as the season continues?
Julia Benson – You will definitely find out more in the following episodes. I can’t give too much away, but she does become somebody in Jack’s life. Who knows, if we get a Season 3, I think Jeri will be back and we will see what happens then. There is definitely some fun stuff coming up between them.
Pop Culture Principle – Jeri sends Jack a bottle of vodka. What do you think was her reasoning for doing so?
Julia Benson – Jeri is not a bad person. Yes, she’s trouble, but I think that she truly cares about Jack. She was very hurt by Jack in the past. I think she’s that closet person that is not a bad person, but when love is involved she makes bad decisions. This is definitely one of those bad decisions and I think it’s the meanest thing that she does. She will have to explain herself and she does that coming up. She’s just trying to get a reaction out of him. I think she’s jealous seeing him in his perfect new life and she’s trying to get a response and goes about it in the wrong way.
Pop Culture Principle – Do you think Jeri still has strong feelings for Jack?
Julia Benson – I do. I think her character is serving a very specific purpose to challenge Jack with where he’s at in his life and make him re-evaluate everything. For her, there are definite feelings there. They did have a very strong friendship before they became romantically involved. She cares for him and you will see over the next couple of episodes her trying to figure out where they can exist together.
Pop Culture Principle – Cedar Cove has become a solid hit for The Hallmark Channel? Why do you think the show is resonating with the viewers?
Julia Benson – Well, I think it’s because of the tone of the show. It’s a feel good show that obviously has drama because you need that for a series, but it’s not as dark as everything that’s on television these days. When people come home at the end of a long day, it’s nice to escape into a world that makes you feel good and that’s positive. The older I get, the more I am drawn to stuff like that. You get tired at the end of the day and sometimes you just want to escape into something pleasant.
Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the Jeri/Jack/Olivia as the season continues?
Julia Benson – I think you get to know a little bit more about Jeri, their dynamic and her motive. She gets to be fleshed out a bit more as a real person and not this evil woman that’s trying to destroy their relationship. She gets to become someone that Jack can bounce ideas off and lean on a little bit. So, what that does for Olivia and Jack’s relationship you’ll have to continue to watch the show to find out.
Pop Culture Principle – As an actor, what do the fans mean to you when they support your work?
Julia Benson – The fans mean everything. Without them we don’t get to do what we do. Stargate was my first experience with a fandom and I was really touched. It’s pretty amazing to have people care so much about what you do every. I have done some conventions and it’s great to have that personal connection with people and to hear how passionate they are; it’s really touching. I’ve definitely noticed the Cedar Cove fans and how loyal they are to the show on my Twitter account. It’s amazing and it means a lot when you are an actor.
Pop Culture Principle – You were a big part of the Stargate Universe. Looking back on that experience, how does it feel knowing you were part of something so special on television?
Julia Benson – Stargate was definitely a career high for me and I am honored that I was a part of that show and that franchise. The experience of Universe was so incredible and it was such a family vibe. Also, to know that it actually means something to the people that were watching it is magical.
Pop Culture Principle – SGU Stargate Universe used a lot of green screen. Did your background in theater help you when working with green screen?
Julia Benson – Absolutely. You need to be able to have an imagination and visualize everything. We were also so lucky with the directors we worked with and everyone involved. They would walk us through everything so we had a really strong visual of what was happening which is hugely important.
Pop Culture Principle – When you are deciding on a project, what is most important to you when looking at scripts?
Julia Benson – For me there’s just something that happens instantly when you read a script. Something inside you says that I have to play this role and there are so many tangibles. How the words flow out your mouth and there is something challenging about the role. I always say that I want to do the opposite of what I have just done. You want to keep things fresh as an actor. You want to keep challenging yourself as an actor and you want to continue to grow. Also, being there it’s the people. It’s an amazing career and it’s a privilege to work. It’s even more of a privilege when you have that magical experience where everyone is on the same page and everybody is happy to be there; it’s really a gift.
Pop Culture Principle – What do you think has been one of the biggest changes in television in the past ten years?
Julia Benson – I think one of the biggest changes is the caliber of shows and you see that with movie starts doing television. Look at Cedar Cove, Andie MacDowell is doing television because the work is so great on television these days. To be able to have a character you can explore over such a long period of time as opposed to an hour and a half is something that is really cool as an actor. In television you have the backstory and you have everything you are working with in the moment, but there is this incredible dance between the amazing writers and so many great minds working together to create this great character. Writers keep you on your toes and you don’t know what is coming all of the time. One of the really fun elements of television is knowing the character and discovering things along the ride.
Pop Culture Principle – What advice would you give to up and coming actors?
Julia Benson – Someone said to me in theater school that if you can picture yourself doing anything else in the world, then do it. It’s a tough industry and a really tough life with a lot of ups and a lot of downs. You have to love acting and you have to love telling stories and being a part of the entire process. As I get older, it comes down to not being able to picture your life without this in it. The passion has got to be so strong and if you have that, you also need to believe in yourself. In the beginning it can be hard to break in, but if you know what you want and you know that you feel like you have something to give, then keep going. The other thing I would say is build a community. You are not competing against people and you need each other to be successful. You need to support each other as you go. You need those friends in the industry that you can really trust and they can pick you up when you are down.
Pop Culture Principle – Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Julia Benson – My husband and I started a production company a couple of years ago. Our first film was released this year through Anchor Bay. Our second film is a romantic comedy called What an Idiot about a man who does something stupid for love. That film is just about to hit the festival circuit and we are focused on getting that out. My husband directed it, we produced it and we both star in it. It’s something that we are very proud of and can’t wait to get it out there. We also have a couple of scripts that we are working on developing right now as well.
We would like to thank Julia for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk with us. Please make sure you tune into Cedar Cove every Saturday night at 8/7c on the Hallmark Channel. If you would like to keep up with Julia’s news and projects, please use the links below!
**Photo credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Katie Yu**