Julie Benz in Uncorked – Hallmark Profile

Julie Benz in Uncorked

In anticipation of Hallmark’s new orignial movie, UNCORKED, which premieres Saturday, March 6 (9p.m. ET/PT, 8C), I thought I would share a really nice profile of Julie Benz, who stars in the movie. So enjoy and you can also find a larger version of her photo all the way down.

JULIE BENZ: CELEBRATING HER DAYS OF WINE AND BOAS

Julie Benz likes to work. A lot. This is a good thing indeed considering that Benz has been working pretty much nonstop since landing her first acting job some 20 years ago in a forgettable horror flick called “Two Evil Eyes” opposite a fellow named Harvey Keitel.

“I don’t like to be unemployed,” Benz admits. “I love being on a set more than just about anyplace else, certainly more than sitting on my couch at home. I take every opportunity that comes along, and I’ve been very lucky, because the opportunities haven’t stopped.”

So you have to believe that Benz may have related a bit to the character she portrays in the new Hallmark Channel in HD Original Movie, “Uncorked,” which premieres on the channel Saturday, March 6 (9p.m. ET/PT, 8C). She’s Johnetta “Johnny” Prentice, a workaholic CFO for a major corporation whose life is turned upside-down when she’s sent to a conference in California wine country to seal a deal, but winds up falling in love along the way in a flick that costars JoBeth Williams, Elliott Gould and Scott Elrod of “Men in Trees” fame.

“Johnny is a woman who relies on work to get things in her life done,” Benz stresses. “I understand that sort of mindset really well, though I think Johnny’s a lot more cut off emotionally than I am. I like to think I’ve got a lot of different sides to me that I can bring out in my performing.”

And how.

Consider that at the same time Benz is starring in the Hallmark Channel pic, she’s been featured in a recurring role on “Desperate Housewives” as Debbie, “a stripper with a brain,” as she describes it, a lady who shucks stereotypes along with her clothes after arriving on Wisteria Lane.

For the 37-year-old Benz, acting simply doesn’t get any better – or more wide-ranging – than this.

“It’s pretty great, isn’t it?” she exults. “But I mean, that’s Hollywood for ya. It’s wonderful to be able to depict a stripper and center a Hallmark Channel movie at the same time. It’s just all about finding ways to grow as a performer, to raise myself to the art, to challenge myself and make it interesting. The only thing I really know how to do is work – so here I am.”

That intensive work ethic was surely instilled in Benz early on. Born in Pittsburgh to a surgeon father and a mother who was an expert figure skater, she followed her older brother and sister into competitive ice dancing in the late 1980s, but found her budding career cut short while still in her mid-teens by a serious stress fracture.

With skating out of the picture, Benz took up acting in 1989 and quickly moved from local theater to roles in film and TV, including a part as a regular on the early 1990s comedy, “Hi Honey, I’m Home.” Guest spots on dozens of TV series followed – everything from “Married…with Children” to “Diagnosis Murder” – followed, along with a small but significant cameo as a receptionist in the Oscar®-winning 1997 feature “As Good as it Gets.”

Benz’s big break almost came her way in ’96 when she auditioned for the lead role in “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” losing out to Sarah Michelle Gellar. But the show nonetheless represented a smaller break, anyway, when she was offered the recurring part of a vampire named Darla, which would take her through several seasons of both “Buffy” and its spinoff series, “Angel.”

Blood would also figure prominently in the highest-profile job for Benz to date: As the troubled divorcee girlfriend-turned-wife of serial killer Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) on the Emmy®-nominated drama “Dexter.” She was a regular on the show for all of its four seasons, until being written out in December in a shocking season-concluding murder.

The grisly killing set the Internet afire with fans of the series mourning the death of her character, Rita. And truth be told, Benz herself isn’t completely over it yet, either.

“They found my body in a bathtub drained of all of its blood and my baby sitting in the puddle on the tile,” Benz painfully recalls. “I hadn’t found out about it until the night before I received the script. I was pretty devastated because I loved playing Rita, loved the family I had on the show.

“I couldn’t watch it when it was on. It was just too painful. I mean, I totally understand why they had to do it. They needed to do something to open up the storyline. And at the end of the day, I’m an actor.”

Fortunately, there was plenty of work waiting for Benz following the brutal slaying. She’s having a “wonderful” time on “Housewives” working closely with star Teri Hatcher. She has also been shooting an indie feature drama called “Answers to Nothing,” alongside Dane Cook.

But it was “Uncorked” (her second Hallmark Channel Original, the first being 2004’s “The Long Shot”) that Benz found the most refreshing departure of her recent acting life. In a career dominated by action fare like “Dexter” and 2008’s “Rambo,” she welcomed centering a project that was “so simple and romantic.”

She adds, “The film shoot was so much fun. Part of the time was in Solvang (California) at a winery in this little tiny town. The whole cast and crew took over this one little motel. It was like being back in college…but with a little more responsibility. And our director, David Cass Sr., was just wonderful, a guy with an amazing work ethic who got us done every day at a decent hour.”

Benz also reports having loved working beside Williams and Gould, who portray winery oweners in “Uncorked.” It was her third project with Williams, a woman “whom I’ve admired for many years.” She also recalls one specific moment of bonding with Gould on the set.

“I was reading that book ‘The Tipping Point’ that talked about how the whole Six Degrees of Separation thing really applies more to Elliott Gould than to Kevin Bacon,” she remembers. “I was so excited to see Elliott’s name in the book that I ran over to his trailer and pounded on the door and was like, ‘Elliott! Elliott! Look! You’re mentioned in this book!'”

Replied Gould: “Yes, I know.”

“So I guess he already knew,” Benz adds, laughing, “but hey, it was exciting for me.”

“Uncorked” premieres Saturday, March 6 (9p.m. ET/PT, 8C)

Film encores: Saturday, March 6 (11p.m. ET/PT, 10C), Sunday, March 7 (1a.m. ET/PT, 12C and 9p.m. ET/PT, 8C), Friday, March 12 (9p.m. ET/PT, 8C) and Saturday, March 13 (3p.m. ET/PT, 2C).

Julie Benz in Uncorked