Interview: Julie Benz on ‘Defiance’ and being a hero to kids with cancer

Amanda-Rosewater-Julie Benz-Defiance
Julie Benz stars as Amanda Rosewater on the Syfy show ‘Defiance.’ (Syfy)

A post-apocalyptic world filled with dangerous aliens… or a world that should be filled with happiness and the discovery of growing up, but is instead filled with chemotherapy, needles and invasive medical procedures. Which one would you visit?

Actress Julie Benz has visited both of these worlds. There is a link between these two worlds. Both are examples of what was formerly healthy and are then mutilated and ravaged by invasion. Luckily, the former is a fantasy, crafted for entertainment. The latter, however, is all too real.

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Rally for Kids with Cancer in Toronto, Ontario. The event involves exotic cars driven by celebrities competing in a scavenger hunt throughout the city raising funds to support one of the world’s leading paediatric hospitals – The Hospital for Sick Children (aka Sick Kids). Julie was one of the celebrity guests also taking part this year – as she has done for the past three years and is the reigning champion.

The author, whose daughter is herself a Sick Kids ambassador, with Julie Benz (photo: Sarah Kirk Calderwood).

Julie is known for her role as Amanda Rosewater on the successful sci-fi action show Defiance. If you need a quick summary of the show, Defiance is the story of an inadvertently terraformed planet Earth after the unexpected arrival of various alien species. Julie’s character, Amanda Rosewater, is the mayor of the town of Defiance, a melting pot and nexus point for all the stories of this new world.

Amanda Rosewater exhibits courage and resilience, defiance in form and nature, as she keeps the town together in the face of all sorts of threats and dangers. Defiance is set in a dark world, but none so dark as that of the 1,400 kids who are diagnosed with cancer every year in Canada – a great percentage of who are treated at Sick Kids.

These kids also demonstrate the same qualities that Amanda Rosewater displays. Many of them are saved – and many are not – but all the same, whatever their outcome, they show us what bravery truly is. Their defiance in the face of overwhelming odds and their incredible resilience shows us what it means to live.

Benz with Sick Kids ambassador Hugh who is wearing what are known as bravery beads. Each bead represents a medical procedure that he received with courage (via @juliebenz momentage page)

High-profile events like the Rally for Kids with Cancer go far to raise money for these kids ($1.2 million was raised this year) and their fight but also allow them the chance to hang out and play with these celebrities for a special day that they truly deserve.

Fantasy helps to shield these kids from the soul-piercing damage of their conditions. While they endure the treatments, the disfigurements (like baldness or scarring from procedures and surgeries) and the constant sickness from the medicines that are supposed to save their lives, they still have to deal with the psychological effects of their illnesses. The distraction that science-fiction or fantasy provide can often be an insulating balm from their reality. In the case of Defiance, there are a number of ways that this particular show relates.

I was able to ask Julie a few questions about this idea and her involvement in this event.

PM: One of the similarities between the ravaged world of Defiance and a kid going through chemo is that both of them are poisoned; one by the alien terra-forming and the other by chemicals that will hopefully save the child’s life. What would you say to that?

JB: Yes. Exactly. Defiance is a post-apocalyptic world. We destroyed the planet – we have to rebuild it. These kids are being rebuilt. We just have to find a way to get along.

The cast of ‘Defiance.’ (Syfy)

PM: What would you say about the idea of a fantasy show like Defiance helping kids deal with their illnesses?

JB: Kids, teenagers, when they’re faced with a life-threatening illness – a terminal illness, they’re… embarrassed and isolated. Their friends can’t relate to what they’re going through –because they can’t –  and even they themselves can’t understand it sometimes. It’s hard, but fantasy shows – sci-fi shows – help them to be accepted, to welcome their differences. They see characters that are different and accepted… and it helps.

PM: How did you come to be involved with the Rally for Kids and the Sick Kids Foundation?

JB: Oh… I was here, filming in Toronto when they asked me to be a part of the event. The first rally was pretty much a life-changing experience for me. I came to the hospital and met a little girl named Kayla who I spent a lot of time with. She came to the set afterwards – she wanted to be an actress – I spent a lot of the last two years with her. She had a lung transplant and… she passed away on January 1st. She changed my life. Because of my experience with her – I used to visit her once a week – because of her, I learned how amazing this hospital is.

PM: If I understand correctly, you’re currently the two-time champion in this event?

JB: [Laughs] Yeah… that accounts for the swagger! I took part last year and I also took part in the Muskoka Boat Rally for Kids With Cancer – that was a really fun event. First, it’s fun, but in one weekend, they raise so much money. This event is so successful – I think in the seven years they’ve been doing this, they’ve raised 13 million dollars. That’s… that’s unheard of.

PM:  Your support is appreciated. It’s great to see celebrities lending their fame to events like this, but it does so much for the kids… the Sick Kids Ambassadors.

JB: [Nods] Such great role models for other kids – and for other little girls and boys who are going through what they’re going through.

Benz with Sick Kid kid Sarah (via @sickkids Twitter page)

PM:  I have to ask this – any chance you could let us know a little about the future for Defiance?

JB: We don’t know yet! We are looking forward to Season 3 and with any luck we’ll be back in Toronto – back at Sick Kids, visiting with the kids – we have some great stories left to tell!

PM: Definitely coming back to do more work for Sick Kids then? Ho!


PM:  Holding you to that!

JB: [Laughs] There’s no holding me to anything – I’m committed to this place! This hospital is amazing. I’ve met so many children that have touched my life.

Clearly, Julie is touching the lives of children. We truly wish the best for her and for Defiance – a show whose basic idea is about resisting and rebuilding: both themes that the patients and medical personnel at the Hospital for Sick Children and the staff at the Sick Kids Foundation can all attest to.

Syfy recently announced that Defiance was renewed for a third season and that is good news. This is a sci-fi show that needs to continue bringing meaningful fantasy into afflicted kids’ lives and allow them to cultivate their own defiance against the odds in their fight against cancer. And both Julie Benz’s character on the show and her real self are wonderful role models to show these kids the meaning of strength and resilience.

About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.

One comment

  1. that’s awesome! so great to see things like this happening.

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