The Steel City Love Interests of Buffy and Angel
That does not mean that both Buffy Summers and Angel have not had other romantic interests though the years. Ironically enough, two of those significant others—the vampire Darla, who sired Angel, and secret government agent Riley Finn—were portrayed by actors from the Pittsburgh region. Murrysville native Julie Benz brought the character of Darla to life during the opening moments of the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and later returned from the dead on Angel. Marc Blucas, meanwhile, was cast in the role of Riley Finn during the fourth season of Buffy, a fellow demon hunter who fell for the blond-haired slayer and became a key member of the self-proclaimed Scooby Gang before leaving Sunnydale in order to continue his military career.
During the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Darla was a minor character that was eventually staked by her one-time immortal lover Angel during the seventh episode of the series. Darla’s role in Angel’s life was later fleshed out in flashback installments, and she was resurrected in human form on Angel by the evil law firm of Wolfram & Hart. Darla’s second chance was short lived, however, as it was soon discovered that she was infected with a fatal disease, and while Angel vowed to stay with her until the end, the end came sooner than expected when Darla was once again transformed into a vampire. The event tortured Angel, nearly driving him to his own personal dark side, but Darla ultimately found redemption when she sacrificed herself to save their unborn child Connor.
Actress Julie Benz, meanwhile, was born in Pittsburgh and originally aspired to be a figure skater like her mother. She first took to the ice at the age of three, and later competed in the 1988 US Championships, finishing in thirteenth place. When Benz suffered a stress fracture in her right leg at the age of 14, however, she found a new direction for her life—although not everyone agreed with that decision. “I remember the teacher telling me I should not even try acting,” she told TV Guide in regards to her first acting coach. “I still have the report card where she was like, ‘You will never be an actor. Your voice is horrible.’ That was the best thing that ever happened to me because I was like, ‘I’ll show you.’”
Julie Benz became involved in the Pittsburgh theater scene shortly thereafter, and was even cast in the Dario Agento and George Romero joint film venture Two Evil Eyes. Although the Romero half of the film—an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar—featured such local actors as Tom Atkins and Bingo O’Malley, Benz appeared in the Agento segment, which was based on another Poe short story, The Black Cat. Upon graduation from Franklin Regional High School, Benz enrolled at New York University and then moved to Los Angeles upon completion of her studies. She landed a number of small roles in a variety of television series before auditioning for the role of Buffy Summers. Although she did not get the part, she was cast in the resulting series nonetheless.
“Darla was so epic in scope—I mean, she was 400 years old,” Julie Benz explained to SciFiNow in regards to her character. “Every week they challenged us as actors, they threw something at us. Whether it was riding on horseback under fire or being buried alive or having to sing, there was always something where I’d have a moment and say, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ So it was great to be challenged in that way and be able to do it. It was very empowering.” The actress is also grateful for the way in which Darla exited the BuffyVerse. “I was up in Vancouver working on Taken and I got the script sent to me and I just sat in my trailer and I cried. I thought, ‘What a beautiful exit to a great character.’ I just felt that it was such a great gift from the writers to Darla, to be able to go out in such an epic way.”
The same can also be said for another iconic character that Julie Benz later portrayed, Rita Bennett on the Showtime drama Dexter. Although the love interest and eventual wife of another “monster”—the anti-hero serial killer Dexter Morgan—Rita was unaware of her husband’s vigilante actions and instead served as a moral compass for the main character. Her death at the end of season four was likewise both tragic and epic, although it brought about a different reaction from Benz. “I felt mixed emotions,” she told Pittsburgh Magazine. “Seeing my character’s death from a storytelling point of view, I realized the emotional impact it would have. This was the only character you could kill and have that impact. Rita suffered the most abuse, and she still had this hope about life and love. To kill the person who represents all that was shocking.”
Despite her success in Hollywood, Julie Benz is still proud of her childhood roots. “I still feel like this little girl from Pittsburgh who got lucky,” she explained to Pittsburgh Magazine. “That girl from Pittsburgh comes out a lot. I got to present at the American Music Awards. I thought, ‘How did I end up here? This is crazy!’ What’s given me a sense of joy over all of it is that I didn’t grow up out here. I chose the profession. I struggled, worked hard. Still struggle, work hard. That grounded personality comes from the values that you’re raised with in Pittsburgh.”
Like Julie Benz, Marc Blucas was also born in the Pittsburgh region—in his case, Butler—but his family later relocated to Girard, Pennsylvania, a small town approximately 15 miles southwest of Erie. Just as Benz started life with the ambition of becoming an ice skater, Blucas’ early love was basketball and the desire to become an attorney. “I was an academic All-American and I had a scholarship to law school,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in September 2004. “It should have been a telltale sign that the night before the LSAT, I was watching A Few Good Men and not studying. If you’re from Girard, Pennsylvania, you don’t grow up wanting to be a thespian. Then two weeks before law school started, I just said, this is not what I love. Law schools won’t disappear. I need to do this. I’m not a guy who lives for the what-if. I’d rather fail miserably than wonder.”
In many ways, the character of Riley Finn reflects the real life persona of Marc Blucas. Finn represented a different kind of lover for Buffy Summers, who had previously been attracted to men with a “dark side” to their nature. Finn, on the other hand, was an Iowa-bred “All-American” who initially worked for a clandestine government agency that hunted demons, enabling him to accept Buffy’s calling as a vampire slayer while likewise offering stability in her life as well. Unfortunately, Buffy Summers was struggling with her own inner demons as she attempted to further embrace the meaning of having been “chosen” and inevitably drove Riley Finn away from her and back to his secret life as a government agent.
Although Buffy Summers and vampire-with-a-soul Angel may be forever connected, both Darla and Riley Finn left an indelible mark on their lives nonetheless. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and spinoff series Angel may have taken place in California, but it was a pair of Pittsburgh area natives that brought those characters life, adding to the overarching mythology of the two main protagonists in the process.