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Eliza Dushku interview

Date of publishing: 11th February 2009

Eliza Dushku interview -  Dollhouse Joss Whedon, creator of groundbreaking cult favorites “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” returns to television and reunites with fellow “Buffy” alumna Eliza Dushku in DOLLHOUSE. Echo (Dushku) is an “Active,” a member of a highly illegal and underground group of individuals who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas. Hired by the wealthy, powerful and connected, the Actives don’t just perform their hired roles; they wholly become – with mind, personality and physiology – whomever the client wants or needs them to be. Whether imprinted to be a lover, an assassin, a corporate negotiator or a best friend, the Actives know no other life than the specific engagements they are in at that time.


Eliza Dushku interviewQuestion: So far in the first 3 episodes, Echo has gotten an asthma attack, gotten hunted by a client and gotten wiped in the middle of a mission. What else can go wrong?
Eliza Dushku: Anything and everything at any given time is sort of the point I think. We’re dealing in real situations and that’s why we have our handlers there, to hopefully protect us from the bad, but yes; each show I think that sort of thing is going to go down because it’s obviously not a perfect system and it’s not a perfect world.

Question: Can you give us a hint of any more of those conflicts? I was also wondering how the relationship with Sierra is going to develop.
Eliza Dushku: Well, I can tell you I enter a cult of the blind cultess and they send me in with cameras implanted into my eyes and some things go down there. I can tell you that there’s upcoming contact with Agent Paul Ballard, who is Tahmoh Penikett, and there is going to be some charged stuff in those episodes. Sierra. I don’t know. How much can I tell you? I don’t know how much I’m allowed to give up.

Question: It looks like they’re just starting to interact.
Eliza Dushku: Yes. Well, again, we pick up in the Dollhouse and the dolls are starting to have these memories and develop these little flickers of self awareness and recognize one another and remember things from engagements. Of course, that’s considered a glitch in the Dollhouse system and that’s where all hell breaks loose. That’s kind of where the show expands and that’s where it gets interesting to me.

Question: The fact that you’re essentially a different character every episode, is that a large part of what blew your skirt up about the premise of the show?
Eliza Dushku: Well, Joss and I came up with the show together and we were talking about what kind of show would suit me right now in my career and in my life. Basically, Joss and I have had a ten-plus-year friendship at this point and he knows me very well and he knows how hard it is for me to sit still for five minutes, not to mention for an entire episode, so the premise of the show was sort of based on my own life and on keeping things moving and on keeping me active and having the chance to play and jump around in between these characters every week and sometimes multiple times every show. That was planned from the get-go.

Question: So you’re just wound so tight that you couldn’t be a character that’s slow and methodical?
Eliza Dushku: You’re putting words in my mouth there. I’ve never said I’m wound so tight; I just have a lot of energy and I just have sort of an appetite for people and stories and telling different stories and being in a different place and traveling and experiencing just different emotions. One thing that Joss gave me in this project is the ability to sort of show some other colors of mine that other creators and other writers, directors, executive producers haven’t given me in the past, but he has seen them in me and wanted to give me the stage to act them out. I understand, so it’s a gift and it’s a lot of fun.

Eliza Dushku interviewQuestion: Given that you were with the show sort of from the ground floor and, as you say, you and Joss developed it, could you talk about how the show has sort of developed from that first meeting and that first kernel into what it actually became and what we’re going to see starting Friday?
Eliza Dushku: Yes. Well, when we first sat down I had just sort of negotiated a deal with Fox to ultimately come up with a show to do with them and Joss was really the only person on my mind. I thought if he wasn’t going to do a show with me he at least knew me well enough to sort of guide me and to sort of help me put together the ideas that were in my head and to help me sort of figure out what kind of woman I wanted to play and what I wanted to be a part of. So when we sat down and we just started talking about life and talking about our careers and different projects, we’re really like-minded people and we were talking about sort of what it’s like for me, Eliza, waking up every day and having to somewhat be a different person every day and we were talking about the Internet and how people can get so much and with just the click of a button find anything that they want or need or desire or think that they want or need or desire and then what actually happens when they get that. We were absolutely talking about sexuality and what’s taboo and objectification and just things that are relevant to us. Four hours later Joss absolutely sort of sprang forward with the idea, with the basis for the show and said, “It will be called Dollhouse and it will be basically exactly this. It will be you with the ability to be imprinted to be someone sexy or to be anything or to be objectified every week or multiple times a week and how that affects people. We’re going to stir people up and we’re going to make people uncomfortable because that’s sort of interesting to us.” Here we are 13 episodes later and we think we’ve done that. I mean the first show on Friday we’re super excited about. I love Ghost. I love Target. I love the first three, four, five episodes, but the cool thing is the show gets better even from there. I mean Joss is really a novelist and you have to give him chapters to tell the story. He and the other writers just – I participated on a lot of levels as producer also with ideas of my own. I mean the show just goes so deep and it’s so exciting and so thought provoking and relevant.

Question: How has the show changed from the original pilot that you read, because, of course, there was the famous rewriting of the pilot, etc. and what are your thoughts on how the show has evolved specifically since then.
Eliza Dushku: We changed the pilot for sort of more logistical reasons. I think that any time you’re dealing with a lot of cooks in the kitchen and FOX had sort of an idea of a pace that they wanted in the first show or in the first couple of shows. It maybe differed from how Joss originally wanted to set it up, but I think that absolutely Joss and I both feel that where we came out is exactly what we had talked about when we sat down at the first meal ... When the idea first came up. We’re telling this young woman’s story and following her and following these others as they go through these first 13 trials of engagements and of self realization and identity.

Eliza Dushku interviewQuestion: Being an executive producer of the series and sort of coming up with it with Joss, has that given you any new perspectives on making a TV series that you might not have had before?
Eliza Dushku: I mean yes; it’s sort of been what I expected. I have been in this business now for over 15 years. I sort of grew up in this business and it was just exciting and it was sort of, I don’t know, I guess I could say validating to have a friend and a partner like Joss in this and to have him acknowledge that this was something that he believed, an undertaking that I could make or take with him. He obviously has ten million things to do in a day, most importantly, being up in the writers’ room and breaking stories and knowing that this is sort of our baby and this is something that we, at that meal, decided to do together with passion and with enthusiasm and that I would be the constant and on the set every day. I have sort of picked up and learned a lot about how the machine operates. It was just more exciting than anything and it also just sort of made me that much more invested in just the fine details of the show and then just even in things, the political aspects and everything from moral on the set to making sure our crew members felt heard and looking for warning signs. There are just so many elements, but I absolutely loved it because, again, this is something that I asked for. I mean I asked for every single bit of it and I can truly say I’ve loved every bit of it, like the responsibilities, the effort, enthusiasm, the whole crew, the whole cast, everyone involved in the show has wanted it as badly as Joss and I have. Those are the people that we wanted to surround ourselves with and by and so it has certainly been challenging, but it’s been the best kind of challenging, because I mean I’ve learned so much, but I’ve also just gotten the opportunity to be more hands on than project I’ve ever worked on.

Question: Are we going to find out exactly is there a reason that Echo is the one that is becoming more aware? Is there going to be a reasoning behind her glitch or is she just the one that we’re following because she’s the main character and we’re just following a doll becoming aware?
Eliza Dushku: No. I think you’re going to. Well, I can tell you that you’re going to find out sort of what kind of time frame the Dollhouse has been operating under and what maybe happened to previous dolls. I think that we just come into the story with Echo, but there have certainly been dolls before her and there will certainly be dolls after her. Why Echo? Probably because I’m me and Joss and I came up with the idea together, so we decided to bring the story up with me sort at the head of the herd.

Question: Reading about this show it’s being described in terms of sort of game changing and mind blowing. What about it sort of makes it game changing and mind blowing?
Eliza Dushku: Well, it’s provocative. It’s disturbing in some ways. It’s controversial. We’re dealing with altering and programming people and I think that that’s a very sensitive topic, but I think that it’s relevant and I think that it’s exciting because I’ve always wanted to do work that has to do with us evolving and questioning, making people uncomfortable I guess. That’s sort of what interesting storytelling is to me is asking different questions and taking a closer look at desires and fantasies and taboos and sexuality and these are all things that Joss and I initially discussed in our infamous first lunch when we were talking about making a show. They were things that I knew he, as a creative genius, which I truly believe he is, had the ability and the imagination to create with me and at the same time roll in a story that just puts those parts together tightly, cleverly, with drama and humor and pain and joy. Obviously, anyone who’s known his work in Buffy and then anyone who knows him as a person knows that he’s just all of those instruments. That’s, I think, what makes this such an extraordinary show.

Eliza Dushku interviewQuestion: This question stems from the saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” Given that the clients of the Dollhouse are expecting their fantasy girl are we going to see any episodes from a client’s perspective where they learn that that’s a curse instead of a gift or will it always be a curse because she has a few glitches?
Eliza Dushku: Absolutely. I mean I think that’s sort of the point; that’s one of the main themes in this whole story that we’re telling here is that objectification hurts ... Whether you’re the one, whichever side you’re on because that’s why we’re all different and that’s why there are certain parameters and morals in our society. When you step outside of those things and you put such control in certain people’s hands in terms of what people want and need and desire versus what they think they want and need and desire they may be surprised at sort of the Frankenstein story. You’re absolutely going to see clients wishing perhaps that they had not decided to add that extra element to their Active or to their doll I guess you could say.


Question: Are all 13 episodes mapped out or are they done?
Eliza Dushku: We just finished them last week. Yes.

Question: It's said that you have tattoos, but we don't see any in the show. Are they covered up for the show or is it just that they ...?
Eliza Dushku: I have a few, yes, but they’re all actually in places that can be covered with just a swimsuit. Sometimes we cover them up.

Question: Was there one character in particular when you were doing your different personalities in the episodes, maybe one we haven’t seen probably, that you liked best? Did you like being the bad girl or did you like being the sweet girl? Was there a certain type of personality that you enjoyed playing?
Eliza Dushku: Yes. No. It surprised me, because on the one hand it’s awesome and exhilarating to be the sexy assassin, but at the same time I’ve been surprised time and time again how much I also really enjoy playing; like I play this blind cultess and it was just so different than anything, than any skin I had ever been in and I really, really enjoyed it. It was challenging and yet it was like liberating to have the opportunity and to see the world, not see the world, but to be in the world in these different skins. That was a particularly special episode, as was being the personality of a 50-something-year-old woman in my own body. That was another one that’s coming up that was very interesting. I don’t know if I have a favorite, but they’ve all had their own special nuances and places for me.

Question: I understand listening to some of the press and what not that you felt out of your comfort zone playing a woman with a 1940’s up do.
Eliza Dushku: Yes. You have to understand. I mean I grew up a total tomboy with three big brothers and I was sort of like this little girl running around with this mop of hair, tangled hair, climbing trees and playing tag football with my brothers. I don’t know. There’s just something about a polished, bobby-pinned, hair sprayed up do. I don’t know; the composure and the sophistication. It’s thrilling and it’s fun for me to play and now that I’ve done it once I kind of am excited to try it on again, but it definitely threw me at first. It was something that was out of my comfort zone, but from the very get-go Joss told me that he intended on taking me out of my comfort zone as much as possible on this show, so I welcome it. I welcome it. I’m up for any challenge and any uncomfortable scenario he wants to throw ... because that’s what this is about.

Eliza Dushku interviewQuestion: What would you say is the main theme or message that Dollhouse is going to explore?
Eliza Dushku: I mean without over simplifying it too much I’d say it’s sort of about not the search for one’s true identity, but it’s about sort of identifying what makes us who we are and our thoughts and our surroundings and what happens when you start to allow other people or a big corporation or a mass of people; I think objectification is a huge theme of the show and just sort of how and why we are authentic individuals and what helps make us sort of – I guess I’m now getting so philosophical it’s just getting so big in my head, but just what it means to be an individual and to have that toyed with or to have that taken from you and what that means and how we come out and how strong our sense of self is at the end of the day no matter up against what, any kind of technology or any kind of tampering, like what makes us who we are. There you go; I got it out.

Question: In like four years from now when you’re working on season five do you still think that you’ll have places to go with this character? Do you think that there will still be places you haven’t gone yet with the concept of Echo?
Eliza Dushku: Absolutely. I mean I think look at how much we as human beings have evolved in a day. There’s constant evolution. There’s constant, if you think about how many desires and how many scenarios; apparently from day one Joss has had a five-year plan for the show and we’ve talked about what some of those are. I think that’s one of the things that’s so exciting about this show is that it’s so open for endless possibilities. You’re dealing with so much. It’s human. It’s mankind and it’s thoughts and it’s thoughts and wishes and desires; they’re by the millions, by the trillions.

Question: On-line, you have a really big lesbian following. Are you aware of that?
Eliza Dushku: I have been made aware of that over the years, particularly around my Buffy years. Right on.

Question: Why do you think that is? Where did that come from?
Eliza Dushku: I know during Buffy there was a lot of people really dissected that show. I remember a lot of people leading in to Faith and Buffy having this deep down love for one another. I don’t know. I’ve been told in the past maybe it’s a mixture. I don’t know. I’m obviously very girly, but I grew up with a lot of boys and so there’s definitely a tomboy in me and I’ve found just that I have fans equally in males and females. I have a lot of lesbian love fans out there and a lot of gay men, who still do cheers in supermarkets from Bring It On. I think it’s awesome. I love loving from all sides in my fan world, so I appreciate every individual that appreciates watching me at work.

Eliza Dushku interviewQuestion: Is there anything in Dollhouse that they’ll be able to connect to? I don’t know if there are any gay elements into it or just something they can find in there.
Eliza Dushku: To be honest, there was one that was pitched and some how it didn’t make it into the first 13 episodes, but we’ve only told 13 stories here and we’re all so excited. I mean even Joss and I today were going ... finally here and yet Joss said it’s crazy because we just finished these 13 episodes and it’s been such a hustle and it’s been so crazy and yet now that I haven’t been in the writer’s room in a week I’m already thinking up ideas for the next 13 episodes. I mean I already am dying to get back in the writer’s room and tell more stories and tell stories that we had ideas and plans for from the get-go. We’re exploring every element of human desire and I think - I know that given the opportunity we’ll explore every form of sexuality or that ... Or that’s 9:00 p.m. FOX allowed.

Question: What are the best and worst parts about getting to play such a variety of people, yet playing a single character as the base?
Eliza Dushku: Well, the base character, Echo, is in a word, simple or in a few words, she’s simple. She’s blank. She’s had her personality and memories erased and she’s ... child with no inhibition, no fear. She’s sort of a blank slate and it’s exciting in the sense that every week there’s sort of a new star of the show and it’s whatever character I am imprinted to be. We found sort of early on that one of the challenges was each character, when they’re introduced, sort of needs a good scene full of story. You basically need to sort of give this character’s background and we found that it was nice to get me in the role in some of the easier scenes first, before having me step on set in the outfit as the person with five pages of dialogue explaining who I am. There was something about sort of easing into it whenever possible and when locations permit and shooting schedules. It’s nice to sort of get in the skin and find something to latch on to that makes that person distinct as opposed to forcing it and using the dialogue or the scene or exposition to tell the story. I mean I some how, I, Eliza, am a really adaptable person. I was just sort of raised that way. It’s sort of like throw me in the water and I can hopefully learn how to swim and survive and get very comfortable very quickly, but there is that initial sort of shock to the system and so we figured that out early on; that it’s helpful to do some of the other scenes first, but some scenes are easier than others to slide into and I have worked with Joss specifically on certain roles. I also have a coach that I’ve worked with since I was ten-years-old, who actually lives in New York and we work on the phone or he comes out to LA. I’ve taken it very seriously and I really want to, as much as possible, take Elizaisms out when they’re not necessary and add other elements and add other colors to these characters to portray the reality that I’m a different person every week as much as possible, so it’s absolutely been challenging. It’s been humbling. It’s been exciting and I’m ready for more, more, more.


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