Interview: Eliza Dushku On Dollhouse

By Steve West 2009-02-11 17:12:25 discussion comments
Interview: Eliza Dushku On Dollhouse image
We promised you more on Eliza Dushku and Dollhouse, and here we are keeping our promise. Iím so torn between wariness on another Joss Whedon project with FOX, and the idea of this show, which is quite appealing. If given the time Dollhouse could prove to be the best thing Joss has done so far, and thatís saying a lot coming from a huge Buffy geek.

But enough jibba jabba, how about Eliza tells you what to expect from Dollhouse when it premieres this Friday night on FOX.

Eliza, itís been great following the first three episodes of the show they sent us and so far 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: Anything and everything at any given time is sort of the point I think. Weíre dealing in real situations and thatís 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 itís obviously not a perfect system and itís not a perfect world.

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: 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 thereís upcoming contact with Agent Paul Ballard, who is Tahmoh Penikett, and there is going to be some charged stuff in those episodes.

Sierra. I donít know. How much can I tell you? I donít know how much Iím allowed to give up.

It looks like theyíre just starting to interact.

Eliza: 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, thatís considered a glitch in the Dollhouse system and thatís where all hell breaks loose. Thatís kind of where the show expands and thatís where it gets interesting to me.

I enjoyed the episode that I saw. The fact that youíre essentially a different character every episode, is that a large part of what blew your skirt up about the premise of the show?

Eliza: 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.

So youíre just wound so tight that you couldnít be a character thatís slow and methodical?

Eliza: Youíre putting words in my mouth there. Iíve never said Iím 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 havenít given me in the past, but he has seen them in me and wanted to give me the stage to act them out.

Eliza, 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 weíre going to see starting Friday?

Eliza: 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 wasnít 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, weíre really like-minded people and we were talking about sort of what itís 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 whatís 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, ďIt 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. Weíre going to stir people up and weíre going to make people uncomfortable because thatís sort of interesting to us.Ē

Here we are 13 episodes later and we think weíve done that. I mean the first show on Friday weíre 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 Ė I participated on a lot of levels as producer also with ideas of my own. I mean the show just goes so deep and itís so exciting and so thought provoking and relevant.

Does that answer your question?

Well, I guess sort of as a follow up I want to go with sort of how the show has changed from the original pilot that you read, because, of course, there was the famous rewriting of the pilot, etc. and Iím just sort of wondering what your thoughts are on how the show has evolved specifically since then.

Eliza: We changed the pilot for sort of more logistical reasons. I think that any time youíre 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. Weíre telling this young womanís story and following her and following these others as they go through these first 13 trials of engagements and of self realization and identity.

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: I mean yes; itís 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 donít 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 writersí 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 Iíve 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 itís been the best kind of challenging, because I mean Iíve learned so much, but Iíve also just gotten the opportunity to be more hands on than project Iíve ever worked on.

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 weíre following because sheís the main character and weíre just following a doll becoming aware?

Eliza: No. I think youíre going to. Well, I can tell you that youíre 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 Iím 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.

Eliza, reading about this show itís 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: Well, itís provocative. Itís disturbing in some ways. Itís controversial. Weíre dealing with altering and programming people and I think that thatís a very sensitive topic, but I think that itís relevant and I think that itís exciting because Iíve always wanted to do work that has to do with us evolving and questioning, making people uncomfortable I guess. Thatís 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 whoís known his work in Buffy and then anyone who knows him as a person knows that heís just all of those instruments. Thatís, I think, what makes this such an extraordinary show.

Given that the clients of the Dollhouse are expecting their fantasy girl are we going to see any episodes from a clientís perspective where they learn that thatís a curse instead of a gift or will it always be a curse because she has a few glitches?

Eliza: I kind of understood your question at first, but then I think will we see any episodes where what?

Where the clients basically learn that getting what they want in their fantasy girl is more of a curse than a blessing.

Eliza: Absolutely. I mean I think thatís sort of the point; thatís one of the main themes in this whole story that weíre telling here is that objectification hurts ...

Whether youíre the one, whichever side youíre on because thatís why weíre all different and thatís why there are certain parameters and morals in our society. When you step outside of those things and you put such control in certain peopleís 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. Youíre 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.

I was curious. Are all 13 episodes mapped out or are they done?

Eliza: We just finished them last week. Yes.

I read that you had tattoos, but I didnít actually see any in the show. Are they covered up for the show?

Eliza: I have a few, yes, but theyíre all actually in places that can be covered with just a swimsuit.

Sometimes we cover them up.

Was there one character in particular when you were doing your different personalities in the episodes, maybe one we havenít seen probably, that you liked best? I mean 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: Yes. No. It surprised me, because on the one hand itís awesome and exhilarating to be the sexy assassin, but at the same time Iíve 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 thatís coming up that was very interesting. I donít know if I have a favorite, but theyíve all had their own special nuances and places for me.

I understand listening to some of the press and what not that you felt out of your comfort zone playing a woman with a 1940ís up do.

Eliza: 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 donít know. Thereís just something about a polished, bobby-pinned, hair sprayed up do. I donít know; the composure and the sophistication. Itís thrilling and itís fun for me to play and now that Iíve 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. Iím up for any challenge and any uncomfortable scenario he wants to throw ... because thatís what this is about.

Eliza, you touched on this a little bit in an earlier question, but what would you say is the main theme or message that Dollhouse is going to explore?

Eliza: I mean without over simplifying it too much Iíd say itís sort of about not the search for oneís true identity, but itís 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 Ė I guess Iím now getting so philosophical itís 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.

I think Dollhouse is like the best thing Joss and you have ever done. Iím wondering, I have total faith in this show and Iím wondering like four years from now when youíre working on season five do you still think that youíll have places to go with this character? Do you think that there will still be places you havenít gone yet with the concept of Echo?

Eliza: Absolutely. I mean I think look at how much we as human beings have evolved in a day. Thereís constant evolution. Thereís 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 weíve talked about what some of those are. I think thatís one of the things thatís so exciting about this show is that itís so open for endless possibilities.

Youíre dealing with so much. Itís human. Itís mankind and its thoughts and its thoughts and wishes and desires; theyíre by the millions, by the trillions.

Eliza, I was doing research on your career just on-line and I saw you have a really big lesbian following. Are you aware of that?

Eliza: I have been made aware of that over the years, particularly around my Buffy years. Right on.

Why do you think that is? Where did that come from?

Eliza: 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 donít know. Iíve been told in the past maybe itís a mixture. I donít know. Iím obviously very girly, but I grew up with a lot of boys and so thereís definitely a tomboy in me and Iíve 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 itís awesome. I love loving from all sides in my fan world, so I appreciate every individual that appreciates watching me at work.

Is there anything in Dollhouse that theyíll be able to connect to? I donít know if there are any gay elements into it or just something they can find in there.

Eliza: To be honest, there was one that was pitched and some how it didnít make it into the first 13 episodes, but weíve only told 13 stories here and weíre all so excited. I mean even Joss and I today were going ... finally here and yet Joss said itís crazy because we just finished these 13 episodes and itís been such a hustle and itís been so crazy and yet now that I havenít been in the writerís room in a week Iím already thinking up ideas for the next 13 episodes. I mean I already am dying to get back in the writerís room and tell more stories and tell stories that we had ideas and plans for from the get-go. Weíre exploring every element of human desire and I think - I know that given the opportunity weíll explore every form of sexuality or thatís 9:00 p.m. FOX allowed.

Thank you. My question is, and youíve talked a little bit about it, but not exactly what Iím going for, 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: Well, the base character, Echo, is in a word, simple or in a few words, sheís simple. Sheís blank. Sheís had her personality and memories erased and sheís ... child with no inhibition, no fear. Sheís sort of a blank slate and itís exciting in the sense that every week thereís sort of a new star of the show and itís whatever character I am imprinted to be.

We found sort of early on that one of the challenges was each character, when theyíre introduced, sort of needs a good scene full of story. You basically need to sort of give this characterís 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. Itís 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 somehow, I, Eliza, am a really adaptable person. I was just sort of raised that way. Itís 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 itís 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 Iíve 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. Iíve taken it very seriously and I really want to, as much as possible, take Elizaisms out when theyíre not necessary and add other elements and add other colors to these characters to portray the reality that Iím a different person every week as much as possible, so itís absolutely been challenging. Itís been humbling. Itís been exciting and Iím ready for more, more, more.
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