I’m loving participating in all these conference calls, even though so far I haven’t been able to ask anything myself. I’ve got one arranged tonight again with Leonard Nimoy (!!) about his guest role on Fringe. This interview with Eliza Dushku took place last week, but I’ve only found the time to write it up now.
Q: I’m wondering, how do you feel the direction of this season is different from the last one?
E. Dushku: Well, there’s so much being cracked open and explored, especially with Echo having this new place that she’s in, in terms of what we picked up from last year. She had all of the personalities downloaded into her in one swift punch and they’re not going away. So every pick up this year, she’s still tapping into these personalities. Sometimes it’s not in her control, and other times it is. But overall, she’s really absorbing things from her engagements, and from the dollhouse, and she’s really becoming self-aware, but not necessarily as Caroline, but as Echo, as her own person. So it’s definitely complicated.
It’s a little darker all around. We’ll explore sort of some of the things, the origins of some of the other dolls and the other characters. And then bringing in a bunch of guest stars and fabulous people coming in, so there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening with those things as well.
Q: What trouble will Echo run into in her attempts to save everyone?
E. Dushku: I’m sure every kind and all kinds because it’s a Joss Whedon show. We’re starting episode seven, and there are so many directions and so many layers, and it’s all over the map. Of course, a main story line is Agent Ballard, who spent last season trying to get into the dollhouse, and now that he’s in and Echo’s handler, he’s working with her, and they may possibly be trying to bring the Dollhouse down from the inside out.
Also, we get some back story with Adelle and her superiors, and other Dollhouses around the country and around the world, and just to give you an idea of how big the Rossum Corporation is. Summer Glau will join us and play a programmer from the D.C. dollhouse, and we’ll get an idea of the way the other houses are being run.
Q: How does a Watertown girl become Joss Whedon’s muse?
E. Dushku: That’s such a funny, good question, and I have no idea. I literally remember when I made my audition tape for Buffy. I went to the Arsenal Mall. And I got my outfit at Contempo Casuals in the Arsenal Mall, and bought some safety pins in my jeans. And I remember telling whoever the clerk was that I was making a tape for Buffy, and they were so excited. And then I was actually emancipated by a Boston judge who was also a Buffy fan, so I could go out to LA and shoot Buffy, which obviously dealt with vampires who come out at night, and I was still technically a minor, so I had a great judge that emancipated me so that I could come and do the show. I was already out of high school at that time. I guess I always have gotten by with a little help from my friends, Boston and everywhere.
Q: What do you like about working with Joss and doing his shows?
E. Dushku: I would say, first and foremost, that I just love the guy as a friend. He’s been a friend, a brother, a teacher, a mentor, but the other obviously is just his talent. His skill is so beautiful to me, and he’s just wildly creative and smart and feminist and funny and dark and scary and twisted, and he just combines it all so, you know, in such a sweet little package that I just, he gets me every time.
Q: So far as great as the show is, and as talented as the cast is, and as clever as Joss and his team are, obviously you want people to watch the show, and I’m just wondering, do you think Fox has put you in a position for that to happen, airing you on a Friday night after a comedy?
E. Dushku: Well, I think they realized last year that people who want to find the show did, and obviously there’s been a lot of talk about DVR and Tivo and how we really are alive for a second season because of that in a major way. And so I can see how they would say the people that found – people found the show last year, and so we’re just going to leave it where it is, and hope that that continues.
Ratings are obviously important, but, having a professor for a mother, she always taught us about qualitative versus quantitative research, and I know that we’re making a quality show and that we have quality fans and people that come to experience something different and out of the ordinary. There are so many shows on TV that are instant hits, and we’re not that, but we have a core following, and I think that people that check the show out and aren’t intimidated by it, find themselves being sucked in pretty easily.
I mean, it’s sharp, intelligent, fun. It’s sort of sometimes off-the-wall TV, and I know that when I’m spending an hour of my life sitting down to watch the boob-tube, I love getting a rich experience out of it, and I’ve always found that with Joss in particular and, in particular, his shows. So we just do our thing, and given the second season, we’re grateful to the fans, and we’re grateful to Fox for giving us another chance, and we’re making the most of it. We keep doing what we were doing, yes.
Q: Now you and Summer shot the promo last year. Your two shows then kind of were fighting for the last spot in the lineup, and now she’s obviously a part of your show. What’s the dynamic like between you and her?
E. Dushku: She’s great. I love her. We’ve had such a good time the last two episodes. She has come in with her A game, and she’s just a sweet, positive, fun actress. You know, she’s great to play off of. Our characters have some back story that we have to fight out, and so that’s a lot of fun, and I also – anyone that sort of is from Joss’ past, and he’s bringing back, I assume he had a great working relationship with them. He wouldn’t bring any bad eggs into our house, so I always can pretty much safely know that we’re going to have the cream of the crop coming back and coming in.
Q: You mentioned just a little bit ago that Echo was kind of all over the place as a character and, as an actor, how do you approach that?
E. Dushku: Yes, she’s a schizophrenic.
Q: But as an actor, how do you find that through line that you can kind of grab onto when you’re playing the different parts that she plays?
E. Dushku: Well, again, it’s almost, it’s more, it’s easier this year because we don’t have as much of that sort of dumb down doll Echo because with sort of the – first of all, the personalities and now this core Echo being a sum of all these parts, including Caroline, but not really any of them, she’s Echo.
She’s actually – there’s something grounded in that, and there’s a strength in the personality that she’s forming through that. And she’s sort of picking and pulling information from all of the different people that she’s been, and as a result, she’s sort of coming to understand and form her own ethics and morals.
But she’s absorbing, and she’s thinking, and she’s processing, and so whereas last year it was from dumb down doll to this singular imprint, and it was always different. This year, there’s – you never know, but you always know at the same time that there’s something going on inside Echo that’s not just what you’re seeing on the surface. So it’s sort of a little more grounding in that way, and fun for me to play.
Q: You guys had such a strong fan base, it seemed, before the show even premiered. Do you guys pay attention to the blog sites and what the fans are saying when you’re coming up with like how to shape the episodes and the series?
E. Dushku: I know that Joss and we’ve always paid attention to the fan love, and we love the fans right back, absolutely. I don’t know how much he takes tips from storylines from the fans. I mean, on the contrary, from what I’ve seen, when he sees someone falling in love with a character, he’s known to assassinate them or do something terrible. So I think, maybe that is a blessing in itself, so maybe yes. But he definitely has a mind of his own. Within the group of writers, they aren’t really conformists, I can confidently say. So whether it’s fans or critics or studios for that matter, they do their best work when they’re sort of left alone and they reveal things as when they feel they should be revealed, and that goes for me and the other actors as well.
Sometimes it’s really exciting for me I don’t want to know necessarily what’s going to happen in three episodes because it may affect the way I’m playing Echo today, and I’m always – that thrill, that adrenaline from reading the next chapter and the next layer that Joss, you know, brings in is one of the most exhilarating things that I know as an actress.
Q: I was wondering, is there a particular role or character in an upcoming episode that you’re going to play that was kind of hard for you to get into, and if so, why?
E. Dushku: Let me think. Well, I’ll tell you, playing a mother was certainly something I hadn’t expected, and that, you know, I’m an auntie, and I’ve always loved other people’s children and babies, but playing a mother and trying to tap into that maternal instinct was a challenge, but also a thrill, and a beautiful thing, so you’ll have to let me know how you think I did after this week’s episode.
Q: Was there anything funny or unusual that happened on the set, like behind the scenes while filming that you could tell me about with the Instinct episode or any episode?
E. Dushku: Yes, trying to breastfeed someone else’s baby is difficult. I’ll just leave it at that. When you’re not an actual mother, and trying to breastfeed a baby is harder than it looks.
Q: This season, because Echo is a little bit more self-aware, but is sort of got fragments going on through her, is that easier or harder to play when she thought she was entirely one person?
E. Dushku: Well, that’s sort of touching on that with the few questions ago. There’s something a little more grounded about it. I mean, when the pieces start to fall apart, and when she starts to be taken over by a memory, that she can’t control, I think it’s difficult. But at the same time, there’s that processing going, and there’s that authentic self that’s holding on and that’s sort of keeping her from completely losing it and from completely being controlled by the personalities. She’s starting to gain control of the personalities, and there’s something grounding about that and something really strong about that. And so for me, I find it a little – I don’t know if it’s easier. It’s more complex, so I enjoy it more, I guess, because there’s more going on besides just blank slate doll and engagement Echo. There’s Echo, who is a sum of all the parts.
Q: And when you get a script going she’s, now she’s flashing on this, I mean, do you sit down with the script and break it down as to how aware Echo is, or do you just sort of do the scene and see what feels right in how to play it?
E. Dushku: No, we’re absolutely breaking it down more this year because those realized moments are so much stronger. I mean, I definitely would not say it’s been easier. It’s been, it’s actually been deeper work for me, but again, it’s deeper work for me is sort of more interesting and more challenging to play. I have to say it’s been a blessing this year to also be shooting on HD because we have more time, and so I get to spend a lot more time with the material and with these characters and with these glitches, and so that I feel like that’s paying off for me a lot this year. And I feel like my performance has gotten stronger and even more, you know, more honest.
And even in that first episode with Jamie Bamber when we had the scene in the office where it goes from him catching me, and then bashing my head off the table, and then me sort of in the backspin, in that tailspin. I sort of famously now burst into tears in the middle of that scene because it was just so emotional, and I now feel this real connection that is sort of came from the inception of the show.
And Joss and I are making this character a little bit based on me where it’s this struggle, this battle of like who am I, and even with all the pressures of society and things pouring in on me, where does that break, and where is my authentic self, and how it feels to stand in that and to live in that? So it’s very personal and very exciting and terrifying and gratifying.
Q: So you talked before about how this show reflects your experiences as a woman and trying to be all the people that people want you to be. Do you feel like Dollhouse is really about the experience of being an actor in particular, like in LA, like people expecting you to kind of fulfill their fantasies and the dark side of that? Is this something you’re putting into it, when you’re playing Echo?
E. Dushku: Yes, I think there’s absolutely a layer or a few layers of that. When Joss and I had our infamous lunch, that was one of the threads and one of the themes, but I think it also translates to young women all over world. I remember my mother; I was the only girl in a family with three boys, and my mother did extensive reading about – I remember her reading this book called Reviving Ophelia, about adolescent girls and sort of breaking the way young women are broken down, and at the early age in their teens where they’re starting to get hit from all sides by media and just images and the way the men in their lives, their fathers and their peers and everything starts to change. And it’s like, the spirit of young women is so fragile and can be so toyed with and broken.
And my mother was always really aware of that and really tried to fight against that, and to teach me to sort of stand in my authentic self and be comfortable in my skin, and with all of that research that she did and applying it, it still haunted me, and it still, you know, at various times in my life has almost wounded me or come close to breaking me.
And so when I sat talking about that stuff to Joss, he just, you know, as a man, it’s so extraordinary that he taps into that in such a profound and intelligent way, and I can’t think of anyone else that gets that or that gets that and can create an entire fantasy show that encompasses such a universal and serious thing in our society. So it’s absolutely parallel to me, and I also feel like to women all over the world.
Q: I wanted to know how much closer Echo will get to rediscovering her true self this season?
E. Dushku: Every single episode, it’s been a little bit more. We’re on 7 now, and we have 13, and this next episode is very – this episode 7 that we’re doing, we’ve been building; we’ve been building. And we have a real kind of, a really extreme. I’m scared to say too much because the way, the feeling I get when I read these scripts and I get the sort of surprise of what’s next, I would never want to ruin for the viewers. But she really is becoming an entirely different character in many ways because she is getting sort of farther away from Caroline, even though Caroline is still the initial, her original self. So Caroline is in there, but I think she starts to realize there are things about Caroline that she’s discovering are not – are unsavory or that are not Echo.
The development of the character of Echo now has just been so exciting and so fascinating because when the way our writers and the way Joss can pick pieces from each of her experiences and weave them into this new character is just fascinating. So you’ll absolutely see a whole new Echo this season.
Q: I noticed in episode three, you’re imprinted with the personality of a college student. Now does that trigger any memories of Caroline’s?
E. Dushku: It does. You’ll have to watch the show. Definitely I start out as a college girl, but when an imprint goes sort of haywire, I spend more of the episode – I think it’s more serial killer than sorority girl. Also, I don’t think Echo, I don’t think Caroline was a sorority girl. She’s a college kid, but far from who Caroline was.
Q: Now I’m sure obviously Dollhouse has been keeping you busy, and yet you still find time to kind of squeeze in some features on hiatus and, I don’t know, weekends and everything. First of all, when was the last time you actually slept a night?
E. Dushku: I slept this weekend, and it felt so good because the weekend before, I went to Italy for a day to see the Robert Mapplethorpe Exhibit at the Michelangelo Museum. So we left on – I worked Friday night, slept a few hours, flew Saturday morning, you know, and everyone is like, oh, it must be easy when you’re flying first class. I did not fly first class. We bought cheap tickets for under $1,000. We flew economy to Rome, took a train to Florence, and went to see this exhibit for some research for Mapplethorpe, and it was definitely an exhausting weekend, and then I came right back to work, and we shot all day, but I signed up for it, and I just love it. It’s my drug, you know, and it’s just – I sleep when I find time. You know people say, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I have too much to live for right now.
Q: Now they just released a film that you did called Open Graves, that kind of flew in under the radar. Can you kind of tell us a little bit about it?
E. Dushku: It did. I shot Open Graves about 2.5 years ago, and we shot the movie in Spain, and such as this business. There are some times movies don’t come together at the pace or with the expectation that was initially intended, so I actually haven’t even seen the movie. It premiered on Sci-Fi the weekend I was in Italy, but I have yet to even watch it on my Tivo, and it was a cool experience. I was interested in working with the director who had worked very closely with Pedro Almodovar, and I thought the script sort of had some interesting and different sci-fi horror twists to it. And I enjoy working in that genre, but it never quite gelled into the movie that sort of I had anticipated, but you know, it happens. You keep going. You don’t quit. I certainly won’t quit horror and that genre forever.
Q: How much of a factor does Epitaph One play into season two because it wasn’t originally broadcast, but it was part of the DVD set, and Joss Whedon was talking about that he’d like to revisit that future. Could you tell me a little bit about that, please?
E. Dushku: Yes, Epitaph One was so well done. I was so impressed. It brought me to tears. Truly when Joss sort of told me about it, I wondered how the hell he was going to do it, how he was going to pull it off, but I was just so impressed and so proud of him and everyone involved, and I thought it was such a beautiful episode. I think it’s a shame that it didn’t air here. But the reason that we came back was that they didn’t want to end the story, and it didn’t end the story. Getting picked up for a second season, I feel like the network probably wanted to just pick up where we left off.
And I know that Joss had originally in the first episode this season planned on weaving some of that into episode one, but there was so much to cover in the first episode. You know, we had Amy Acker, who we’re not going to be able to have with us for the entire season, so we had Amy’s storyline, and we had to have a sort of big, fierce engagement, and there was just a lot to do, and it was a little bit too much. So we took it out of that, but I do know that Joss wants to slice in some stuff in the future episodes, and I love Felicia Day. I loved the way the future looked, as dark and terrifying it was. It was just so raw and so fascinating to me that I hope we see more of it.
Q: Another thing that Joss Whedon brought up was that this season, Echo is going to be kind of looking for allies and to form some kind of a team or a family based on all the memories that have been imprinted and how she, as you noted, as you said before, is changing this season. I was just wondering if you could give me any details in terms of specific characters or what Echo is looking for in a sense of sharing what she’s learned and also sharing a similar experience with other people.
E. Dushku: Absolutely. She is looking for allies because, as she is becoming aware of her surroundings and what’s going on and all of these personalities that are creeping up and out of her, she’s also, of course, always in an entirely vulnerable place because if anyone, if the wrong person catches on to what she’s experiencing and what she’s remembering, she could very well be sent up to the attic and cancel Christmas. She could be done forever. So she’s being very careful with the tools and the knowledge that she has gained to sort of sniff out who she can trust, who she can manipulate, who she can use.
Agent Ballard was trying all last season to get in, and now he’s in, and he’s her handler, and I think it remains to be seen if he can be trusted. But in the beginning of the season here, and actually the first episode, it seems like there’s a pretty strong connection there. Then with the introduction of the other Dollhouse and some of the other players, it’s just makes more of a maze for Echo to navigate and to find her way through, realizing that one wrong, one bad step and she’s done.