Friday, February 20, 2009

TwoCents and Five Questions With...

...Eliza Dushku, Actor/Producer

Eliza Dushku is known to many as Faith in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe from the mind of Joss Whedon. Hoping that lightening strikes twice, Eliza and Joss have developed a new show, Dollhouse, in which she can play any role. Literally. As Echo, 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, Eliza will be playing everything from a protector to a lover to, well, lets allow her to talk about it. We had the chance to sit down with her, and this is what she said...

Question: Can you talk about how the show has developed from that first meeting with Joss into what it actually became and what we’re going to see this season?

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  1. Q: Can you talk about how the show has developed from that first meeting with Joss into what it actually became and what we’re going to see this season?

    ED: 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.

    Q: 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?

    ED: 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.

    Q: Dollhouse has been described in terms of game changing and mind-blowing. What about it makes it game changing and mind-blowing?

    ED: 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.

    Q: What would you say is the main theme or message that Dollhouse is going to explore?

    ED: 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.

    Q: What are the best and worst parts about getting to play such a variety of people, yet playing a single character as the base?

    ED: 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.

    Don’t forget to tune in to Dollhouse tonight at 9:00 p.m. EST, immediately following of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on FOX, and then come right back here to the TwoCents to get our take on both episodes!

  2. I have to say that I was a little skeptical about Dushku in the title role. While she was great as Faith in Buffy, I wasn't that impressed with her in Tru Calling. However, I think she has done a great job being different characters. And yes, Whedon is a novelist, and the chapters are getting better as he builds the story. I wasn't too impressed with the first episode, but since it was Joss, I knew I would continue to watch. I think it gets better and better.


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