Interview with Eliza Dushku from Dollhouse

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The second part of my Dollhouse interviews was with Eliza Dushku, who plays Echo, one of the dolls, or Actives. She played Faith on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Tru on Tru Calling, as well as many other shows and movies. Here’s what Eliza had to say about the new show! (There are a few spoilers, so beware! Nothing major, though!)

In the first 3 episodes, Echo has an asthma attack, is hunted by a client and is wiped in the middle of a mission. Can anything else go wrong?

“Anything and everything at any given time [going wrong] 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.

[Later on in the season] 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 (Battlestar Galactica), and there is going to be some charged stuff in those episodes.

[As for the interaction between the dolls], 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.”

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Echo is the first doll we see to become more aware of what is happening around her. Eliza talked a little about why that is and if Echo is really the first doll that this has happened to or not, as well as what happened to previous dolls.

“I can tell you that you’re going to find out soft 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 of at the head of the herd.”

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Eliza Dushku as Echo Eliza Dushku as Echo

Dollhouse has been described as game changing and mind blowing. Eliza talks about why that is and what we can expect because of it.

“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 pan 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.”

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Eliza plays many different personalities in the show. She talked some about what she liked best, how easy or hard it was to play so many different characters, etc.

“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.”

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Joss and Eliza both spoke about the theme behind the show, but Eliza went into more depth again as well.

“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.”

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Looking down the road, does Eliza think in season five that there will still be places to go with the character or with the concept of Echo?

“Absolutely. I mean, 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 its thoughts and its wishes and desires, they’re by the millions, by the trillions.”

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My question for Eliza had to do with the best and worst parts about getting to play such a variety of people, yet playing a single character as the base. She had a great answer, talking about both the challenges and the advantages.

“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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Eliza Dushku as Echo Eliza Dushku as Echo Eliza Dushku as Echo

Thank you to both Joss and Eliza for taking the time out of their busy schedules to chat with all of us. Remember, Dollhouse starts tonight on FOX at 9/8c after a new episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

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