Eliza Dushku's new show Dollhouse is hard to explain, so bear with us. She plays an agent who has a new personality implanted in her for each mission. When it's over, she gets wiped clean. So people hire her to become people who'll get the job done. One week she's a Muay Thai fighter, the next she's an intellectual braniac. Oh, it's from Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.
Zimbio: Which of the personas that you’ve played so far have you enjoyed the most? Eliza Dushku: Honestly, the Amish girl threw me for a loop and I thought, “This is going to be so crazy for me,” and I loved it. I was playing this blind woman, and they implant cameras into her eyeballs and send her into a cult, so they can get information through her eyes. The woman that she’s imprinted to be went blind at age eight and she’s this religious, lovely, open, hippie, garden of God momma. She believes she is led by God to this compound. It was actually really fun. I did some research. We had a lovely woman come down and spend the day with me, and she also went blind after having had sight for the first years of her life. Just doing the research and trying to realistically and authentically play each character as an individual, is what’s cool. That one was very exciting for me. Also, Tahmoh [Penikett] and I have a great rough-house scene where I’m imprinted as a highly intelligent, super-fierce assassin. That was one of my favorites as well.
Zimbio: How much time do you have to prepare for each new skill set? Eliza Dushku: It’s on the fly, I’ll tell you that much. We get an episode, and we’re shooting the next day. It’s like, “Hey, can I get a tape of this kind of accent?” Or “Can I get a tape of this language?” It’s a good thing I’m a quick study, and I’m a pretty good mimic. That’s helpful. I work out every day, and I’ve been physical since I came out of the womb. I grew up with three older brothers, and I’ve always been game for everything. That was one of the connections that Joss and I had, way back in the Buffy days. I showed up and was like, “Who’s that girl dressed like me? I don’t need a stunt double. Just throw me in the action. Throw me off a building." I love it!
Zimbio: Is it hard to give up some of those special skills since, by the next personality, they’re no good anymore? Eliza Dushku: Sure. Then she’ll be imprinted as a young woman who’s being abused or being beat down and you think, “Man, those ninja skills would be cool right now.” Zimbio: Have you ever wished, in your own life, that you could have some of your memories wiped clean? Eliza Dushku: Absolutely! There are many things that I’d like to forget. At first thought, I would want to forget them, but actually, truly, deep-down, I would not because they’re all the sum of who I am. My grandmother passed away this year. She was going through dementia in her final years, and it was just fascinating to me. We spent so much time together, so to see that immediate switch and that immediate confusion, it was heartbreaking, but also a fascinating look at our brains and our make-up.
Zimbio: Is there more to this role than just being an actress, since you have to be somebody new, every week? Eliza Dushku: That’s why I’m in this business. I love people, and I love people’s stories. My mother is a political science professor, and we’ve traveled around the world, since I was very young. She would take groups of students, in the event that she could always bring a kid, so we’ve traveled. One of the things we did was just hear people’s stories. People just want to be heard. I think Oprah said that somewhere. The greatest gift that you can give to anyone that you meet is to promise that you’ll share their story. I feel like that’s what I have the opportunity to do, in this business. The more authentically and realistically we can do that, the better, the more I feel fulfilled and enjoy the work.
Zimbio: What are some of the difficult choices you've had to make along the way? Eliza Dushku: Well, one was if I was going to continue acting. I never wanted to be an actress. My mother is a college professor and said, "Thank you very much, but a screen test in L.A. isn't really the kind of life I want for my daughter." My mother never pushed it. It was sort of random. It just sort of went along, but then I hit a point where I went OK, but I always wanted to go to school and do other things. I was enrolled at Suffolk University in Boston where my mom teaches when I was 17 when I graduated high school. I had my dorm room and was all ready to begin my life normally. Then after seven years of playing De Niro and Schwarzenegger's daughters, all these random roles, it just happened. I got called out to do Buffy and wanted to make some money for tuition for school, and then Buffy turned into [a phenomenon]. I don't know, a choice was definitely, "Okay, what am I going to do? Am I going to go try to figure out what do I want to do when I really grow up, or am I going to do this thing that landed in my lap?" Now I'm 27 and I just started a production company so I guess I've made some choices that I didn't originally expect.
Zimbio: How did you get into acting if you weren't trying? Eliza Dushku: My brother is an actor, but I've never really studied acting. I tripped and fell at one of his auditions when I was nine and got my first part, and it's been really good luck ever since. In terms of my process or what I do, I always loved hearing Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs when they asked him how he played that character so well. He said, "I acted like what I thought someone crazy would act." So you can come up with these profound descriptions or processes, but sometimes you also just read it and try to put yourself in that position and just kind of become it.