Eliza Dushu on ‘Dollhouse' Season 2 and 'Open Graves'


The second season of Dollhouse is just barely under way, but we (and the rest of the country) are just loaded with questions about what the next season has in store for Echo, Sierra, Victor, Whiskey, and the other dolls.  Earlier today we joined a group of journos and spoke with star Eliza Dushku about what we can expect this season.  She tells us about the evolution of Echo, working with Joss Whedon, her horror film Open Graves, and… breastfeeding?

How do you feel the direction of this season differs from the first season?

There is so much being opened and explored.  Last season, Echo had all these personalities downloaded into her in one punch, and they aren't going away.  As we pick up this year, she is still tapping into these personalities.  Sometimes it is within her control, sometimes it's not, but overall, she is absorbing things from her engagements and the Dollhouse, and becoming self-aware.  Not as Caroline, but as her own person.  It's definitely complicated, and it's darker all around.  We will explore the background of some of the other characters.

What trouble will Echo run in to in her attempts to "save" everyone?

I'm sure every kind and all kinds, just because it is a Joss Whedon show.  We are working on episode seven right now, and there are so many layers.  A main storyline is Agent Ballard, who spent last season trying to get in to the Dollhouse, and now that he is in, and Echo's handler, he is working with her, and they may be trying to bring the Dollhouse down from the inside.  Also we get some backstory for Adele and her superiors and other Dollhouses around the world.  We get an idea of just how big the Rosin corporation is.  Summer Glau will play a programmer from the D.C. Dollhouse, so we will get an idea of how the other houses are being run.

How does a Boston girl become Joss Whedon's muse?

I have no idea!  When I made my audition tape for Buffy, I went to the mall and got my outfit from Contempo Casuals, put some safety pins in my jeans.  I remember telling the clerk that I was making an audition tape for Buffy and she was so excited.  I was actually emancipated by a Boston judge who was also a fan of Buffy.  I was still technically a minor, but out of high school by then, so I had to be emancipated so I could come out to L.A. to shoot the show.  I guess I have just always gotten by with a little help from my friends!

What do you like about working with Joss?

First and foremost, I love the guy as a friend.  He has been a brother, a teacher, a mentor.  The other obvious [thing] is his talent.  He is wildly creative, and smart, and a feminist and funny, dark, twisted, scary… he just combines it all in such a sweet little package.  He just gets me.

Do you think Fox has put you in a position to be "watched," seeing as how you are slotted in to a Friday night, after a sitcom?

They realized last year that people who want to find the show did.  We are also alive for a second season largely due to DVR and TiVo.  I can see how they can say that viewers found the show last year, so they may as well leave it where it was and hope that that continues.  Ratings are important, but having a professor as a mother, she taught us about qualitative versus quantitative research, and we are producing a quality show.  We have quality fans who are coming to experience something different and out of the ordinary.  There are many shows on TV that are instant hits.  We are not that, but we have a core following, and I think people who check the show out and aren't intimidated by it find themselves being sucked in.  It's sharp, intelligent, fun, off-the wall TV.   

You and Summer Glau, formerly of Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles, shot promos for this season, then were basically duking it out for the last time slot on the Fox schedule.  Now she is a part of your show.  What is the dynamic like between you two?

She's great.  I love her.  We have such a great time.  She brought her A-game, and is such a sweet, fun, positive actress.  She is great to play off of.  Our characters have some backstory we have to fight out, and that is a lot of fun.  Anyone from Joss's past that he is bringing back, I have to assume he has a great relationship with them and isn't putting any bad eggs into our house. 

Echo, as a character, is all over the map.  How do you approach that, as an actor?

It's easier this year because we don't have as much of the "dumbed down Doll Echo."  We have this core Echo, a sum of all her parts, and yet not really any of them.  She is Echo and there is something grounding in that.  She is pulling information from all the different people she has been, and as a result she is starting to form her own ethics and morals.  She is absorbing and thinking and processing.  There is always something going on inside Echo.

Do you guys pay attention to the blogs and the fan sites when structuring episodes and storylines?

Joss and I have always paid attention to the "fan love," and we love the fans right back.  But I don't know how much he takes tips on storylines from the fans.  In fact, when he sees people falling in love with a character, he is known to assassinate them!  So maybe yes.  He definitely has a mind of his own, and within the group of writers, I can tell you they are not exactly conformists.  Whether it is fans or critics or studios, they do their best work when they are left alone.

Is there a particular character from an upcoming episode that was difficult for you to get into?

Playing a mother was something I certainly hadn't expected!  I'm an auntie and I love other people's children, but playing a mother, and trying to tap into that maternal instinct was challenging but also a thrill and a beautiful thing.  You'll have to let me know how you think I did!  Mother was harder than the serial killer/sorority girl.  Maybe that says something about me!

Do you have any good behind-the-scenes stories you can share?

Trying to breastfeed someone else's baby is difficult!  I'll just leave it at that.

You have spoken previously about Dollhouse representing all the different sides that a woman is expected to be.  Do you think the Dollhouse is really about the experiences of being an actor in L.A.  Like, people expecting you to fulfill their fantasies, and the dark side of that?

Absolutely.  When Joss and I had our infamous lunch, that was one of the themes.  I am the only girl in the family – I have three brothers.  When we were kids, I remember my mom reading this book called Reviving Ophelia, about the way that girls and young women are broken down and hit on both sides by media and images, the way the men in their life treat them, and how fragile they are.  My mother was always really aware of that, and always tried to fight against that.  She tried to teach me to be comfortable in my skin.  Even with all that research and help, it still haunted me – how I have come close to being broken. I spoke about that stuff with Joss, and it is so amazing how he, as a man, understands that.  I can't think of anyone else who gets that and can create an entire fantasy show that addresses such a serious topic.

How much closer will Echo get to rediscovering her true self this season?

Every episode has been a little bit more.  We are on seven now, and we have thirteen total.  I'm scared to say too much, but she really is becoming an entirely different character.  She is getting farther away from Caroline, even though that is her original self.  Caroline is in there, but she starts to realize that there are parts of Caroline that are unsavory or are just not Echo.  So the development of the character of Echo has been so exciting and fascinating.  Joss and the writers can pick pieces of her different experiences and weave them together into this entirely new character.

Somehow you manage to squeeze in time to shoot some films in addition to DollhouseOpen Graves is one that slid under the radar.  Can you tell us a little bit about it?

I shot that about two and a half years ago, in Spain.  Sometimes movies just don't come together as intended.  I haven't even seen the movie yet, because it just premiered on SyFy channel the weekend I was in Italy.  It was a cool experience.  I was very interested in working with the director, Alvaro de Arminan, who has worked very closely with Pedro Almodovar.  The script had some interesting sci-fi and horror twists to it, and I really enjoy working in that genre.  It never quite gelled into the movie I had anticipated, but hey, it happens.  I certainly won't quit the horror genre because of it!

How much of a factor in this season is the episode "Epitaph One?"

"Epitaph One" was so well-done.  I was so impressed, it brought me to tears.  When Joss told me about it, I wondered how the hell he was going to pull it off.  It's a shame that it didn't air, but the reason the show came back for a second season is that Fox didn't want to end the story.  "Epitaph One" didn't really "end" the story, and I feel that the network wanted to pick up where we left off.  I know Joss wants to splice in some stuff [from the "Epitaph One" universe] into upcoming episodes.  I love Felicia Day, I loved the way the future looked, as dark and terrifying as it was.  It was so raw. 

What is Echo looking for in allies this season?

As she is becoming aware of her surroundings and her personalities, she is always in a vulnerable place.  If the wrong person catches on to who she is and what she is experiencing, she could be sent up to the Attic, done forever.  So she is being very careful with the tools and knowledge she has gained, who she can use, and who she can manipulate.  Agent Ballard is now her handler, but I think it remains to be seen whether or not he can really be trusted.  With the introduction of the other Dollhouse and the other players, it makes more of a maze for Echo to navigate.