Dollhouse season two is on DVD, which means it's time to rediscover Joss Whedon's most challenging show. We spoke to star/producer Eliza Dushku about the show's challenges, the criticisms Dollhouse faced...and the Echo/Paul outtakes that were too much for TV.
For those of you who missed it, Dollhouse was a show that ran for two seasons on Fox, about people whose minds have been erased, allowing them to be programmed to be whoever a paying client wants. And in the second season, newly out on DVD, the questions about the morality of this technology get amped up massively, as we see the true evils behind treating people like property — and we explore the idea that the abuse of this technology leads to the apocalypse.
We were lucky enough to get about 20 minutes on the phone one-on-one with Eliza Dushku today, and here's what she told us.
So now that the whole series is going to be on DVD. What do you think people will get out of it when they watch it all in one go?
We had toyed with the idea of having the show go on [as a serialized adventure], and not having stand-alone episodes. The inevitable thing with Joss' characters is that you start to feel for each character. And with each episode, every character got so deep, and so much was revealed. I would know that even as I was watching, or reading the scripts from show to show, that wait time in between is brutal. So when you get to see all these characters and all stories, strung together, it'll be just what the fans are waiting for.
So what do you hope people get out of your performance in particular, when they watch a second time around?
As far as the evolution of Echo, it was such a challenging and awesome part to play, especially in the second season as she's really becoming a person. She knows who she is. She's flipping in and out of these personalities, and learning how to control them and bring them out at different times. I've never done something like that. The speed at which we shot - in a perfect world, with all those different characters, it would have been cool to spend more time on each one, but I think also, there's something to be said for just putting it out there, and just watching the schizophrenia of it all.
Halfway into the second season, there's that one episode where it jumps forward in time, and suddenly Echo has control over her personalities. It's really exciting, but also a relief to see that. Was it a relief for you too, that you were finally able to play that?
Yeah I mean... for Enver [Gjokaj] and Dichen [Lachman] and everybody who played a doll, the doll state was probably one of the most difficult things to do. It provided a deeper connection — and I felt like you really root for Echo by the second season because you see that she's coming into her own person. [And since you didn't know] who you're rooting for when she's changing [personalities], it was awesome to get to know her - and to open up the question at the end of, "What if Caroline [isn't worthy of Echo's sacrifice]. I'm saving this body for her, and what if we don't like who she is?"
I love it, I miss it. It's been so long since I've done interviews about the show. I have all these beautiful, nostalgic feelings coming back. It's bittersweet. I'm so proud of what we did, I wish we could have gone on forever, we had so many fans, and now people can show their friends and show their kids - once their kids are a certain age of course. It's preserved, and it gets to live on forever.
So you mentioned about Caroline. The first few times we met Caroline, it wasn't clear if she was really someone we could root for.
She was a whiny little brat. Those are the exact words I used to Joss. "The Caroline character is kind of a whiny little brat, I don't know if we're going to be able to root for her." He was like, "But you know, we have to be have some place to go."
Was that something you worried about, during the evolution of this series? Who people could root for, and who they couldn't?
One of the cool things about Joss and his characters is, I feel like you're almost rooting for... the person you least expect to, in every episode. When you look at the character development with Fran [Kranz]'s character and Olivia [Williams]' character... and also, when I look back at my role as Faith, you have these characters who you think you wouldn't root for in a million years, and they do horrible things. And then you have an episode where you really start to find some unexpected beauty there, and compassion for these people. By the end I sort of feel like you were rooting for everybody, because that's the beautiful thing about the true human characters that he creates. They're flawed, and they're not perfect, and they sometimes do horrible things and in the end you look at them as a whole. [Laughs] The tragic humans that we all are.
And of course you were producing Dollhouse as well as starring in it. What do you think you learned about being a producer from Dollhouse?
Well, on the one hand, people would say, "A show about prostitution and human trafficking on Fox? It sounds like a perfect fit." Looking back, it may not have been the best fit for the show. We originally pitched a show and felt like that everyone got it and everyone was on board, and then before the show was supposed to air, I think Fox panicked and felt the show was going deeper than they had maybe expected and it was beyond fun one-off episodes where we're running out, being assassins or... it really started to make people uncomfortable. Which I suppose, was what we had intended to do. People have said, Joss has definitely got to go do a cable show, where you can really have the freedom to get fucked up. Maybe when he's finished Avenging.
Have you talked to him lately? Has he told you anything about it?
A little bit. We got to see each other. Nathan Fillion had a barbecue recently. I'm just so psyched for him, it's just the perfect project for Joss. He has an awesome ensemble cast, and nobody works with an ensemble like does. I'm just thrilled to see what happens.
You mentioned human trafficking and prostitution. Some people felt like Dollhouse was a show that was about rape, more even than prostitution. Do you think there was anything to that?
Well, I mean that's definitely sort of the question, the moral question, of the show. Is it morally right to have this kind of technology and abuse technology, and then the question is, like, are they volunteers? And they're volunteers, does that negate [the idea] that it's rape? And so that was, I think, the black and white and gray areas that we explored. In some situations, absolutely. In Sierra's case, she was taken advantage of in her doll state, and it was horrifying. It goes to explore what those boundaries are, and what they aren't, I guess.
Do you feel happy with how the show ended?
Yeah, I thought it was beautiful. It was really full circle and having the cast and the apocalypse back from "Epitaph One," which I just loved, and sobbed when I first saw it at Comic Con. It's such a complex show, and so much had happened, and yet the way they tied it up and really brought closure, not just to the characters but to everybody that was on the show, the actors... it was just comforting to see it end that way, to have that closure.
What do you think it would be like for Echo to be trapped in a basement for a year with Paul Ballard in her head?
That should be the next show. It would be great play, wouldn't it? Would they ever leave the house? We did a few outtakes of the final scene with Paul in Echo's mind, that were not appropriate for television. All the things we could do, the places we could go. But it's beautiful, you know.
I cried when I read it. Joss would just off people - anyone - you just read the script, and you see a bullet just go through Paul's head, and you go, "How could he?" But there's always a reveal and there's always a payoff somewhere. He does things so intentionally and so much vision.
What about Echo and Boyd? He was such a paternal figure to her, and then he turns out to be this completely different person. How do you think that changes how you view their relationship from the beginning?
I think it makes it all that much heartbreaking, for both of them. He absolutely was this paternal father figure. [But] what we want and what we do are different things sometimes. And he was corrupt from the get go, and it makes you look back and [see that] there were moments of true connection and true affinity between them and it made it all that much more heartbreaking. And it felt like something we did together with the character of Faith... people will do horrible things, and yet that's what makes it all the more disturbing and riveting, that people connect to it. Yeah, in the end he was really, really, really bad, but we knew that the show was going to be ending, and whether or not Joss had it in his mastermind plan all along, that was a twist. That was the kind of twist that I feel like people scream and go crazy over, and go, "No, no, how could he?" But that's riveting storytelling right there. The betrayal and the abandonment and the wonderfully juicy stuff that makes us react and bond and have these feelings for the characters.
Speaking of Faith, do you think there's any chance at this point you might play Faith again?
After twenty years in this business, I feel like you never know. I know for sure that Joss is a lifelong friend and talent, and we'll be seeing each other again for sure.
Dollhouse season two is out on DVD now. Eliza Dushku will be in The Big Bang Theory on Nov. 4.