One of the most eagerly-anticipated series to hit airwaves early next year will be Joss "Firefly" Whedon's Dollhouse, starring Eliza "Buffy" Dushku and Tahmoh "BSG" Penikett. It's the tale of "actives," people who volunteer to have their personalities wiped and new ones implanted for clients who need special tasks done (from romantic ones to spy stuff). We're here, liveblogging at the Dollhouse panel with Whedon, Dushku, and Penikett. Updates below.
Whedon says he's had a man-crush on Penikett for quite a while. He's a big fan of BSG, and loved Penikett and wanted him to be the FBI agent who investigates the Dollhouse. He keeps getting closer and closer to Echo, Dushku's character, but then she becomes somebody else. Whedon said Tamoh could talk articulately about his character without even having read a script. Suddenly he stops. "Wait, is the term man-crush? Or bro-mance?"
Whedon acknowledges that there is worry that the show is a niche show or that they're failing. That's not the case, he insists.
Dushku says her favorite scene in Buffy was the "dance-kill" scene where she was just dancing in a bar and killing people. "We had a lot of dancing and killing in that show." Whedon said the moment in Angel where Dushku was in the alley saying "Kill me I'm bad," he would start crying. "You're so full of it," Dushku says.
Dushku describes the oft-told tale of Dollhouse's inception, which came out of a conversation about what she'd like to as an actor. She says Whedon "makes the words party on the page." He got it, he knew what she was thinking, he went to the bathroom, and "He came back and it was Dollhouse." She says he "fully puts me at ease and it's fun work and fun livin." She says the show is "a personality playground and I'm ready." Whedon says, "I'm not ready."
An audience member asks what the difference is between Faith and Echo. "Echo we don't know much about. We're trying to figure that out, and she's a different person in every show. I might bring some fury and funny to it."
Whedon says, "Faith and Echo both have a lot of pain to go through. Eliza's good with pain and crazy." Dushku says she emails Whedon emails about her life and he puts it into the show. Last month, she was in Iran and Peru, and she's been telling Whedon about her adventures there. "It's true — I get these bulletins bout where Eliza is today — it's all true in Dollhouse. This is a documentary."
Penikett says he's wrapped up shooting BSG and he doesn't want to talk about it too much on stage because he might cry.
The fans are about to kill a person who goes up to the mic and dares to admit she's not excited about the new show, which doesn't seem "as much out there" as his other shows. Whedon makes a face, the fans boo, and then he replies:
This show is a little different — there is a fantastical premise, but it is modern-day and it's people without vampires and spaceships. But you should know everything I do is about people. That's what I tell stories about. Echo has a removable personality, she's different people all the time, and she's trying to figure out who she is between times. Each time she meets Tamoh, she's a new person and their relationship is really twisted. Every relationship on the show is going to be really twisted. Questions of identity are going to be twisted in ways I never have before, and it's going to be really exciting.
"Take that, girl!" says Dushku. Later, she calls Whedon "a career brassiere." Whedon says, "That's the t-shirt I'm not going to wear."
Whedon says that the thing about Dr. Horrible was that he wanted to get that vision out there, because he didn't think a network would want a superhero musical. With a show like Dollhouse, he says, every scene requires you to ask if it's amusing and engaging and you have to deal with executives too. Fox has ways they want things to go, and the way they want action to pop. It's not that different from doing a show like Dr. Horrible. Except with Horrible, we didn't have sets or a dolly or . . . time.
With network, you need to know what they want, and communicate them. I've worked with execs who don't know what they want . . . or don't know what they don't want. But these are not those people. We've been clear about the way this show will go.
Whedon says he has no deaths planned for Dollhouse, unlike in Firefly. Then he jokes that he'll kill anyone who pisses him off. He says somebody might die at some point, but right now they're just coming to life. "Gimme a break, I don't kill everyone!"
Penikett talks about his first scene in Dollhouse. He says he was so taken by Dushku that he kept forgetting his lines every time Whedon would say "action." He flubbed his first line, which was supposed to be "How did you hear about the Dollhouse?" and instead he said, "How did you hear about the Mallhouse?" He added that Helo, his character from BSG, is very different from Paul, his Dollhouse character. "I'm really intrigued by him but I need to get to know him better over the next few episodes."
Whedon says there could be singing in Dollhouse. "Because after all she's everybody's fantasy, and and some of those must be geeks like me! So there could be some singing. We'd have to work up to that though. Not right away."
Whedon says he has several ideas for more indie productions like Dr. Horrible. "It's a dark and crowded place in my head, I have a lot of stuff in here. I want to do them all. But first I want to do a little bit of [Dollhouse]. Hopefully a lot," he grinned. He's incredibly excited about figuring out who Echo gets to be every week, but he's most excited about the Dollhouse itself. He said he's intrigued by the people who work there and Paul's investigation of it, and the way Echo's personality evolves, as well as the twisted relationships that everybody forms. "That to me is the thrill," he says. "It feels like a premise that can be sustained for a long time."
Is there a common thread between Buffy and Dollhouse? "It's probably a search for the soul," says Whedon. "Vampires are considered unpeople, and so are Actives. So it's really about Echo's search for her soul."
Dollhouse is influenced by A.I., The World Can Never Let Me Go, and Collateral because Whedon thinks it's a great L.A. movie. He says, "This will be feistier than I'm used to. I go a little Ang Lee, but the way I'm filming it, it will be more visceral, a frenetic ride. That part is challenging."
Whedon reassures us that the original pilot will air as the second episode, not the last like in Firefly. He says it was a challenge to go backwards and and reshoot. I did some things that weren't right for the network that I'm shifting around — I'm not changing the premise, cast, or heart of the show. It was just about how we get people into the world. The world will be there and I get to play.
"And I get to wear my leather pants," Dushku says.
"I made the vital mistake of not giving Tamoh any shirtless scenes but that has been rectified," Whedon adds.
Penikett isn't the only shirtless boy we'll see. In the extended clips we saw at the beginning of the panel, most of which have already been online, we saw a co-ed shower scene (the dollhouse apparently includes a co-ed shower).
Whedon says there will be webisodes.