(A Girl's World.com May, the 9th, 2002)
You might have first seen petite, brown-eyed Eliza Dushku as Arnold Schwarzenegger's daughter in True Lies or opposite Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On. She was evil and hot as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer'"s nemesis Faith for two seasons and suffered through the supernatural in Soul Survivors. Now, she plays D.J. Qualles' cheerleader love interest in the new high school comedy The New Guy (PG-13). The actress told us that she was a grade "A" tomboy and toughie as a kid but when we spoke to her, she was very "femme" in a lacy, pink and beige blouse. She told us what she wants in a guy and hopes her string of bad girl roles is over.
AGW: Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
Eliza: My mother. She's like Mother Theresa or something yet she's so feisty and so opinionated. She's a teacher. It was her 60th birthday recently and someone got up and said 'she's been teaching since 1960 and this is the amount of students that have gone through so Judy has had a profound impact on this many people'. She's so kind and smart. She's about to take off to be the Dean of a program in Senegal with my stepfather for six months. She loves the people of the world. We always traveled growing up. She's a feminist and yet she's Mormon so she has these good values but she's also 'don't step on me. I'm woman, hear me roar'. She raised four kids, a single mom. She's awesome. She and I did a trip to South Africa just recently.
AGW: Were you the cheerleader or the blossoming nerd in high school?
Eliza: In middle school I was just a nerd who couldn't do anything right, who wore all the wrong clothes. I got tortured so in high school it was what can I do to make the teasing stop so I got tough and started wearing the Army-Navy jacket and going in and giving everybody crazy eyes trying to defend myself. I started working this tough thing pretty well I guess because the people on "Buffy" saw that and asked me to come on. But it was a defense. I started getting a string of bad girl roles. I kind of lost that tough girl front and am a much nicer person but everyone is 'you're the bad girl'. It's nice to have the role in The New Guy. I'm just more comfortable with myself.
AGW: What was your first movie? How did you break in?
Eliza: The first movie was That Night and I was 10 years old and I sort of fell into it. My brother had always wanted to act and had been going on commercial auditions and I tagged along. I tripped on the stairs going to his audition and got a bloody nose and turned into instant drama queen and everyone was like 'who is the kid?' and my brother was, 'hey, over here'.
AGW: How do you think movies have changed since you were 10?
Eliza: People want it and they want it now. They want control. We want to see this, this and this. If we don't see it, we think the movie sucks. It's kind of hard to keep up with how the audience has changed. People are less interested in seeing something fresh and new and because of that a lot of movies that come out aren't fresh and new. People are always trying to duplicate what was a hit.
AGW: Why did you want to be in The New Guy?
Eliza: I loved that it had this universal message and timeless theme that everyone can relate to. Everyone's been in high school. Everyone knows what it was like whether you were in the popular crew or not. Every single person has had that day of going in and being so terrified of being rejected. Then being rejected or trying to be someone you're not, trying to fit in and trying so hard to be cool. You can't fake it, you are who you are.
AGW: A lot of people describe Hollywood as just being another version of high school.
Eliza: It's like a big popularity contest. Even just in terms of people's physical appearance, the whole struggle for actresses to be thin, be a hundred pounds and it's really hard. I have a lot of friends who say 'I love my body the way I am'. They do and they look great. I happen to be a bony, skinny kid. I don't know why. My brothers too. They always wanted to be big and buff. The Dushkus eat like it's going out of style. We chow. We eat so much and are still bony. It sucks that there is only this one thing everyone is looking for. It is like high school. People are rejecting you because you aren't what they think is right or their opinion of cool or beautiful.
AGW: What would be an ideal date for you?
Eliza: I'm very into doing outdoorsy things lately. I just got scuba diving certified. Also, I would love for a guy to find out what I like but not through me. I think that would be very romantic for a guy to like call one of my brothers or my friends and go like 'what's her thing? Tell me'. Then he could pick me up and I could say 'Wow, we have so much in common'.
AGW: D.J. isn't exactly the typical leading man. What do you think makes him hot?
Eliza: He so genuine and you can just feel him. Even though he has this dishonest thing he does in the movie, he's so not a malicious person. He's trying to please. The nice guys always get the girl. Girls may go through stages where they have a bad boy obsession but in the end who wants to marry a bad boy? I guess we know we're going to be with a nice guy some day so we have to try on the other shoe first. The bad boys usually give off that vibe of 'you don't completely have me yet' so what are you fighting for if they're like 'I'm yours. Let me cook you breakfast'.
AGW: You are really outspoken. Has that gotten you in trouble?
Eliza: (laughs) My family is very open and I think that I scare a lot of men because I sort of talk all the time. My mother, brothers and I talk about everything. I've got to have a talker who is honest about their feelings. Good looking isn't bad. I guess I go for the tall, dark and handsome personally, with smarts. I'm from a family of teachers and college professors. I definitely like a guy who can sit at our kitchen table in Boston and keep up with the conversation.
AGW: Do you like to have some input into your characters on set?
Eliza: The way I like to work is I read the character that I'm to be and kind of prepare but don't over prepare my work. I go in and learn my lines on the day of because if I do a line 30 times it gets stale and is not spontaneous and doesn't sound real when I say it. I like to go in and say 'let's do one' and I'll show you the way I interpreted the scene and if you want anything changed, do it. And my favorite thing to do is take direction. 'Tell me what to do. More of this? Got it'. Then I'll completely change what I do. It's a collaborative process.
AGW: Do you feel stuck in the teen movie genre?
Eliza: No. I'm a few years off from being a teen but I might as well play the young girl while I can. The older, serious roles are coming. I change with every year and learn things about myself.
AGW: Who are your acting heroes?
Eliza: Jamie Lee Curtis who I worked with when I was so young (True Lies) had a great impact on me. She's so amazing and down-to-earth and smart and strong. Even my mother at the time when I was 12 years old said 'you watch this woman. This is how you should be a famous actress with dignity and respect for every person you come in contact with'. She was my role model I think.
AGW: What kind of music are you into?
Eliza: I grew up with brothers and they all had different tastes in music. One brother was very alternative rock and good ole rock and roll and then my middle brother was very Bob Marley, Reggae, hip hop and rap. At home I have Beastie Boys to Bob Marley to Mary J. Blige and Madonna.
AGW: Star Wars is coming out. Did it have any impact on your life?
Eliza: I had the action figures when I was a kid and I had the Darth Vader carrying case for all my action figures and I would hold it up and talk behind it and do the whole voice thing. I think I was just doing it because they were action figure guys with guns. I guess R2D2, maybe but I don't feel the whole phenomenon come rushing back to me.
AGW: So you played more with action figures than dolls?
Eliza: Oh yeah. My mother was terrified. All I wanted to wear were hand-me-downs. I thought I was a boy till I was 10 years old. I used to wear my hair cut like a boy. I used to beg my mom to let me get a crew cut but she wouldn't let me. My brothers were my best friends. They were really protective.
AGW: So you were a total tomboy?
Eliza: I WAS a boy. People would tell my mom. 'You have four handsome young boys' and my mom would say 'that one's a girl!' Because she'd give me Barbies and I'd cut the hair off and rip their heads off and feed them to my dog. I had that guy thing. It changed maybe my first movie when they put make-up on me and I was so not into it but there were these twin boys in the movie and I thought they were so cute and they were really into the other two girls on the shoot and I was wondering why. One day they put me in this pretty dress and curled my hair and I thought that the curls were so pretty. So, I started to feel more feminine. I'm still not very graceful. Usually, I have cuts and bruises.
AGW: Are you going to take on any more projects this summer?
Eliza: I'm just looking for something that really effects me. There are kind of slim pickings at times. I haven't been in a rush to make the first script that comes across my desk. I want something I really love to be next. In September there's a film called City by the Sea with Robert DeNiro. I play his son's girlfriend, his son is James Franco and is the lead suspect in a murder. It's a powerful, intense drama.