(Film Force, May, 28, 2003)
Onscreen, Eliza Dushku has slain vampires, stolen jewels and taken on hordes of bitchy cheerleaders. Growing up, however, the actress faced a different sort of foe: big brothers.
"I have three older brothers. When I was younger, they would try and make me watch scary movies to freak me out. That's what big brothers do!" she remembers, laughing. "I remember watching the Nightmare on Elm Streets, remember those? Freddy Krueger? 'One, two, Freddy's coming for you... ' "
Still, it should come as no surprise that the actress who has graced us with such iconic tough girls as Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Faith and Bring It On's Missy Pantone enjoys the singular sensation fear inspires.
"I think we had one of the Freddy Krueger tapes at my house and when I wanted that adrenaline burst of fear and terror – wanting to watch it so bad even though it scared me – I would watch Nightmare on Elm Street," she says. "And it worked!"
These days, Dushku is hoping horror movie buffs will get the same sort of goosebumps from Wrong Turn, a scary movie that boasts legendary character effects artist Stan Winston as a producer. Dushku stars as Jessie, part of a group of friends stranded in the middle of the woods and stalked by monstrously disfigured mountain men.
Recently, the actress took a few moments to discuss the movie, Buffy's swan song and her upcoming FOX series, Tru Calling.
I understand the legendary Stan Winston convinced you to do this movie. How did he talk you into it?
Well, it was funny. The script came and I wasn't right off the bat feeling it for some reason. I'd really only had one other experience with horror film and it was one that was complex and didn't really come together in the end.Soul Survivors?
Yeah. Everyone involved was great and I don't think that it was really anyone's fault. I think that it was a complex kind of plot and it got lost somehow in the telling. I think it also got messed up when we lost our R rating. How can you make a horror movie that's not rated R, you know? You lose all the fun! So I was not feeling like that was something I wanted to venture into right away, but I figured I should hear the director Rob Schmidt's take on it and after I talked to Rob, he sent me over to Stan Winston's studio. After his pitch, [Wrong Turn
star] Desmond Harrington showed up, so I had these three guys telling me why I had to do this movie! I had so much respect for all of them and so it kind of came to be.Were you a fan of Stan's before the movie?
Yeah, I was. I think everyone over their life has been a fan of Stan Winston's. He's created some of the most memorable creatures and characters from movies that we all know and have seen and love. From Jurassic Park
to the Terminator
s...he's done all that stuff. He knows what he's doing, he's really exceptional at it and the best in the business. When I went to have the meeting with him, he had three mountain men sketched up. I said, "I don't want to do a movie with monsters. I don't want to do a movie where I'm being chased through the woods by monsters! Like, big, ooga-booga. I'm putting myself on the table to be serious and all of a sudden there's a monster with horns coming into the shot. And then people kind of chuckle." And he goes, "Well, do these images right here make you chuckle?" And he slides across these three pictures of the ideas [for] the prosthetics to make up these mangy brothers and I wanted to throw up right there! They were so frightening looking and so horribly disfigured, but they were men. They were actual people... they almost regress back to Neanderthal men and they looked so frightening. And I thought, "Wow, them
chasing me through the woods? That
might be scary!" So that hooked me in.I understand that after seeing this movie, people should be pretty freaked out by camping...
I know! It's almost ruined it for me! And I loved camping before. I'm in
the movie and it still freaked me out. It's that whole thing of being in the middle of nowhere, being so far away that no one could you hear scream. It's pretty terrifying.Have you ever had any particularly freaky camping experiences?
I grew up in New England, so we camped a lot in the mountains there, and also I had done some camping in Utah and places like that. I think that the scariest thing is when you think that you know where you're going and that minute of, "Ohmigod! Do I go right here, do I go left, wait, did I come from that direction, did I come from that direction?" The biggest fear is getting lost and being lost and no one can find you and you don't have food and you don't have water and it's all over. Game over. That's the only frightening experience I've had camping.
To kind of switch gears a little bit, I watched the Buffy series finale last night, and it was just so awesome to see Faith back in the swing of things for the final arc.
Oh, thanks! I watched it, too. I really liked it. I thought it was a great finale for an amazing show. I'm really proud of all the actors and [creator and executive producer]
Joss Whedon. I remember when I got the script for the finale, what was on everyone's mind was, "How is he gonna end this? How do you end something this large?" I remember reading it and closing the last page and going, "Well, he did it!" I wondered how and he just showed me. The whole idea of making every woman on the planet a Slayer and giving women that strength was just beautiful.On a purely superficial note, how did you manage to get so many great scenes with the hot new principal?
Joss likes me! Joss is nice to me! When I talked to him about coming back on the show, I said, "Joss, you better give me some fun stuff to play around with!" And he said, "Well, how fun do you want it to be?" I said, "Surprise me," and he did. And D.B. [Woodside]
is awesome. He's a really great guy, he's gorgeous to look at and he can act. It was cool being in scenes with him, because we had a really great banter and dynamic...among other things!I heard they were actually devising a Faith spin-off for you. Why did you decide not to go that route?
The idea for the Faith spin-off just kind of came up in discussion because everyone really, I think, was feeling like this show's going to end and there are all these fans who love it so much and who love these characters and so, if possible, how could we extend that? I just personally felt like... It would have been a really hard thing to do, and not that I wouldn't have been up for a challenge, but with it coming on immediately following the show, I think that those would have been really big boots to fill. I think it would have been compared to Buffy
. And just in terms of me, I've played that character on and off for five years now and I've changed a lot and while the character of Faith changed when I came back because
I've changed, I felt like maybe it was time to... I mean, I love
Faith. She's my girl and she's been really good to me, but I kind of just wanted to try something else. Purely that, because it had nothing to do with me not trusting Joss and his team of writers, who I just think are amazing. Tim Minear and Drew Goddard and Marti Noxon and all these people, they're so talented and it had nothing to do with me doubting that they could make this show amazing, but I just... I don't know, sometimes you have to go with your gut, and my gut was telling me that I maybe needed to try something else that was just different.Speaking of that, your new show, Tru Calling just got picked up and is set to debut on FOX next season. Tell me a bit about it – it sounds kind of Sixth Sense-ish.
Yeah, it's about a girl who [is] given an opportunity almost to play God and she gets a job at this city morgue and her day repeats itself after she's seen these bodies in the morgue. She goes back 24 hours before the people are deceased and has the chance to save them or not. And she won't always be able to save them because she's not a superhero, but it's kind of this thing, like, "What if?" What if you could go back 24 hours and change fate, change destiny, change someone's life? Sometimes she won't be able to save people. And if she does save someone, then how does that affect other people? It's an interesting idea to play around with.How would you compare this character to characters you've played in the past?
A lot of times, characters I've played in the past were really close to who I, Eliza, was at the time. Especially Faith – when I started Faith, I was 17 years old and I had just graduated from high school. High school is so hard for everyone, especially young girls. For me, it was not easy being Actress Girl at public school in Boston. [Laughs.]
People did not think that was cute. They were like, "She is not all that." So I got a lot of grief for being an actress. I really had to make this big tough girl front, just to survive. Real hard-as-nails, like, "Nothing you can say can hurt me!" So I was really playing that tough, rebellious, "no one can hurt me" girl. Now I'm 22 years old and I'm farther ahead in my recovery from high school! [Laughs.]
I'm less defensive and I'm more confident in who I am and who I'm trying to be and who I'm gonna be in life and I think that that's kind of where Tru is. We meet her and she's just graduating from college and she's about to start this grown-up life. That's a really interesting age, I think, 22, because you really feel like you're independent now and you're self-sufficient and you have to take responsibility for who you are and the things you do and the people you surround yourself with. And you start to re-evaluate your relationship with your family and friends and stuff like that. So I feel like she's a lot where I am right now.
Here's a silly question to wrap up. As you know, there's a Faith action figure. What would the Eliza Dushku figure come with?
Oh my goodness, let's see. Probably, like, a posse of people. My favorite thing when I'm not working is...I talk a lot, and I love to be sociable and to be with my family and friends. So the Eliza doll would come with a stadium of people and we'd all have to be really limber so we could dance a lot.
Cool. Anything else you wanna say?
[Wrong Turn is] probably not going to be for everyone. It's just become such a thing of, "What makes a good movie?" and "Is this movie gratuitous?" and "Is the violence gratuitous?" Well, yeah, a little bit, because it's a horror movie. I mean, it's not The Hours and it's not Liar Liar. It's not a comedy, it's not a drama, it's a horror movie. So if you take it for what it is and you like horror movies, I think that you'll enjoy it and you'll be into it. But don't walk in there looking for something that it's not. Just have fun. And if you like that adrenaline rush of being terrified, then take your friends and enjoy!