(Femme Fatale, May 2003)
For Buffy fans there was some solace in the belief that when the show finished it's run at the end of the season, it would likely be replaced by a spin-off starring actress Eliza Dushku as redeemed slayer Faith. There was actually reason to hope, born in the fact that the actress had returned to reprise the role in three episodes of Angel, followed by the last five episodes of Buffy.
A better setup for a new series, one could not imagine. In fact, one didn't have really have to imagine much at all, as the show's producers had developed a possible premise for the proposed spin-off.
"I had come up with a pitch," explains Angel exec producer and occasional director Tim Minear. "Eliza was gracious, kind and wonderful, but she felt like she wanted to do something new. There is no hard feelings there. But the show was basically going to be Faith Meets Kung Fu. It would have been Faith, probably on a motorcycle, crossing the earth, trying to find her place in the world. I'm sure it would get an arc at some point, but the idea of her rooted somewhere seemed wrong to me. The idea of her constantly on the move seemed right to be. And she broke out of prison (on Angel) so there would have been some people after her."
Well, in the case of Dushku, it was the Fox network who was after her. They persued her for a pilot called Heroine, which she ultimately signed up for. Pleased with the concept, the network already ordered additional scripts before a frame of the film had been shot.
A Boston, Massachusetts, native, Dushku's career began in 1992 when, following a five-month search throughout the United States, the producers of the film That Night discovered her. From there, she appeared in such films as This Boy's Life, True Lies, Bring It On, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, City by the Sea, and this year in Wrong Turn and The Kiss. With the exception of providing her voice for an episode of The Simpsons and appearing in the 1995 TV movie Journey, Dushku's small screen experience has been limited to appearing as Faith on Buffy and Angel.
In this interview, which took place while Dushku was wrapping up her appearances as Faith, she discusses Heroine, her evolution as a person and how those choices have affected her acting choices...
Did you hear the scream of the Buffy fans around the world after it was announced that you were signed to a different pilot rather than a Faith spin-off?
I feel kind of bad, but I also need to get something else going. We created this character five years ago and it's the kind of thing where I want to be standing on my own two feet a little bit and not be following in Buffy's footsteps. I love the show and have so much respect for the writers and everyone, but it was going to be the kind of commitment - which God knows these kind of things are - it needed to be something new.
Had they pitched you their concept of the Faith series?
I had a lot of conversations with (creator)
Joss Whedon, (consulting producer)
Marti Noxon and Tim Minear, and I realized what amazing writers they were and what amazing concepts they were able to come up with if it was to happen. For me, I never wanted to be locked down to television commitments - it's six years - and I'm a severe sufferer of ADD (laughs)
. What if I don't want to do this anymore and I've signed on the bottom line? But when this pilot came up, it was such a cool story and character.
I have a lot of similarities with Faith, but this new character (on Heroine)
has more room for growth and different directions that I feel are closer to me. Something about being it really affected abd grabbed me when I first read it. It felt like more of a coming-of-age role, in that age of 22, 23 or 24, which hasn't been done before. I think it's an important time for girls because my best friends and I for the past year or two have been having all these indentity crisis problems where we're getting to this age. We used to play this flip, sassy, tough-girl routine, but when you get to your mid-20s and you start to feel responsibilities for the things that you do and the people around you that you wouldn't have even thought about before. It's a cool age; it's a cool kind of psychology to look into, and that's what interested me in the role.
What is the concept of the show and the character?
She's a normal girl who happens to have witnessed her mother's murder when she was 5 or 6 years old. She's got an older sister and brother, and they're kind of functioning as a family unit. Everything is running as it is until she gets a job at the New York City morgue. We don't know if it's supernatural or where it comes from - it could be related to seeing her mother murdered when she was so young - but she starts to hear voices from the bodies in the morgue where she's working, which is a job she didn't want in the first place. All of a sudden, she wakes up the next morning to find that she has X amount of hours to save this person that she doesn't even know. All she has is the name and the morgue report to keep them from dying.
There's definately a Six Feet Under
, Sixth Sense
cool quality to it. And at the same time, she's trying to recreate this family unit that she, her brother and her sister haven't had since her mother passed away. Her brother is a compulsive gambler and can't get his life together; her sister has a drug problem. She's trying to get this family back and figure out her friends and boyfriend - just dealing with life at that stage. She's graduated from college, and it's like "What happens now?" It's so cool and well-written - John Feldman is the writer - and Phillip Noyce is directing the pilot. I'm such a fan and so excited to work with him.
I was actually shocked to see you doing a TV series at all.
I was, too (laughs).
It wasn't a spur of the moment thing. There were a lot of conversatins and a lot of "Look, I don't want to jump into something that I don't really believe in, and I don't really trust," because I'm 22 years old, and there's a lot of stuff that I want to do. I also feel that because I'm young, why not give it a shot? Plus our economy and the estate of the affairs in the world right now, and I just feel like everyone's doing the grind and working to get by. I'm a worker bee at heart; I love going to work every day. When I'm not working, that's normally when I start obsessing in my head and overanalyzing every little thing that I'm not doing and all the things I should be doing. But this is something I know I can love and really turn out because I have the energy and the drive for it right now. I thought, "Why not?" I know it's not going to be shit, just because of everyone involved. It's got the potential to be badass.
If it does work, you've got job security, and there's something to be said for that, too. The money's good.
Hell yes! (laughs)
I read in an old interview in which you said that when you first started playing Faith, it reflected certain aspects of your personality. Do you use acting as a means of reflecting yourself or escaping who you are?
It's almost like a little bit of therapy, because you can play trial and error as a character, but not on the scale of your real life. When I started playing Faith, I had just graduated from high school. I was 17 years old, and had moved away for the first time. My mother was living in a different country. She was moving to Romania at the time, now she's in South Africa for the next four years. She's a dean at a university. My whole life she's been a teacher and a traveler. My mom is this liberal, feminist, Mormon powerhouse. I just love her to death. She's so smart and hands-on in terms of loving people and teaching. I have three older brothers, my parents divorced when I was a baby. I felt this crazy thing in life. So, all of a sudden, I'm out the house, I'm moving to Los Angeles. I was actually enrolled in my mom's university before I got Buffy and I had to withdraw. And high school was hell in a way. It was so hard. I went to public school in Boston after having been an actress since 10 years old, so I had that element of just being different in an enviroment where any kind of difference you have makes you kind of an outcast and an automatic target. I really built up a tough shell, it was all no-bullshit. It was a bit of a facade, but at the same time, but at the same time, it was my reality because just to survive you kind of have to have the attitude of "Nothing hurts me; you can't get through me." I was kind of this really hard Boston chick. That worked well for Faith and the creation of the character. Joss really just zoned into that, and we worked with it. But as the years go on, and you start recovering and repairing from high school, I became less defensive, less hard. My friends and I were saying to each other "Okay, we don't need to be such haters; we don't have to be so terrified. We can start evolving." I don't want to say I've softened up, but I've definately lost some of the anger and fear and defensive nature that I had when I was 17, 18 or 19 years old. It's cool with this new role to kind of see that and be able to play that struggle. I'm still going to be tough, and outspoken, and I'm still not going to let anyone walk all over me, but I'm also exploring a different side to myself.
On the episodes in which you return to Angel, Faith seems to reflect that newfound philosophy.
I said to Joss, "When I get to Angel, do I get, like, really soft?" He was like, "I wouldn't say soft, but you've definately changed. But the ways you've changed - art definately imitates life." It's not so hard to draw the parallels between characters and the real life people when we're growing and changing. Even Sarah Gellar, her character has evolved in so many different ways.
Was it confortable coming back after so long a period of time?
It was. Faith is my girl. She's always been good to me, and she's been a good friend to me. I love this character, the show, the places we've gone and all the different emotions we've expeimented with. I feel like she's part of me. It was at first pretty intimidating, but that was in the first two days. At that time, I was in those scenes with David Boreanaz, who I love to pieces. He's so much fun to work with, and I can see that he was going through changes, and his character had turned into something else. I thought, you know, we're trying to make a little bit of reality in this world of these huge fictional scenerios and scenes. That's reality. People change, and the characters are going to change with us. What I've been going through is kind of what Faith has gone through, too. It's also great to be back on Buffy. Sarah is such a doll. We're like reuinited high school friends.
Your roles seem to vary between the good girls and bad girls. Do you intentionally look for those kind of roles?
It depends on what comes up, where I am and what I'm giving off, maybe. Sometimes they seem to be different manifestations of my different personalities. I think we all have different people in us. I try to mix it up, keep it fun, keep it real, keep it interesting. It's always a circumstance where the grass is greener. When you're on a comedy, you're thinking, "I need to do something serious." I was doing The New Guy and City by the Sea pretty much simultaneously. It was night and day. The characters were so different. That makes the work fun and interesting.
How do you handle being in the spotlight with all these magazine covers and photo shoots?
It's flattering, but it's funny, because your family sees them, then your friends see them. I have three older brothers, so they are always saying "Would you put some clothes on?" But it's fun and part of what I signed on to do. I hate whiners. I understand that the pressure can be a lot, and I have days where I just want to scream, but it comes with the territory. If you throw yourself into the spotlight, you can't just turn it off and on whenever you want. It just takes patience. I have really good people around me. If I want to get away, I can just hop on a plane and fly over to Africa to hang out with mom. My brothers and I are really close, and they're all doing different things. My parents - my stepfather and my mother and father - are all teachers and academics. I really think if I wasn't doing this, I'd be in school studying political science or socioeconomic something. That's interesting to me. I've traveled a lot, and I love visiting different cultures and finding out how they make up a society.
That's a big difference between what you do and you could see yourself doing.
Yeah, but it's fun to mix it all together. I know I'm not the most informed person, but I'm not the least informed person either. If I'm going to be in a position where I'm going to speak, I feel like I should be doing something to make a difference. I found myself - and I didn't know how quickly it would evolve - being a role model to young girls. And young girls make up a huge part of our society. It's a really hard place to be when you're a young woman in our society. If I can give them any kind of inspiration or anything to them, I think it's cool. Being strong and not being stepped on and getting out there and not being afraid to speak and being heard - I think that's pretty dope.
Have you gotten a lot of feedback from young girls?
A lot. That was one of the things that made me realize the reach of television - just as much, if not more so, than you can through film because you've got a character that people count on and see on their screen every week. They really absorb this stuff and use it in their own lifes. I've gotten letters from girls who have said "I was being abused for six years. Your character came on, and I realize if Faith could stand up to those guys trying to bring her down, so can I." That stuff is really intense - cool success stories from people who just watch the character.
TV characters take on life of their own, and you impacting on somebody like that has to be an amazing feeling.
On the flipside, are people's impressions of you skewed in the sense that you walk into a room, do they expect you to kick somebody's ass?
A little bit, but that's where I draw the line where I need to. These are characters and it's my job, and you have to draw a line between real life and fantasy and real life and movies and entertainment. I think I'm pretty good at creating that buffer with people that I meet. Truthfully, when you go out and get a chance to meet a lot of these people, they understand a little bit more that you're just a person, you're doing your thing. I'm totally grateful and flattered and all that, but deep down you have to let them know, "Look, this is me. This is who I am". Hey, there are times that I'm not perfect, and I'm a raging bitch, but it has nothing to do with being an actress, I'm just a human being. Sometimes I have a really nasty day, and sometimes I'm only human. I hope people understand that and are aware I'm not perfect.And if they don't?
(Laughs) Sorry. Thanks for playing. See you next week!