Dollhouse producer and star Eliza Dushku appears to have discovered her “authentic self.” Listening to Eliza cover a conference call interview on the second season of Dollhouse, one becomes aware of several things: the second season will be more “complicated, a little darker all around” than season one, Echo is finding her core self, and Eliza has found hers.
This woman can talk! Even over the telephone, she projects a sense of complete ease. For all I know, she may have been clad in a suit, seated at a boardroom table, but throughout the interview, I pictured her kicked back on the couch, feet on a coffee table chatting away. By turns articulate, rambling, insightful, and funny, she guided a nest of reporters through the maze that is Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse.
Season two of Dollhouse premiered last Friday, 9/27 at 9 pm on FOX with a riveting episode guest starring Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica). In the episode, we learned that Echo, the “Active” played by Dushku, retains memories of the personalities that have been imprinted upon her during her tenure in the Dollhouse courtesy of a rogue Active named Alpha. We also witnessed the assimilation of former FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) into the Dollhouse as Echo’s handler. According to Dushku, Ballard’s actions within the Dollhouse and his alliance with Echo will form a major story arc in season two.
As both producer and star of the series, Eliza Dushku is clearly passionate about her show. Dollhouse was conceived at a lunch meeting between Dushku and Whedon. Dushku, who considers Whedon a “friend, a brother, a teacher, a mentor,” was talking about her feelings about the demands placed upon women by society to conform to external ideals, to mold themselves into someone else’s notion of identity, and her own struggles to find her “authentic self.” At the same time, the two had met with the notion of developing a series for FOX. Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) took the conversation and in Whedon-esque fashion created a series based upon the premise of an entity that erases human personalities and replaces them with “imprints” tailored to the clients’ precise specifications.
Dushku, who describes Whedon as “wildly creative, and smart, and feminist, and funny, and dark, and scary, and twisted,” believes that “as a man it’s so extraordinary that he taps into that in such a profound and intelligent way and I can’t think of anyone else that gets that and can create an entire … fantasy show that encompasses such a universal and serious … thing in our society.”
As she describes the differences in the show in season two, Dushku seems to overflow with ideas. There’s “so much being cracked open and explored.” Regarding the persona of Echo, she is “becoming self-aware, but not necessarily as Caroline [the woman whose memories have been wiped to make way for Echo’s imprints], but as Echo, as her own person.” Indeed, Dushku implies more than once that as Echo becomes aware of her status as an Active and as she remembers her previous imprints and flashes of her identity as Caroline, it is not Caroline that reemerges. Later in the conversation, Dushku states that Echo is “becoming an entirely different character.” Indeed, Dushku hints that perhaps there is a dark side to Caroline’s backstory. Echo “starts to realize that there are things about Caroline that she’s discovering … are … unsavory…or that are not Echo.” As Echo retains her imprints, the writers “pick pieces from each of her experiences and weave them into her character.” She becomes an “Echo who’s the sum of all the parts.”
When asked about the differences in playing a more aware Echo this season, she reflects that it is easier this year to find a connecting thread within the imprints, that Echo is not as much “dumbed down doll Echo.” There is a “core Echo… There’s something grounded in that… You always know … that there’s something is going on inside Echo.” She describes the work as “deeper… more interesting and more challenging” this year.
This season the series is shot in HD which has given the cast more time when shooting. Dushku feels that this added time combined with Echo’s developing personality has made her performance stronger and more honest. So honest that when filming the tense scene in the season premiere in which Jamie Bamber’s character catches Echo snooping in his study, she “sort of famously now burst into tears in the middle of the scene.”
When asked if there has been an imprint role that was more difficult to play than others, she said that playing a mother in Episode 2 “Instinct” (Friday 10/2, 9pm ET/PT) and “trying to tap into that maternal instinct was a challenge but also a thrill and a beautiful thing.” Tapping into maternal instinct may have been difficult, but Dushku seems to have no problems tapping into the various aspects of her multi-faceted personality. Leaping from her serious exploration of delving into the role of a mother, she suddenly blurted with a laugh that “mother was harder than serial-killer sorority girl.” When asked about mishaps on set, Dushku noted that “trying to breast feed someone else’s infant is difficult…yeah, I’ll just leave it at that.”
As reported in an earlier interview with Joss Whedon, season two will continue the tradition of a strong lineup of guest stars to the Dollhouse. Miracle Laurie will reprise her role as November/Mellie in Episode 2, and Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica) will guest star in Episode 3. An eagerly anticipated Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles) will appear mid-season as the programmer of a Dollhouse in Washington D.C. When asked about her working relationship with Glau, Dushku was effusive. According to Dushku, Glau “came in with her A-game. She’s just a sweet, positive, fun actress. She’s great to play off of.” She also hinted at a link between Echo/Caroline and Glau’s character. “Our characters have some backstory that we have to fight out and so that’s a lot of fun.”
Word of warning to devoted fans: Dushku was adamant about the importance of the fans to the show, and the quality of the Dollhouse viewership. However, when asked whether fan comments on the Internet influenced the direction of the show, this was her reply: “When [Joss Whedon] sees someone falling in love with a character, he’s known to assassinate them [laughs] or do something terrible.” So, if you love a character, for heaven’s sake, don’t post it on a blog!
In the new season, Echo is “in an entirely vulnerable place.” If the wrong person or persons discover her retention of memories and her mission to help the other Actives, she “could be sent up to the attic and … cancel Christmas!” Season two is likely to heat up as Echo learns “who she can trust, who she can manipulate, who she can use.” She emphasized the connection between Echo and Ballard. But, “one bad step and she’s done.”
In teaming with Joss Whedon to produce Dollhouse, Eliza Dushku has made no bad step, nor — based on the season opener — is Dollhouse faltering along the path. Episode 2 airs Friday 10/2 9pm ET/PT, episode 3 will follow on 10/9. The show will be pre-empted for Major League Baseball on 10/16, but will return with new episodes the following Friday.