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Eliza Duskhu, Joss Whedon

Courtesy of Fox

Hear that? It's the sound of Joss Whedon fans around the world freaking the frak out. (And I am one of them!)

I'm thrilled to tell you that just this afternoon, Joss Whedon rang me up to break the news that after a long, Whedonless TV drought, we Buffy fans are finally getting another TV series created by Mr. Whedon himself. Hell. Yeah.

While you scream, hyperventilate and then (hopefully) recover, I will tell you this: The news gets even better.

Whedon's new Fox series, called Dollhouse, stars Miss Eliza Dushku, best known as Faith to you Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. And this show isn't just a pilot. It's already been given a seven-episode commitment by Fox. Woo!

Here's how Fox describes the series:

Echo (Eliza Dushku) [is] a young woman who is literally everybody's fantasy. She is one of a group of men and women who can be imprinted with personality packages, including memories, skills, language—even muscle memory—for different assignments. The assignments can be romantic, adventurous, outlandish, uplifting, sexual and/or very illegal. When not imprinted with a personality package, Echo and the others are basically mind-wiped, living like children in a futuristic dorm/lab dubbed the Dollhouse, with no memory of their assignments—or of much else. The show revolves around the childlike Echo's burgeoning self-awareness, and her desire to know who she was before, a desire that begins to seep into her various imprinted personalities and puts her in danger both in the field and in the closely monitored confines of the Dollhouse.

So, how did Dollhouse come about? When will it start, given the impending strike? And what are the chances a few Buffy alums might make it onto the show? To find out, read on for my exclusive one-on-one Q&As with creator and executive producer Joss Whedon and star and producer Eliza Dushku. (Pinch me.) You honestly won't believe how fast this all happened, or where the idea first began!

Oh, and P.S. to all you fans of writer/producer Tim Minear (Angel, Wonderfalls, Firefly, Drive). He tells us: "Joss has pathetically begged me to be involved. And I hate to see a slightly younger man weep like a girl. So I said, 'm'kay.' I'll be playing with dolls one way or t'other."

This might be too much goodness to bear, no?!


So, first of all, congratulations! I'm freaking out. And thanks for thinking of me for this news.
You're welcome, and thank you. I remember last time I saw you on the Office set, you said, "Come back to TV." So, it was all you. That's what caused it, so...

Ha! Well, thank you for doing this for me.
Yes, that's going to be the poster: "Dollhouse: It's for Kristin."

I love that you are reuniting with Ms. Eliza Dushku.
I know. How 'bout that?

Can you tell me how this all came about?
Through a rather time-honored tradition called "lunch." Eliza had her deal with Fox, and we went to lunch, as we sometimes do, to talk about her career and what her next step should be. Like, do I know writers, and what was the best way to protect herself, and what type of show. Eliza and I do this sometimes, because she's a friend and a great talent, and that's easily misused. She was trying to protect herself, and I was trying to get a free lunch. In the middle of lunch, I came up with the idea of this show and the title by accident.

Tell me this isn't that easy for you...that it just came to you in between bites.
I went to the bathroom and came back and said, "I figured it out." So, there it is. It took longer than between bites. It came so organically through our conversation, and what I know she is capable of, and what she was talking about and what people were expecting of her. It just kinda happened, and when it happens like that and it has a title, that's a big deal—if it has a title, you can't just turn your back on it. So, I told her, and she freaked out, and I told her I was busy with these films I am trying to set up, but Fox is interested, and Fox said let's do seven episodes instead of a pilot, and here I am.

So, you have a seven-episode commitment?

In your own words, how would you describe Dollhouse?
The idea is those with the money or connections can access this secret highly illegal facility where they can basically fulfill their greatest fantasies. Most people assume that means sex—and on an occasion it does, because that is a lot of people's fantasies—but it's basically scenarios. They can basically reenact scenarios of romance, adventure or anything perfectly, because they become the person that you want them to be—they become that person. They don't act like that person, they are not a robot pretending, they become that person, and then they forget all about it. The problem is the character of Echo, Eliza Dushku's character, stops forgetting. She doesn't completely remember, but she does realize she is a person, and that she might have been a person before she did this, and she doesn't know what that is.

Do you feel like this is a very different role for Eliza, or are there some commonalities with her Buffy or Tru Calling roles?
Every now and then she will be called upon to kick ass because one of the many personalities she can get downloaded with is sort of a Femme Nikita—she can be the best of whatever she does, and that includes sweat work—and whatever she is hired for and she isn't harmed, and the company isn't exposed, they don't really care what it is. Some of her jobs are sweet and uplifting, but yeah, sometimes she'll be a sweet girl, others she will be that down-home Eliza thing—go Sox—and sometimes she will be completely elegant, completely naive, completely helpless. She could be a neuroscientist, she could be ballroom dancing, she could be doing absolutely anything.

The thing about Eliza is that she has a lot of colors to play like most good actresses, but Eliza has kinda gotten pigeonholed. I see those big eyes, and I see the innocence they can play, the decency that is in them and the way that we can refer, and that isn't just hey, I'm the tough girl. There's much more there.

Why the decision to return to television now? Do you feel like you are finally ready to dig back in?
I have to say, when they told me seven, part of me was like tired, scared...basically because I haven't been in that world, and I have children, and I don't like to not be around them, which is problematic. But the fact is, it was also somebody saying we trust that you can tell this story, and we love this story, so go and tell it. That's a damn boat of confidence. That's a grown-up license fee, it was a big commitment, and they weren't afraid at any point. My experience with the movies hasn't gone quite as well. It isn't terrible to hear yes, instead of the other thing.

In terms of TV, I have tried to be very clear that there's nothing about TV that I don't love. I mean, I've always loved movies, and I still want to make movies—movies are cool, but TV has things that movies never have. The ability to really just delve into something and take it apart endlessly, which I adore. It's very organic.

I went home to my wife, and we've been talking about doing lower-budget movies and not being beholden by these tent-pole things that I couldn't get off the ground, and I said, "Honey, I accidentally created this Fox show," and she said great. She completely got it because it was completely organic. It was the next thing—you couldn't deny it. When an idea comes that fast and that fully, you don't ever say no.

The bathroom trip that changed Joss Whedon's life.
[Laughs.] I hate to say it, but occasionally there have been some inspirational bathroom trips. Or if I am at a restaurant with the writers, and they go, and when they come back and have figured it out. I think it's just getting a moment to yourself. Though, we have to stress it's not the act of going to the bathroom...that's not good! That's not what it is. 

I wanted to ask about the timing of this. This is being announced a day or two before the writers' strike. How will this affect the show?
All of this happened before the strike. They had to make my deal, and you can't say anything until the deal is done. Eliza has been sitting on this for a month, and it all happened in a week. We had lunch, and a few days later I wrote a treatment, and then I wrote an episode guide, a pilot outline and even a poster. I Photoshopped a poster one night. A couple days after that I went to Fox, and a couple days later they gave us the seven. Eliza and I were dying to get onto the Internet or do something, and everyone was like, there's no deal yet so you can't say anything. So...now, when they finally close the deal, there is no more writing involved.

Wait, what? You mean all seven scripts have been written?
No, no—are you kidding? I didn't spend that much time in the bathroom. All seven scripts have been pitched, all stories have been pitched.

So, if the strike were to take place, it would delay the project...
This would delay everything. This is certainly no exception to anything. The strike has to happen. I wish it didn't, but it has to, and it has to go on for as long as it has to. When that is done, this will start and a few months after that, we will be filming. If there were no strike, we would be looking at something like February.

So, you support the strike?
I will be busy picketing. I support the guild, and I think what we are doing is unfortunate, but necessary. And that means I don't get to have my fun, but that isn't the point. It is classic for me, by the way, to be going, "Yes! New show! With Eliza!" But...Strike.

This will give your fans a light at the end of the tunnel in the event of a strike.
If they feel they are getting comfortable with their routine of reality television, let them know about this. It's going to be really cool. It is freaking nuts to be doing a show with Eliza, but it just feels great.

Do you think any Buffy people might come on the show, or do you think you are going to try to separate?
I think it's important to separate, but if you have somebody who can do the job, that is the person you should hire. When it comes to the first flush, I think it's important to be a step forward, and not a reunion. We aren't playing games. I never rule anybody out, but my first instinct is to try out new people because it is me and Eliza.

I have to tell you this is like Christmas for Buffy fans. They have been waiting for you to come back to television—so, we have this news tonight, and we have your Office episode tomorrow night...it's like this perfect storm of a Whedonverse holiday.
If it was six more things, it would be Hanukkah. I'll work on that.


Congrats on the show—this is so exciting. First off, how did it come about?
It was the best scenario. Basically, I went in with Peter [Liguori] and all the heads over at Fox, and they really honestly and really confidently told me that they wanted me to come in as a producer and an actress. They told me to bring them the material that in my heart I wanted to do.

So, I sat on it for a couple of weeks. I knew Joss was working on other things, and his Wonder Woman stuff, but he's been a friend since I moved out here, when I was 17. He became my favorite writer/genius, and I've always said I'll follow that guy anywhere.  So, I called him just to have coffee, and talk about life and what I was going to do with this deal. And we got to talking. He just gets women, which is the most amazing thing. He gets them, and I think that was clear from all his past things, from Buffy.

He can use the science fiction, and he can use these metaphors or exaggerations—but he gets women, and he gets people. He gets down to the real human emotion and the real beating heart.

So, we talked about life, and we were telling each other crazy stories about the things we had done in the past time since we had talked, and the Internet and download that thing, and we talked about hunting, and that person with that fetish, and that thing we were trying to do, and that woman we knew, and that fear that we had, and all of the sudden, it was locked in, and the rest was history, and we have this crazy, exciting bomb-ass new show.

Are you already prepping to be Echo? 
Yes, I'm already training and getting ready for it. I'll be a different Echo every week, which is great for my ADHD personality, it's truly—the stars aligned in this one, the timing, the people, the creative ability, the potential is really there. I can't wait for the fans to finally hear about it, because I've been asked about it for years, is there going to be a spinoff. Everything happens for a reason, and timing is just right here.

It sounds like you guys developed it together. Can you talk about how you came up with Echo, and the concept of the actual Dollhouse, and not just the show?
We did kind of come up with it together, and that's one of the cool things—I'll be one of the producers of the show and it's eventually kind of a story of my life. I've had kind of a crazy life, traveling around the world with my mother at a young age, going on these crazy trips and adventures, and then being in this business. It is the story of who I am, in this business especially, like the objectification of people, and who people want to make other people into, and people clicking a button and thinking they can make something happen.

We have so much control in this day and age with the Internet and television and what we want and our desires and fantasies and thinking we can make them come true. And all of this, I think, just makes this such a smart concept, because it's all infiltrated in there, and it's part me and it's part the world. It's part people's fantasies, people's demons, their high times, their low times, their hilarious times and in between, mixed with—I gotta have some serious action, because that's just, like, I realized that a procedural show isn't right for me. I need to be jumping out of a car or kicking butt or making love.

It sounds like you'll get to do all of that with this. Another thing I liked about the pitch was that there's a whole bunch of you, you're all in this dollhouse, and you're all trying to find yourselves one way or the other. Can you talk about other parts, other casting? Anything like that yet?
Yeah, we have, and it's nice, again, that we kind of have similar tastes. I think that we all know, we can kind of see it and feel it and taste it, and it's just kind of about putting it together, and getting the orchestra and getting all the variables into the equation. But we're both major fans of some of the previous people that we've worked with in other shows, and we also have writers from Buffy that are going to be coming over and joining us. It's just going to be—it's gonna be fun to watch I think. Because I think people are going to be excited at what we have.

Everyone is super-super-excited I guarantee you—I squealed.
The Red Sox won the World Series again, and things are good—I have my boy [Brad Penny], and he's going to be playing baseball for the Dodgers next year, and I'll be here shooting my show for Fox. It's all gonna be good.

—Additional reporting by Jennifer Godwin