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From the Archives: Eliza Dushku — Staying "Tru" to Herself

Kicking vampiric ass as Faith on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, waving her pom-poms in Bring It On or travelling backwards in time to try and prevent murders from occurring on Tru Calling just seems like another day in the life of Eliza Dushku.
Interview conducted by and © Edward Gross

Whether she’s tapping into her dark side or playing someone a little lighter, all of it is somehow related to who she is as a person at any given moment.

“It depends on what comes up, where I am and what I’m giving off,” says Dushku in this interview conducted at the time of Tru Calling. “Sometimes they seem to be different manifestations of my different personalities. I think we all do have interesting people in us. I try to mix it up, keep it fun, keep it real, keep it interesting. But it’s always a circumstance where the grass is greener. When you’re on a comedy, you’re like, ‘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. It makes it fun and kind of interesting. For me, I think I have to see a street-wise element to the character. I like to see intelligent young women in roles and as characters. I gravitate towards that street-wise element.”

Although she has appeared in a number of films, it was the role of Faith on Buffy that truly allowed Dushku to start discovering aspects of herself.

“Buffy really came out of the blue,” offers the Boston, Massachusetts native. “I mean, it had been two years since I ha worked. Sarah Michelle Gellar and I have an agent and manager in common, and so I had met her probably years before. I originally went on for five shows in season three an then they kind of came up and said, ‘Would you be the villain this season?’ and I’m going, ‘Yeah, that would be amazing. I knew that it would be a fun job to take on and by that point I knew that I loved working with those people. So I stayed on and just through the writers and I, we just kin of created this character that the fans really responded to. And for me, it was almost like a little bit of therapy. When I first started playing Faith, I had just graduated high school. I was 17-years-old, I moved away from the first time All of a sudden I’m out of the house and I’m moving out to LA. I was actually enrolled to a 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 I was 10 years old, so I had that element of just being different in an environment where any kind of difference you have makes you kind of an outcast and an automatic target.

“I really built up this tough shell and it was all so bullshit,” Dushku adds. “It was a bit of a façade, 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 to me.’ I was kind of this really hard, little Boston chick. It worked really well for Faith and for the creation of that character. Joss Whedon really kind of zoned into that and we worked with it. Truthfully, though, I get misunderstood sometimes because everyone says, ‘Oh, you just love to play the bad girl because she’s so bad and because it’s just so fun to be evil,’ and I say, ‘No, it’s not just about that.’ It’s about, I think, that I have a connection to a bad girl character that makes it more than just so black and white, and more than just so evil. I think that people that were watching Faith were really surprised when, at times, they felt sympathy for her, or they felt compassion and it wasn’t just, ‘Oh, here is this black and white monster, bad girl.’ I think that it’s more about just playing interesting women and having contrast so that there is more to the girl next door.”

Dushku, who was born on December 30, 1980, made her acting debut in 1992’s That Night. A year later she was in This Boy’s Life, which was followed by 1994’s True Lies and Fishing With George, 1995’s Bye Bye Love, 1996’s Race the Sun, 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Soul Survivors. With the exception of Buffy, Tru Calling represents her most serious commitment to television. So serious, in fact, that she actually turned down a Faith series, which, according to executive producer Tim Minear, would have been drastically different from its progenitor series. “I had come up with a pitch,” reflects Minear. “Eliza was gracious, kind of wonderful but just felt she wanted to try something new. There are 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 arc-like at some point, but the idea of her rooted some place seemed wrong to me. The idea of her constantly on the move seemed right to me. Oh, and she broke out of prison [on Angel], so there would have been people after her.”

“I feel kind of bad,” says the actress, who, on Tru Calling, plays a morgue attendant who is spoken to by corpses and then propelled backwards in time to save them, “but I also needed 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 hot be following in Buffy’s footsteps. I love the show and have so much respect for the writers and everyone, but if it was going to be that kind of a commitment – which God knows these kind of things are – I felt it needed to be something new. For me, I never wanted to kind of lock myself down into television because of the long contracts and commitments – it’s six years – and I’m a really severe sufferer of ADD. What if I don’t want to do this anymore, but I’ve signed on the dotted line. But when Tru Calling came up, it was such a cool story and character.

“I have a lot of similarities to Faith,” Dushku admits, “but this character kind of has more room for growth and different directions that I feel are closer to me. Something about it really affected me and grabbed me when I first read it. It felt more of a coming of age role, in that age of 22, 23, 24 that hasn’t really been done before. I think it’s a really important time for girls, because my best friends and I, for the past year or two, have been having all these identity crises where we’re getting to this age where we’re changing. We used to play this whole flip, sassy, tough girl routine, but now you get to this age and you start to feel responsibilities for the things that you do and for people around you that you don’t even know that you wouldn’t have thought of before. It’s a cool age; it’s a cool kind of psychology to look into and that was really interesting to me about this role.”

Given her admitted determination not to stay in one place for two long, it’s surprising that she would sign on to a series. “I kind of was surprised, too,” she laughs. “It wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. There were a lot of conversations 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 young 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 state of affairs in the world right now. I just felt like everyone’s doing the grind and working to get by. I’m a worker bee at heart; I love going to work everyday. When I’m not working, that’s when I start obsessing in my head and over-analyzing every little thing that I’m not doing and all the things I should be doing. But Tru Calling is something that I know I can love, and really turn out because I have the energy and drive for it right now. I thought, ‘Why not?’ I feel like there’s nothing to lose. I know it’s not going to be shit, just because of the people involved. It’s not going to be godawful crap. It’s really got the potential to be badass.”

And badass is a word that so sums up much of the career of Eliza Dushku.

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