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Badass action babe Eliza Dushku talks Bring It On, Ahnold S., and Prop. 8 and entices to take a look at her new series, Dollhouse.

Actress Eliza Dushku began her career working opposite acting heavyweight Robert De Niro in This Boy's Life and heavyweight action star Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies. Since then she's built an impressive (and seriously fit) body of work playing some badass chicks with an irresistible combination of Schwarzenegger-ian physicality and De Niro-ian thoughtfulness. Among her better-known tough-girl turns are reluctant cheerleader Missy in gay favorite Bring It On and vampire slayer Faith in Joss Whedon's beloved series Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Dushku recently reteamed with Whedon for the entertaining and provocative new action/sci-fi series Dollhouse, in which she plays Echo, a young woman working as an operative for a mysterious outfit known as the Dollhouse. In each episode Echo is imprinted with a different personality and skill set to match the requirements of the agency's high-paying clients. It's a clever scenario with obvious parallels to the acting world Dushku's inhabited since the age of 10, and it's a kick watching her strut her stuff each week as anyone from a human hunting target to a backup singer for a Beyonce-like pop star. In addition, the actress has assumed a new kind of persona behind the scenes: She's coproducing the show with Whedon. recently had the chance to chat with this self-proclaimed "worker bee" about her dual role as actress and producer on Dollhouse, the politics of her former costar turned Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, and her take on whether Bring It On 's Missy did, perhaps, speak a little "dykeadelic.", Eliza, what's been your favorite Echo imprint to play thus far?Eliza Dushku: Oh, my gosh, I think we've done 38 of them in these first 13 episodes. There have been so many! Episode 6 is a particularly exciting one, in which I get to make contact with [actor] Tahmoh Penikett's character, Agent Paul Ballard. The imprint they send me to meet him in is this fierce, hyperintelligent assassin. There's also an episode on the complete opposite side of the spectrum where I play this blind cultist that's sent into a Waco-style compound -- they imprint cameras into my eyeballs and send me in as a blind woman. The character is such a pure, true believer in this cult, and the role is so far from anything I've ever played.

What's harder to play: Echo imprinted or Echo as a blank slate? Obviously, when you play an imprint, it already has all these feelings and choices and memories, so you know what you're doing -- even if some can be more challenging than others. But it's absolutely been difficult creating Echo, who starts out as this sort of 6-year-old -- this young woman in a childlike, optimistic blank state. But the coolest part is, from episode 2 on, Echo's self-awareness is, like, slowly and in little pieces, coming out. She's actually pretty complicated and pretty fascinating and pretty badass.

Think she'll ever inhabit a gay persona? Absolutely. We had one script that didn't quite make it this round -- it wasn't quite what Fox wanted for the first six episodes. It wasn't the issue itself that was the problem -- the script just didn't quite fit. But if you know Josh and my own feelings on this issue -- it's part of our society, our culture, our lives, and it's so relevant, so we hope to tell that story in the next thirteen.

In Greek mythology Echo is a nymph cursed to repeat what others say, which makes her a little bit like an actress stuck with a script she didn't write. How has producing the show given you more of a voice in terms of shaping your character? First and foremost, Joss and I came up with this idea together -- but I have to be realistic and say he is absolutely the genius behind many of the finer details of the project as a whole. But the show's a little biographical and makes strong parallels with my life. As producer, I'm involved in the sense that Joss and I talk almost every day -- ever since we had our four-hour lunch [to develop the concept] and the following week when he sent me the pitch before taking it to Fox. I sort of live my life and articulate my struggles and my fears and my thoughts with Joss and he listens to me and we have this friendship. We also have a very like-minded view of what those stories translate into and what they're saying about who we are and where our culture is leading us with the addition of technology and identity. Sexuality was also an important theme I told Joss I hoped we could explore with my character -- you know, face some of the taboos and beliefs that we support or don't support.

You've made a career playing some tough chicks -- was Eliza Dushku the kind of girl who ever actually played with a dollhouse? I played with G.I. Joes, Transformers, and Star Wars figures with my three big brothers [laughs]. I remember having a neighbor that had a big dollhouse and there was this sort of intrigue and fascination with it. When my brothers weren't looking, I'd go down to my neighbor's house and play with it. That is the sort of dichotomy Joss recognizes in me -- you know, "OK, Eliza, you've been typecast as this strong, kick-ass woman, but if you see through the cracks, there's this femininity, vulnerability, and innocence." In the past couple years I've been ready to let that come through more.

Early in your career you worked opposite acting legend Robert De Niro in This Boy's Life. Did you realize the significance of it at the time, or was he just some old man coworker? I had no idea. We were the family that, like, didn't have TV. Literally, we saw two movies growing up -- Amadeus and The Gods Must Be Crazy. My mother didn't know who De Niro was, I didn't know who De Niro was. I was this precocious little kid and this guy was playing my dad and I had no idea he was one of the greatest actors of our time. When I worked with him again, at 19 [in 2002's City by the Sea ], we laughed about it. I remember seeing him on the first day and going, "Hey, Bob, I'm back, I'm bigger, I'm louder, but I also know who you are now, so I'm gonna, like, get into it" [ laughs ]. He just couldn't stop rolling his eyes.

What about working with Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies -- did he give you any advice on being an action heroine? Well, I spent four weeks on that shoot hanging from a harrier jet on top of a Miami Savings Bank with Arnold, a stunt team, and Jim Cameron. In terms of learning what it takes to make a true action movie, that was pretty good training. And Arnold was fantastic -- the guy is so fun to work with -- he brings the energy and the humor and the enthusiasm every day. He truly is a man who worked hard to get where he is. And he is grateful. I remember him saying little things, like, "Eliza, I truly try to learn something new and be better every day." Another little thing that he gave me early on is -- well, you know, I sort of tripped and fell into this business and my mother is the antithesis of a stage mother, so we were sort of learning as we went along and people would always tell her, "Your kid has a funny name, Judy -- you should think about changing it." And Arnold said to me and my mom [in the famed Austrian accent] "Eliza, Judy, trust me, keep her name, people will learn it, take it from me" [ laughs ].

On that same note, do you have any advice for our Governator in terms of current California politics? I hope that he truly stays connected and makes the necessary strides to [repeal] Prop. 8 in California. That's the one thing I'd really rally for him to advocate for -- legalizing gay marriage. It's a big deal, a big fucking deal.

Well, I think you pretty much sealed your gay fan base with your role as the tough and sassy Missy in Bring it On -- was that movie as fun to make as it is to watch? You have to understand, when that script first came down the pike, it was called Cheer Fever and it was so over-the-top and so campy and so ... it was just hilarious. When we set out to make it, we had Peyton Reed, our director, who just was the perfect man and I give him such credit, and the cast that he sort of made -- but we didn't have the studio breathing down our neck, because no one really had any idea that the movie had the potential to be what it became. We just had the freedom to go spend three months in San Diego and blow it out. We were like kids in a candy store -- cheer camp, beautiful weather, this insane and hilarious script and -- yes, it was so much fun.

For the record, do you think Missy secretly spoke a little "dykeadelic"? I don't know. I didn't really see that -- she was just sort of the anti-cheerleader. As much as I know I'm gonna break a lot of hearts, I didn't really see any of the sort of homoerotic love between she and Kirsten Dunst's character that a lot of our fans did. Likewise, with Faith and Buffy -- I know people have sort of created this, like, subtext of deep love between Faith and Buffy or Missy and Torrance [ laughs ], but it's just the fans ...

I recently screened the first three episodes of Dollhouse, and in the second one you spend the majority of the time being chased through the woods by a serial killer. Did shooting that episode give you any flashbacks to Wrong Turn ? It did, I have to say. Only I was relieved and grateful to be shooting that here in Los Angeles, where there's no poison ivy. Because we spent three months in Toronto running through the woods shooting Wrong Turn, and we were covered in poison ivy from head to toe. I remember doing David Letterman for City by the Sea in the middle of production and he said, "How are you doing?" and I said to him, "To be quite honest, I've had two cortisone shots and I have had doctors coming into the hotel." So the flashbacks were there, minus the absolutely excruciating poison ivy.

How do you feel about all these direct-to-video sequels to your films? Have you seen Bring It On Again or Wrong Turn 2 ? Are you even aware of them? I'm aware of them. I sort of tried to watch parts and pieces of them. It's exciting that people want them - it obviously means that there was a fierce response to the originals. And I understand the business and marketing behind making follow-ups and sequels. The truth is, in both cases the scripts for the sequels were never sent to us [the original actors]. I guess they were sort of always planned as straight to DVD. From what I've heard, I don't think they quite captured the same essence as the originals.

So, sexy lady, you're Maxim 's March 2009 cover girl. Is that something you enjoy doing or just an accepted part of the job?

Both. For one, I worked really hard to get in the shape that I'm in for Dollhouse. And you also have to keep in mind what you're promoting -- obviously Maxim has a huge male readership, and a show called Dollhouse may not have resonated with them based on the title alone, so we wanted to give them a little bit of eye candy and entice them in that way. Also, I'm pretty comfortable in my birthday suit and in my body. I've never been the most modest child [ laughs ].

Speaking of birthday suits, it was recently announced in the trades you're producing a biopic about iconic gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe -- tell us a little bit about what drew you to that project. Well, the screenplay was actually brought to my brother Nate (also an actor), based on his relationship with the screenwriter. We've had this project for a number of years and we've been waiting for the right time and opportunity to get it off the ground. I've always been interested in people who were pioneers of controversial but relevant creative expression. Our story is about the controversy of his work and his life and his formative years -- how he got started, his relationship with Patti Smith, how he came into the art scene and what led up to the censorship trial in Cincinnati, where his exhibit was shut down. We want to take his two-dimensional photographs and tell the story of his life, you know, what he represented. He noticed and photographed the differences in us before a lot of other people recognized them. and today, we think of ourselves as so advanced and liberal and open, but he was one of the first people who paved the way for us to accept the variety of different ways people live.

That sounds really cool. Quickly, back to Dollhouse -- any hints as to what the remaining episodes of season 1 hold in store for Echo? Joss and I have been very vocal about the fact that the show really takes off for us in episodes six through 13. That's where we really start to achieve what we set out to do -- which is get deeper into this world, get deeper into this mystery of who Echo really is and how she starts to form her own identity. I've been getting e-mails and texts from Joss and the writers -- they're editing the latter episodes right now and they're pretty excited. We, of course, wanted everyone to come to the party when we first debuted, but we want to reinforce that the party gets better and better as it goes. We have the commitment from Fox to let the show grow, and we hope people will join us -- we're doing something different, something pretty extraordinary, I'd say, in the humblest way possible [ laughs ].

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