Leap of Faith
The actress sounds off on Albanian pride, bad-girl roles and her return to Boston.
Born and bred in Watertown, actress Eliza Dushku, 33, has returned from Los Angeles to further her education and will begin working toward a bachelor’s degree in Boston. She began acting at age 10 and is perhaps best known for playing Faith Lehane on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel. Other TV credits include Tru Calling, That 70s Show, Ugly Betty, The Big Bang Theory and Dollhouse, on which she also served as a producer. She has lent her voice to numerous video games, and she can currently be heard on the Disney series Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. On the big screen, she has appeared in True Lies, Wrong Turn, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Bring It On, and she recently wrapped production on Jane Wants a Boyfriend. Together with her brother, Nate, she is developing a biopic about incendiary artist Robert Mapplethorpe with her production company, Boston Diva. An honorary ambassador to Albania, she’s active in numerous charities, including one started by her mother to help children in Uganda.
I think there are all kinds of divas. I named my company when I was 17 years old. I was a different kind of diva in my Buffy the Vampire Slayer days, but yes, I think I’m outspoken and know what I want. I won’t compromise on certain things. Never a wallflower. Always involved, on the move and getting things done.
It can be a disadvantage, because you’re exposed to a lot at an early age, and a lot of child actors never make it past that to become adult actors, so I’d say it depends. I’ve seen both.
No. I can only go by my own experience and what it was like for me. I don’t give advice to people I don’t know.
It was my time to straighten out. I realized that I wasn’t living the life I was meant to. That’s part of why I’ve moved back to Boston and will be starting university in the fall. I’ve been talking about it for 15 years. It’s a whole new trajectory for me that makes me really happy.
No. I’m a proud Albanian-Danish American. When I was 12, a lot of people told me to change my name, and Arnold Schwarzenegger overheard someone saying that to me. He said, “Nevah evah evah change your name. Trust me, people will learn it.”
We’re in the home stretch on our Dear Albania documentary, so my first duty is to make sure it does well. It’s airing on PBS and across Albania and Eastern Europe. Secondly, I’m co-hosting the Albanian-American Success Stories Gala in New York. I do exactly as the title suggests. I’m a connector. I’m a loud and proud Albanian, and that hasn’t always been cool. In the United States, it didn’t get more minority than to be Albanian, but it’s funny to see all these closet Albanians coming out. Just a few years ago, Robert De Niro declared he was part Albanian at Cannes. I’m an advocate for Albanian culture.
It’s a project that my brother, Nate, brought to me eight years ago. I’ve become educated on his work and life, and he’s an iconic, historic artist. It’s just a great project.
I was too young when it happened, but I certainly know all about it now. My mother remembers it firsthand. But at this point, we pretty much know all there is to know about his career and life.
I’m not using words like weird and creepy and rabid. I’m replacing them with enthusiastic and intense and loyal. They have a different kind of appreciation for this body of work, and it’s resonated with them on a very deep level. It’s helped a lot of them discover who they are or want to be. In terms of a weird experience, I get marriage proposals at my Comic-Con panels. My attitude is “Let your freak flag fly!” I love it! I love them, and I’m so grateful. Best fans in the world.
I grew up with three big brothers in a neighborhood of gamers, and we rocked from the Apple IIC to Nintendo to Sega… I was a little gamer geek, and so sometimes it’s a payday, but a lot of the time, I’ve done it because I like having my nieces and nephews be able to play me. [Laughs]
The voice of She-Hulk, so my little nieces and nephews can see it. I loved having my 5-year-old nephew say, after seeing me as the only badass green girl with all the Hulks, “Aunt Eliza, I’m so glad that you’re a girl. There’s just some things girls can do that boys can’t.”
Probably has to do with growing up with a very strong feminist mother and so many males who respected women. I never really felt that cultural stigma of “I’m a girl and therefore can’t do such and such.” It didn’t originate from being a bad girl. I think it came from being encouraged to be outspoken, smart, bold and fearless, and that translated. I remember walking into my first audition here in Boston, and a lot of the girls were in dresses, with their mothers there. My brother brought me. I’d come straight from the playground, in a dirty T-shirt and cut-offs. Lucky for me, they were looking for a tomboy, but I had a sense of myself and it wasn’t a societal standard. I think it made me stand out.
People sharing their stories. That was sort of an advantage that I was blessed with by my mother and my family. Growing up, my mother would chaperone students on trips around the world, and she could always bring a kid for free, so we traveled—but not to Cancun or Hawaii. The joke in our family was that summer vacation would be somewhere there had just been a revolution, and if there hadn’t, my mother would start one. But we would meet people with every kind of background. I was raised to listen to people’s stories and to be curious about their lives.
Are we really going from that question to this? [Laughs] You’re trouble. My two Maxim covers are not viewed so kindly in the Dushku household. My brothers were like, “Really?”
Bring It On
[Laughs] I mean, I wouldn’t be alone in that.
Intimidated? I can’t really think of one. I worked with Leonardo DiCaprio when I was a kid, but with my college professor mother, we didn’t know who he was. I spent three months on a movie playing Robert De Niro’s daughter and had absolutely no clue. I was running around, kicking him in the shins and stealing his Zippo.
After living in Los Angeles for 15 years, I definitely grew out of being an L.A. hater, but I think there’s a level of truthfulness and individuality here that is refreshing in a business where everyone conforms to certain standards.
I don’t know. My father had a really thick Boston accent. He grew up in the South End. My mother’s not from Boston, and so I think growing up in the house with her, and also because we traveled a lot and heard different accents, I lost it pretty quickly. But at my first audition, the casting notes were “Great instincts. Fine little actress. Horrible New England accent.” [Laughs] I had a coach who followed me around on set, when I was nine or ten, on my first movie, and every time I said “fathah,” “brothah,” “heah,” “theah,” “pahk,” I got zapped.
Oh, things are “wicked pissah” every day. [Laughs]
I’ve done comedy and I’ve done drama, but I’ve always wanted to work with Scorsese. Fingers crossed. I’ve also always wanted to work with the Farrelly brothers. I love those guys. But I have a new life right now. I’m on kind of a different path for the time being.
I’d rather be physically cold than emotionally stagnant. I just sort of come alive when I’m home.