Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku
By Lesley Goldberg
PaleyFest continued its “obsession” with Joss Whedon on Wednesday, honoring the writer-director for the second night and year in a row, this time for his rookie Fox series “Dollhouse,” which despite its behind-the-scenes drama brought out some of Whedon’s devoted fans.
Following a screening of Episode 8, “Needs,” Whedon (who was part of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” reunion panel at last year’s PaleyFest) said talks with the network and studio about the fate of the freshman bubble series are ongoing and that the show is not canceled.
“They’re waiting to see what happens,” he said, adding Fox has said the “numbers have been solid and the demographic is wonderful and the DVR ratings have been great.”
“So right now I’ve gone from a sort of place of ‘You don’t even care, nobody loves me’ [laughs] to a place of God, I can’t believe I’m saying this ... hope.
“We might actually get the chance to do what we’re dying to do, which is tell more of these stories with these crazy people because we have so many more yet to come,” Whedon said of the series in which Eliza Dushku (“Buffy”) plays an “active” whose memory is wiped and replaced to suit various “engagements.”
“Basically it’s what happens in the next few weeks; we have a new lead-in (replacing 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles'), we have a few more episodes coming up — whether it’s 12 or 13 — they are fierce,” he added. “They are ridiculous; I am so proud of them. We’re going to go out this season with a bang, and hopefully we’ll get to come back for Season 2.”
Whedon said Episode 13, which Fox has said will not air and instead be included on the DVD, was “made on the cheap” and is a “strange and to me extraordinarily lovely episode and they weren’t necessarily going to air it and Fox studios was kind of going, ‘This is DVD extras. … We’ll sell all the DVDs [mock laughter].’ And I’ve been saying that I want this to air as part of the season. … The jury is out on that.”
Whedon said Episode 12, titled “Omega,” does serve as a season finale but that the birth of the 13th episode was “very strange and they (the network) said, ‘Can’t you do a clip show?’ and I said, ‘That seems lame.’ [Laughs.] And they said, ‘Can’t you just show the pilot?’ And I’m like, ‘Not only would it make no sense but we’ve cannibalized it for parts and it appears in almost every episode.”
As for the 13th episode, titled “Epitaph One” and written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”), he said the DVD deal was for 13 episodes (the drama’s pilot episode, “Echo,” was scrapped and is considered the first episode despite never having aired), Whedon told Fox he could shoot a “weird post-apocalyptic horror movie on the sets on video with a whole new cast for about half pattern and pepper it with scenes of these people (the same cast) and do it while we’re filming everything else and it won’t cost you hardly anything and it will be the strangest, most awesome thing you’ve ever had. And they were like, ‘You had us at half pattern.’ ”
Going back to the drama’s roots, Dushku (Echo) said she missed working with Whedon and that he “saw sides of me that a lot of people don’t see. Everyone sort of just painted me in black leather pants and put me in a push-up bra and made me kick ass and he was like, ‘I want to put you in a floral dress and have you have daddy issues.’ ”
Addressing the constant personality change her character faces each week — sometimes multiple times per episode — Dushku joked that she “has multiple personalities. … My whole family sort of has ADHD and we all embrace it. He wanted to explore that, and so we did. … He let me be a tomboy and run through the woods and shoot, kill and fight people and he had me do things that were challenging to me, which is equally if not more fun for me.”
Miracle Laurie (Mellie/November) added that she has enjoyed the plot twists that have involved her character, specifically the recent reveal that Mellie, the innocent and charming neighbor who befriends FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett), is a “sleeper active.”
“It was hard not knowing what was coming and I would talk to my friends and family and say that I know I’m just making lasagna right now but I promise I get much cooler,” Laurie said. “I got the script and was just freaking out with every page. I was like are you kidding? We get to do it? I kill somebody? … It was thrilling and terrifying all at the same time.”
Dichen Lachman (Sierra) confessed she enjoyed the engagement where her active becomes a “dork.” “I’m just a big dork; it was like playing myself,” she said, adding that “Needs” really clears up Sierra’s background and why she’s at the Dollhouse.
“She’s the only one there against her will,” Lachman said. “She brings up a lot of ethical issues that the Dollhouse people struggle with.”
Fran Kranz (“science guy” Topher) added that his character’s lack of ethical boundaries goes back to Topher “essentially being a child. Because his intelligence and genius is so great, he’s never related to anyone,” he said. “He’s like a kid playing with his toys in a basement. Morality, good, bad, they’re almost irrelevant for him.”
Touching on the ever-changing nature of “Dollhouse,” Whedon said the drama’s original concept had Dollhouse only working in “fantasy.”
“For me, the original concept was that these are absolutely private engagements, they really don’t know,” Whedon said. “They (the Dollhouse masterminds) have a database that knows and they do things the way do so that nobody ever has to tell anybody what it is that they want or need. It really is a confessional.
“Peter Chernin, who was running (Fox parent) News Corp. said, ‘What if we didn’t do that. What if they are collecting the information and there was more going on?’ And it turned out to be very useful because it does add another layer, and that’s something that we explore in Episode 13.”
Other panelists included executive producers Sarah Fain and Liz Craft.