Eliza Dushku loves people, especially her fans.
This is why the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Bring It On" star is already back in the city so soon after her appearance at Toronto's Fan Expo convention in August. This time she's here for the Toronto Comicon, which is this weekend (March 7 - 9, 2014) at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
She'll be appearing Saturday and Sunday to connect with fans and thank those among them who raised over $100,000 via Twitter for her ThriveGulu non-profit organization in Uganda over the holiday season. We caught up with her the morning after the Oscars to talk about her charity work, and her strategy for meeting people at conventions, among other things.
HuffPost Canada TV: When you come to conventions what do the fans ask you about most? Are most questions about "Buffy," or do they ask more about "Bring it On" and other stuff?
Eliza Dushku: I usually get the gamut. I mean, I've had 22 years in this business. I've worked with Joss [Whedon] and his world in that genre three different times. I also did another show that's sort of in a similar fan genre with "Tru Calling," so it's usually pretty spanned. "Buffy" and my role as Faith was certainly a big one, but there are a lot of "Dollhouse" fans. I think there's always a lot of curiosity about what i'm doing currently. I really admire the way the fans have joined me in social justice endeavours and the charitable work that I've been involved in. We've raised over $100,000 on Twitter for our non-profit in Uganda. People really get involved and show up for all the things that have been under my umbrella over the last 22 years.
What do you think it really is that draws people to you? Do you have a personal philosophy or way of carrying yourself that people identify with and makes them want to contribute to your causes?
I think people hear and feel the genuine nature of my passion for the causes. Specifically with the non-profit in Uganda, my mother is the president and she was an African politics professor for almost 50 years, so I think people know that I align myself with people who know what they're talking about. I think people see that I'm not just -- I mean, not that there are bad actresses who pretend that they're involved in a non-profit -- but I think people know that I'm not an actress involved in an African organization that I phone in. We've been really there from the inception, we've returned and we really carefully follow what's going on. I'm on the board of this organization, so people see the authenticity. They've been extraordinary and really so generous and I love to thank them in-person.
I know fans can go all-out at these conventions when it comes to showing their devotion to their favourite celebrity, so what are some of the craziest things you have received from your biggest fans?
I receive really powerful personal letters. I think that always takes the cake. It blows me away ... some of the comments. Someone will come and I sense their whole tone and energy when they're handing me this letter. I read things from people that talk about how different characters I've played make them feel empowered as women or as men, or helped overcome a challenge in their lives. There are a lot of LGBTQ youth and people that say, "When I was young and feeling really different your character made me feel strong and empowered." Those are always most memorable and powerful. The costumes and the people dressed as different characters is entertaining and fun and I get a kick out of it, but I also really love the really personal and emotional people that come up.
I guess those sort of reactions really let you know that you're making an impact.
They're one of the reasons I kept doing what I was doing. After I graduated high school and came out to do "Buffy," I was enrolled at my mom's university and I was going to go get a real job. I never thought of acting and never really wanted to be an actor. I sort of tripped and fell into it, but I always anticipated that I'd follow in the footsteps of my mother and travel the world and help people by being involved in social, perhaps even political, causes. Then, it was after I played Faith on "Buffy" and I started having that kind of response from people that I realized that I was doing something, not equally powerful, but powerful enough that I was making a difference in the world.
And you don't seem to mind that Faith seems to be the type of role that you may be defined by for the rest of your life.
It's the gift that keeps on giving, man.
Do you still get a lot of offers to take on those strong, female superhero-type characters?
I have and I do. It's an easier thing for people to think they can conceive and do properly than they can actually execute. If you read the character on the page, you'll see a lot of examples where they're trying to make a strong, empowered female character, but look closer and you'll start to see the cracks and inconsistencies. To me it's really important, as I've had experiences where I've trusted that someone wanted to make a certain kind of character and you get there and it's like, "Well..." I don't know, there's an inconsistency. It's so frustrating. I've tried to be discerning and I'd rather pause and do other things with my time and my life than just take a job to take a job.
When you attend these conventions and participate in panels and Q&As, I'm sure you hear the same questions over and over again, so how do you connect in an authentic way and keep it fresh?
I just talk to people. Sometimes you get a question you've answered before, but I think the fans follow along and they get a chuckle out of hearing someone ask a question that they've already heard me answer before. It just depends on the day, who asked the question and what the tone is, but it usually doesn't bother me because it's just talking to people. I don't see it as a performance, or trying to come up with a cool answer because I'm just talking to my people that are there to support me and have a -- well, it's not a one-on-one necessarily, but when someone steps up to the mic it is one-on-one, except there are 100 people sitting around. I try to see from each person what they're really asking and be there for them a little bit.
Meet Eliza Dushku this weekend, March 8 and 9, 2014 at the Toronto Comicon in The Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Tickets can be purchased at www.comicontoronto.com or at the on-site box office during the show.
Daenerys Targaryen, ‘Game of Thrones’
<em>"I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the blood of Old Valyeria. I am the dragon's daughter, and I swear to you that those who would harm you will die screaming." </em>
Carrie Mathison, ‘Homeland’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: To prepare for her role, Claire Danes met with CIA officers, watched videos made by bipolar disorder patients and consulted with renowned author Julie Fast, who also suffers from the disorder. Furthermore, her character’s condition was not specified during the series’ initial episodes, but Danes (who considered a psychology major at Yale) had decided that Carrie was Bipolar 1.
Michonne, ‘The Walking Dead’
Armed with a katana and two jawless pet zombies, the silent-but-deadly Michonne began as a comic fan-favorite and has since become a pop culture staple since making her grand debut slicing up walkers on the second season finale of AMC’s hit series. She’s also been named No. 86 on IGN’s “Top 100 Comic Book Heroes.”
Sydney Bristow, ‘Alias’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: Creator J.J. Abrams claims to have come up with the idea for the show from a half-joking story for his series <em>Felicity</em>, considering an episode where Felicity spends her summer as a government agent only to return to school the next fall as if nothing ever happened.
River Tam, ‘Firefly’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: Actress Summer Glau was a classically trained ballerina before channeling her grace into her character’s own elegant fight choreography as the unassumingly deadly River Tam.
<em><strong>Gary</strong>: “Nikita, baby, that was 10 years ago.” <strong>Nikita</strong>: “It was 11; I'm 27 now. And if you call me baby again, I'll break something else.”</em>
Brenda Leigh Johnson, ‘The Closer’
<em>“I`d like to start with you, Ms. Powell. I`d like to say how sorry I am that I was unable to ignore your general level of incompetence in the wrongly obtained conviction in the case of Bill Croelick. And I`m sorry if you felt hurt and defensive about putting a man on death row for the wrong crime and I certainly hope that that will never ever happen again. Agent Jackson, I, I deeply regret that the FBI handed over two million dollars to a man on a terrorist watch list without the capacity to trace it, or managed to follow him for months without knowing his wife was having an affair with the doctor. And I hope you do much better in the future. Captain Taylor, I suppose I should apologize to you for not having been born in Los Angeles, but, having seen your work up close now for several months, I can honestly say that, try as I might, I can`t think of *any* fair and reasonable system on Earth where I wouldn`t outrank you. There, I hope that clears everything up. Well, excuse me, I mean, uh, I have to go. Thank you very much, Thank you.” </em>
Lt. Starbuck, ‘Battlestar Gallactica’
A radical (gender) change from the original 1978 character, actress Katee Sackhoff channeled her predecessor with the same hot-headed and cocky demeanor that made the insubordinate, cigar-smoking, card-playing rebel a fan-favorite. This wasn’t the case at first, as she was booed at the reboot’s 2004 San Diego Comic Con presentation. That backlash was short-lived, however, once viewers saw the newly envisioned and complex Starbuck in action, ultimately setting a new standard for feminist TV icons.
Captain Kathryn Janeway, ‘Star Trek: Voyager’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: Played by Kate Mulgrew, Captain Janeway is one of many female captains throughout the franchise’s expanded universe, but the only one to serve as the central hero of a <em>Star Trek</em> TV series.
Veronica Mars, ‘Veronica Mars’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: Amanda Seyfried initially auditioned for the role of Veronica Mars.
Abby Sciuto, ‘NCIS’
As the resident forensic specialist on the hit primetime series, fan-favorite Abby is no empty lab coat. Dressed in her signature gothic style and armed with an enthusiastic (yet endearing) interest in death, it’s no surprise she’s been described by her peers as “a paradox wrapped in an oxymoron smothered in contradictions” and “the happiest goth you'll ever meet.”
Emily Thorne, ‘Revenge’
<em>“For the truly wronged, real satisfaction can only be found in one of two places: absolute forgiveness, or mortal vindication. This is not a story about forgiveness.”</em>
Buffy Summers, ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’
Before Fangbangers and Twihards came out of the woodwork, there was Buffy. Add a guy known for writing strong female characters in Joss Whedon with the spunk of Sarah Michelle Gellar and you’ve got the makings of one of pop culture’s greatest TV obsessions. Spawning a line of comic books, novels, and video games, the mega-hit also picked up three Emmys throughout its seven-season run.
Max Guevara, ‘Dark Angel’
It lasted only two seasons, but James Cameron’s dystopian tale of a genetically enhanced super-soldier on the run from the government in a post-apocalyptic Seattle packed quite a punch in its limited lifespan. How Jessica Alba was able to kick so much butt in tight-fitting leather, meanwhile, has yet to be determined.
Leslie Knope, ‘Parks and Recreation’
<em>“There are very few things I have asked for in this world. To build a new park from scratch, to eventually become president and to one day solve a murder on a train.”</em>
Diana Prince, ‘Wonder Woman’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: Actress Lynda Carter had $25 left in her bank account when she got the call that landed her the part of Wonder Woman. She had beaten out 2,000 other actresses for the role.
Jackie Peyton, ‘Nurse Jackie’
As the smart, strong-willed and damaged nurse known for trading sex with pharmacists for prescription drugs and little regard for the Code of Ethics, Jackie (played by Emmy winner Edie Falco) has been hailed as a breakthrough character, not just for her stirringly sympathetic and accurate portrayal of addiction, but for her complex characterization in a sea of female types and tropes.
Olivia Pope, ‘Scandal’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: As a former White House Communications Director turned rock star “fixer,” the Kerry Washington-starring drama was the first network TV drama to feature a black female lead since <em>Get Christie Love!</em>, and the first network TV drama to feature a black female lead to be renewed for a second season since <em>Julia</em>.
Dana Scully, ‘The X-Files’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: While playing the skeptical scientist half of the iconic paranormal-hunting pair, actress Gillian Anderson's contractual obligations to <em>The X-Files</em> barred her from playing an F.B.I. agent in any other production. As such, Anderson lost out the chance to portray Clarice Starling in <em>Hannibal</em>, a role that went to Julianne Moore.
Patty Hewes, ‘Damages’
<em><strong>Martin Cutler</strong>: “If you were a man, I'd kick the living dogs**t out of you.” <strong>Patty Hewes</strong>: “If you were a man I'd be worried.”</em>
Kima Greggs, ‘The Wire’
HBO’s <em>The Wire</em> broke down a number of barriers for TV drama and is often cited as among the greatest shows ever produced. In the wake of its powerhouse legacy was its cast of equally groundbreaking characters — one of which was Det. Shakima Greggs. As a black, lesbian cop in a system as crooked as the streets she is fighting to save, the street-smart detective stands out as a complex character who, much like her peers, transcends black and white morality.
Peggy Olson, ‘Mad Men’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: The role of Don Draper’s protégé-turned-professional of creative almost went to January Jones, who auditioned twice for the role. Series creator Matt Weiner would eventually cast Jones as Betty Draper, opting for Elisabeth Moss as the ambitious ad (wo)man who arguably knows her boss better than anyone.
Sarah Walker, ‘Chuck’
If looks could kill, she wouldn’t need to resort to any of the 200 ways she’s been trained to do so. A master pilot handy with weapons, the stoic super-spy played more than just sexy sidekick to the titular hero, bringing a dangerous and dynamic element to the cheeky action comedy.
Alicia Florrick, ‘The Good Wife’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: The series premise of the humiliated wife whose prominent husband’s sex scandal goes public is partly inspired by the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal, and draws from the transgressions of Bill Clinton and John Edwards — cases in which their wives, too, were lawyers.
Charlie’s Angels, ‘Charlie’s Angels’
<strong>Did You Know</strong>: Among contenders auditioning for the Angels were: Priscilla Presley, Shari Belafonte, Kathie Lee Gifford, Kim Basinger, and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Xena, ‘Xena Warrior Princess’
<em><strong>Xena</strong>: "What's the matter with your men? They look like they've seen a ghost." <strong>Wiglaf</strong>: "No, not a ghost: a legend. All these men can talk of is a chance to see you in action."</em>
Jessica Fletcher ‘Murder, She Wrote’
Crime culprits, beware. Angela Lansbury’s iconic role as the mystery writer moonlighting as an armchair detective earned the former Broadway star 10 Golden Globe nominations and 12 Emmy awards — the most Golden Globe nods for Best Actress in a TV drama and the most Emmy nods for Outstanding Lead Actress in a drama.