Over the years, we have watched Eliza Dushku blossom as an actress. She continues to push her creative limits and challenge herself with every role she takes on. Her latest project is no exception to the rule. ‘Jane Wants A Boyfriend’ teams her with the collective talents of director William C. Sullivan, writer Jarrett Kerr and an amazing supporting cast in the form of Louisa Krause (‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’), Amir Arison (NBC’s ‘The Blacklist’) and ‘Gabriel Ebert’ (Ricki and the Flash). The film centers around Jane (Louisa Krause) – a bright-eyed young woman in her mid 20’s living with autism – and her overprotective, and recently engaged older sister, Bianca (Eliza Dushku). When their parents announce they are moving out of their Brooklyn brownstone and heading to the suburbs of New Jersey, they propose the sisters move in together — a suggestion that throws Bianca’s newly engaged life through a loop, and forces her to re-examine her relationship with her sister. Stacked with powerful performances, the film as not gone unrecognized. In fact, it captured the Best Ensemble Cast award at the Nappa Valley Film Festival, as well as with an Audience Award for Favorite Actress on behalf of Krause’s performance. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Eliza Dushku to discuss the brilliantly unique film, the challenges she faced in bringing her character from script to screen, her upcoming projects and ongoing humanitarian work.
We had the pleasure of watching you grow up and grow as an actor on screen. What excited you about your craft early on and set you on this path?
Ya know, it was really kind of a happy accident. I was so young when I started. I actually tripped and fell when I was at my brother’s audition and got my first role in a film. In my next film I was working with De Niro and DiCaprio and it was really a totally random, exciting adventure that my family and I certainly never anticipated. It was probably after I played the role of Faith on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” that I remember starting to get fan mail and having young women and men contact me to tell me how much the character had affected, saved them or changed their life. It was then that I started to realize I was a part of something that was important and not as superficial as I maybe had thought before. My mother is a professor, so I had been wanting to go to school and figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up and how I could help people. I realized this is a way of helping people in itself. I have been doing this for 25 years and I have worked with some incredible talents and I have learned a lot along the way! I will have to write a book one day and put all the lessons I have learned in there. I honestly think the biggest thing for me and what I strive for is humility. We are magical as actors but everyone is magical in a special way. Actors are no better than other people. I truly believe in working as a team and keeping all the antics and madness out of the mix!
You made some great choices! Your latest project, “Jane Wants A Boyfriend,” is a testament to that and your capability for powerful performances.
Awww, thank you!
What was it about this project that captured your imagination and made you pursue it?
I have personal friends that have autism and/or Asperger’s Syndrome. The script really affected me when I read it and I felt it was a powerful way to look at this topic through a family, specifically two siblings. They are so close and they clearly love and depend on each other but my character sort of feels like the caretaker and stumbles in realizing that. When you cry when you read a script, that is a good sign that you are emotionally invested! I really felt for the characters on paper and it was a really positive sign! It really got me!
What did you bring to this character that wasn’t on the written page originally?
When I first got the script, I was a little concerned that Bianca would come off as mean, controlling, audacious and would lack compassion. I didn’t want it to be that. I mean, of course the movie needs an antagonist but I was worried about her coming off as an ignorant antagonist. I had someone tell me recently they had seen the movie and felt she came off as a loving antagonist. [laughs] My fear was the former, so I wanted to try and honestly portray that love and confusion. She was not trying to be dominating or a dictator but it was more that she had her own Type A struggles going on in her life with family, career and a new marriage. Here is her sister in the middle of it and she implodes. With everything going on around her, Bianca isn’t able to see Jane for the beautiful, quirky and awesome challenge that she is. She is going too fast and has to slow down. In watching Jane blossom in this beautiful relationship with Jack (Gabriel Ebert), she is able to see what she wasn’t seeing before. I love the scene at the end of the film where she says, “Please forgive me. I always thought it was just you needing me … and I really need you.”
The story told in the film captures the beauty of all these relationships and the challenges involved. What were the biggest challenges of the project and the biggest lessons learned?
Working with the writer, Jarrett Kerr, and our director, William Sullivan, was a great experience. They are awesome guys! Totally badasses who came out of NYU. Louisa Krause is amazing. I really admire her courage in taking on this kind of role because you can run the risk of offending someone or a number of people in the portrayal of Jane. We had an advisor on autism on the film and she said, “When you meet one person with Aspergers, you meet one person with Aspergers.” The spectrum can be so wide. Louisa did a lot of due diligence on preparing for this role and I really respect and admire her for that. She does an absolutely incredible job in the film.
As I said, I have some dear friends who have Aspergers, so I have seen it first hand for a number of years. When you are doing a film, you are doing quite a deep study on something, so as much as I had been exposed to it, I guess I wasn’t studying it with my friends. It was just kind of there and at times it would piss me off and I would handle it gracefully and other times not as gracefully. It was great to be able to show that in the film. I think it can make people ashamed when they look at the way they have handled a situation with someone with that condition and they beat themselves up. I also wanted the movie to show that those are natural feelings to have because it is challenging. It is challenging not only for the person who has the disorder but for the people around them. As we see with Jane, she can be a handful at times.
As far as things I took away from the project, I would say it was the beauty and vulnerability. For reasons I won’t get into, the making of this film took place during a really challenging time in my own life personally. It was kind of cathartic and really captured me in a vulnerable place. I was a little nervous to see what would come out on film and I was pleasantly surprised. I think it is that vulnerability that I would take away from the project as a positive thing, where before I had viewed it as more terrifying! [laughs]
You worked with your brother on a documentary called “Dear Albania.” What was that experience like for you and will you be teaming up again in the future?
Yeah! We are so proud of that movie! We will be in Albania in May delivering the movie to the Mother country! [laughs] It is so exciting. Hopefully, this summer, we will be starting production on our “Mapplethorpe” biopic about artist Robert Mapplethorpe. We have been working a long time on that so hopefully it is finally getting there. My brother knows me better than most people in the world and it is really a joy to work with him!
Do you think we will see you stepping behind the camera to direct at some point?
These days I am learning to say anything is possible! I never know what is just around the corner and life is always surprising me! I had no idea I would be introducing Bernie Sanders at a rally last month and that kind of blew my mind, yet I stepped up and did it. It was amazing and I have been pretty political this time. So, yeah, never say never!
I know you lend your voice to some great causes. What can we help shine a light on for you?
I am heading to Africa tomorrow for THRIVEgulu. You can learn more at www.thrivegulu.org. It is a trauma center for former child soldiers and victims of the Joseph Kony war. My mother founded it about six or seven years ago. We are doing amazing things on the ground but we can always use help! I am leading a trip over there with 10 people. We are contributing what we can and anyone who can help support us we would greatly appreciate!
We will definitely help spread the word! We wish you continued success in all your endeavors!
Thank you so much!
Follow the continuing adventures of Eliza Dushku on social media via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Learn for about THRIVEgulu at www.thrivegulu.org. ‘Jane Wants A Boyfriend’ opens Friday, March 25th in theaters and On Demand.