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UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. - When actress Eliza Dushku treated her former boss to lunch it turned out to be the best investment she’d ever made.


Dushku had costarred on creator Joss Whedon’s hit fantasy, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” 10 years earlier. “Joss and I stayed friends, had a very tight connection when we made the show,” says Dushku, seated in a black vinyl armchair in the lobby bar of a hotel here.


cover art

Dollhouse

Series Premiere
Cast: Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix, Olivia Williams, Fran Kranz, Tahmoh Penikett, Dichen Lachman, Amy Acker, Reed Diamond
Regular airtime: Fridays, 9pm ET

(Fox; US: 13 Feb 2009)

“He was kind of a brother, mentor, teacher, a hero of mine. And he’s a feminist and my mom’s always been a feminist. And being 3,000 miles away from my mom, who’s in Boston, I found this real friend and ally in Joss, so we’ve been friends over the years.”


There was a reason for her largesse. Dushku had talked to Fox about returning to television. “And I had a plan in the back of my head. It was Joss, even though he didn’t know it yet,” she says. “About a week after I did some chatting with the Fox people I called Joss and invited him to lunch ... I bought him a hot Buddha pizza from Ivy at the Shore. He picked the spot. And over a four-hour lunch we had ‘Dollhouse.’”


“Dollhouse” is Fox’s new sci-fi thriller in which Dushku plays an “Active” in a secret organization. The personalities of the “Actives” are wiped clean and re-programmed so they can become anyone a high-paying client desires - from assassin to corporate tycoon.


Dushku, 28, loves the chance to metamorphose into different alter-egos every week. Lately she’s undergone some transformations of her own.


“I don’t drink. And that’s my drug. I made a lifestyle change, even though living in L.A. sometimes feels like summer camp, like one big beach party. I have an opportunity and a job and something to contribute - and eliminating the fuzz and the numbing ...


“I’ve followed a 12-step program and I’ve had the best few years of my life recently,” she says, her dark eyes dominating her face.


“I always showed up to work, but I’m crisp, I’m clear. I feel better. I work harder and I do better work than I ever have. I absolutely believe that I’ve found a connection with the big, scary G word. Sort of going: ‘The universe is going to do what it’s going to do and as long as I keep my side of the street clean and am accountable for my actions and my life and I eliminate all those numb-ers and things,’ it’s been amazing how my life has changed.”


She doesn’t really define alcohol as her problem. “I just know that now I don’t drink, and I feel better physically and emotionally and spiritually. I feel like a different person. I feel like I’ve been given a new set of eyes to take in the world with,” she says.


Part of this change occurred with the death of her grandparents. “I was so close to them they were like my parents,” she sighs.


“I just admired them and loved them so much. They were serious practicing Mormons. I was raised Mormon. I’d sort of fallen out of the church, and I’d become this rebel child in my later teenage years and my early 20s, and I watched the way my grandparents lived. And when they died, I thought about the kind of grace and integrity they lived their life with, and something shifted. And I just wanted to sort of change my perception in any way that I could and just live differently and just LIVE.


“I just got a tattoo on the back of my neck that says ‘Grace’ when my grandmother passed away,” she says, patting her neck. “She was a tomboy and she was a farmer and she was a tough cookie. She was always a lady and always graceful. She was funny, smart and witty. She was a lady in grace and it really got me.”


Dushku is a devoted traveler, seeking exotic parts of the world and new adventures. And she doesn’t worry about failure. “I feel I’ve surpassed goals that I had and some I didn’t even know that I had,” she says.


“I’m pretty proud of my work and my resume - both business wise and on a personal level. My house is clean, and I try every day to be better and do better work, especially at this point in my career. I truly feel like I’ve never felt better, never worked harder and I’ve never done better work and that’s a great feeling. So whatever comes of this - if someone wants to say I failed, I’ll never believe that.”


Still, not everything is perfect, she confesses. “I’m terrible at cooking. I’m not a good woman in some ways. I don’t really know how to take care of a household. But I’m good at where-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way. And I’m good at making lemonade out of lemons and trying to always look on the bright side and find the sweet in the seemingly sour. I’m an optimist. I’m a realist, which sometimes is also my demise. I’m a super pragmatist and also a realist and stubborn goes along with that. But I’ve really been trying to change my perspective and my perception a little bit and see things in a lovelier light.”


___


Siegfried and Roy will be returning to the stage one more time at the Bellagio on Feb. 28 to benefit a new brain institute being built in Las Vegas, where they live. On March 6, ABC’s “20/20” will air that performance as well as interviews with the performing pair, who haven’t worked since 2003 when Roy was viciously attacked by one of his white tigers.


When I interviewed them before the accident, Roy described his relationship with the tigers. “It’s like Nirvana,” he said. “I live with them and someday I will probably die with them. I will always have a tiger, maybe I was a tiger before in my life. All 38 of them actually live with us.”


“We have the largest cat house in Nevada,” added Siegfried. “It isn’t a life I would wish on anyone.”


___


Rodeo bull-riding champion Ty Murray and his wife, actress-singer-songwriter, Jewel, will be one of the couples competing in the new “Dancing with the Stars,” which returns March 9 to ABC. Jewel, who grew up in Alaska of a hearty, frontier lifestyle, finds fame a little hard to cope with. “Very cookie-cutter things happen to most famous people,” she says. “They become very tortured. I think all your insecurities get exaggerated, all of your fears get inflamed. And if you’re under a microscope and if you don’t get serious about fixing those things about yourself, you become a rampant diva. Sometimes I have to be very strict with myself and make sure I take care of those things about my personality.”


___


British actor Timothy Spall does a new take on an old villain as Fagin in “Masterpiece Classic’s” latest version of “Oliver Twist” on PBS. Spall says, “He is a creep. I mean, he is a weirdo, and he’s a child abuser and a sort of reprehensible character of the time. But reality is that Dickens wanted you to understand all of that about him, I think. But there’s something inherently sympathetic about him because he is a victim of his own circumstances.


” ... And I kept having an image of him being an outcast somehow, possibly thrown out of a nation - Yiddish job and Yiddish culture and cut loose as a child and then had to take care of himself internationally. So he gathered many different attributes of a life of possessions and jewels and just basically trying to keep himself together. And, you know, actors always try and work out what makes a character tick. I was very mindful of why this pariah would end up being in London and hopefully try to make him creepy, exotic, slightly vulnerable as well ... “


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