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DollhouseEnver Gjokaj - "Dollhouse" Tv Series - Season 2 - Ifmagazine.com Interview
Monday 7 December 2009, by Webmaster
It may be hard to figure out how to pronounce Enver Gjokaj from seeing the name in print – for the record, the first name rhymes with “then there” and the surname rhymes with “joke eye” – but it’s easy to recognize the actor’s talent and versatility on Joss Whedon’s Fox series DOLLHOUSE.
As the “Active” Victor, California native Gjokaj plays a man whose mind has been wiped by the staff of the Dollhouse so that he can be “imprinted” with any personality to suit the wealthy clients who pay for his services on assignments – and sometimes he winds up accidentally programmed with personalities that were unintended.
Among Gjokaj’s identities as Victor have been would-be Russian mobster, British lover, Italian art gallery owner, prim psychopathic killer and, courtesy of a mix-up with an assignment with Eliza Dushku’s character Echo, college party girl. And this week, he had a tour-de-force playing Fran Kranz’s cray progammer Topher in a dead-on impersonation.
DOLLHOUSE is scheduled to run all its episodes throughout December and January, so please note, this interview was conducted before the series had been canceled by Fox. iF MAGAZINE: It’s been publicized that the budget for Season Two of DOLLHOUSE has been cut from that of Season One, with a switch to HD photography instead of film. Have you noticed any differences?
ENVER GJOKAJ: We’re doing so much stuff. It’s amazing. We just shot [an episode] and I can’t really say anything about it, but I was like, "Well, I don’t know where they’re cutting the budget, but to me, it’s not showing." We’re doing exteriors and car crashes and all kinds of stuff.
iF: When things around the imprinted character are not quite what they should be, do you ever think, "How is the character reacting to this?" Do you have to do a little bit of retcon in your head?
GJOKAJ: I don’t know, maybe I’m just not that Method on it, but I always just explain it by saying – we have a term, we call it Science Fiction Method Acting [laughs]. It’s like, "Oh, if I was imprinted, what would his motivation be?" [laughs] Well, come on. You’re being imprinted, so come on, go with it. But myself, I’m Method acting, always. I would just say in some way, the Dolls are programmed not to think too deeply about anything. They’ve found a way to just kind of be like, "Well, this person’s mission is their mission, and anything else that gets in the way …" we do that as human beings. We tend to ignore the facts that we just don’t want to pay attention to, so it’s very believable to me that if something is askew, they just tend to ignore it.
iF: When you play a character who has already been established, like Ambrose, played by Philip Casnoff, or Dominic, played by Reed Diamond, or Nikki, played by Eliza Dushku, how do you approach it?
GJOKAJ: It’s actually funny. I read [the script for "Epitaph One"] and forgot that Ambrose had been in the [series already, played by Philip Casnoff]. I read the script and I saw him as a like a really obese, rich European, because he was eating, and I just heard [his voice as being] something really indulgent, like the person that [Victor] had put into him was just obese and just gluttonous. And [the producers said], “No, no, no, no, sorry. Ambrose has already been established, you have to …” “Who? What?” So that’s a pretty good example, because you can’t pre-package these characters. Even if they do give me hints up front, like, “You’ll be playing X,” you don’t know what type of X. So you’d be playing somebody who’s British. Well, okay, he could be some kind of gutter rat from the street or he could be, as he turned out to be, somebody on Adelle’s level.
iF: So when you played Adelle’s British lover Roger, he wasn’t based on any specific English actor?
GJOKAJ: You know, it would be so lovely if I could just listen to or watch somebody and base my performance on them. Minus Dominic, which I actually had to do that [base the performance on actor Reed Diamond], in general, it just doesn’t work. It’s not a right fit. Roger was something very specific and he came on the page. You just have to prepare. I definitely listened to a fair share of British dialects in my attempt – I underscore attempt [laughs] – at doing a British dialect, but there wasn’t any one actor that I thought was right for Roger. That’s the best you can do, because there are only two choices. Jump in and swim or freak out. I tried freaking out – that one doesn’t work so well. You’ve just got to read the script and get a feel for what they want. One of the things that makes our job a lot easier is that [staff writers] Maurissa [Tancharoen] and Jed [Whedon] and Joss of course – you’re not having to try to take something bad or where there is a lack of character and make a character. You can read these scripts and right away, you get it – there are sayings, there are mannerisms, there’s an essence that jumps off the page right away.
iF: Have you even been given something where you thought, “I don’t think I can do this one”?
GJOKAJ: Not here [on DOLLHOUSE]. I was cast as a football quarterback one time and I’ve never played football in my life. And [the producers said], “Well, you can throw a football, right?” I was like, “No. I can’t throw a football.” “It’ll be fine.” And I showed up first day and I threw a football and the guy was like, “Who hired you?” [laughs] [On DOLLHOUSE], what’s scary is, there’s not even a question of not being able to do it. They have such implicit trust. This was the scariest thing in Season One – I don’t think I got a note on anything until the seventh episode. It’s like a parent not even saying, “Don’t throw a party while I’m gone,” they’re just saying, “I know you’ll do the right thing.” And that’s even worse, it’s so much worse. The writers say to you, “I know you can do it” [laughs] and you know you have to, because everybody else in the cast is so amazing and disappointing Joss is just so not an option. I haven’t worked for too many years, so I can’t pretend to be jaded yet, but I’ve been on a lot of sets and a lot of places where the people were everywhere from disliking each other to just kind of being professionally distant, and this set is so amazing. It starts with Joss and just kind of trickles down. I’m a fan boy with that guy.
iF: Do you have a favorite “imprint” you’ve played so far?
GJOKAJ: I liked Lubov [the wannabe mobster] the best. It was the most fun. And we also followed him for three episodes, so we actually got to see him develop a little bit and he just wanted so hard to be the little gangster guy and he so wasn’t. I think the stuff that I like the best, that was the most fun to shoot, was the stuff that was a little bit lighter, a little bit more fun.
iF: Is acting in DOLLHOUSE anything like being part of a theatrical repertory company, where you’ve got the same group of actors, but you’re doing different characters every week?
GJOKAJ: Well, I come from theatre, and I think this is harder [laughs]. On a play, you get a month, you get at least three weeks of rehearsal, you get to sit down with the material, and see how you fit with the rest of the cast and what the tone of the show is. This, I’m starting a character on Monday and we just sit down and start shooting our scene that’s midway through the episode, so it feels a lot like being in an acting program that I was in, though. It feels like NYU graduate school. It seems like a game – somebody’s like, “All right, now, sixty-year-old woman. Go. Now you’re a forensic evidence person.” And it’s funny – it’s amazing what abject fear will do to you [laughs]. I don’t have time to get in my head about something or get in my way. It actually clears your mind and you just say, “Okay, I don’t have time to worry about all this stuff that I usually worry about, because I literally just have to memorize the lines first.”
iF: Do you enjoy playing Victor when he’s in his “blank doll” state?
GJOKAJ: I love it. I really do. I think that’s the one discordant note that this show strikes is that you have these people who are controlling and manipulating and abusing all the time, and that while this is happening, I like to think that there are these peaceful, beautiful free and untainted spirits – it’s like [poet William] Blake, “the innocence of experience.” Innocence and yet experience, and this pool of people down here who are so untouched and so pure.
iF: In Season Two, do you go back and forth between being a Doll and a conscious Victor? In the Season One finale “Epitaph One,” which flashes forward to the future, it looked like Victor had turned into a fairly conscious person.
GJOKAJ: Yes. In “Epitaph One,” that is the case. When I read [“Epitaph One”], I was just like, "Oh, are you kidding me? This is insane." I think only from the mind of Joss Whedon – we’ve just gotten used to it being manna from Heaven. We just wait and these amazing scripts appear. I can’t say yes or no [about Victor’s state of consciousness in Season Two]. One thing that’s great about Season Two is, I think it was the Dominic scene, actually, where they really started to see like, “Wow, we can tweak these things and take somebody and put them in a body – wouldn’t it be weird if you put somebody in a body, and they knew they weren’t in their own body, and then you start to play with that?” I think this season, they’re just going to town.
iF: What did you do on your hiatus between seasons One and Two?
GJOKAJ: I play the younger version of a character that Robert De Niro plays [in] a movie called STONE.
iF: Had doing DOLLHOUSE for the previous season prepared you for, “Now I will study Robert De Niro and …”?
GJOKAJ: I approached that the same way I approach anything. That had a particular set of challenges to it, in that we wanted to pay homage to him as an actor, but we were emotionally aiming for a younger version of that character, so we didn’t want the movie to open – at least, I didn’t and I think the director, John Curran, amazing director, is on the same plane – with an amazing Robert De Niro impersonation. We wanted people to buy the character and believe the character. So it was challenging, because actually, as much as you wanted to keep [De Niro] in mind, you didn’t want to make it a caricature.
iF: What is STONE about?
GJOKAJ: Robert De Niro plays a parole officer who’s dealing with something that he did in his past, and Edward Norton plays a parolee who starts to bring it out, this horrible thing that he did in his past, and he begins to have to deal with this thing he did years and years ago.
iF: And we see you playing Jack as a young man when he does the horrible thing?
GJOKAJ: Yes. I don’t want to give anything away. [Performing the scene] was insane. It was really difficult.
iF: Is it more difficult, less difficult, same level of difficulty as some of the stuff you have to do in DOLLHOUSE?
GJOKAJ: In a different way, because [on] DOLLHOUSE sometimes you’re prepping a whole new character, but you don’t have to do an intense amount of scenes with it. This was a whole different character, plus a lot of scenes and a lot of it was – it’s hard to describe, to be honest. It was a different set of circumstances, it was its own set of circumstances.
iF: Anything else you’d like to say about DOLLHOUSE?
GJOKAJ: I am absolutely in love with this show. I could do it for ten years.