From Filmforce.ign.comIGN Filmforce - BuffyCon Part 3 : Keeping The Faith
Thursday 18 September 2003, by Webmaster
Comics in Context #10: San Diego 2003: Day Four: Tarantino, Tru, Tea and Tristram Kill Bill, Tru Calling, Neil Gaiman, and more.
BUFFYCON PART 3: KEEPING THE FAITH
Staying put in Ballroom 20 after Tarantino and his troupe made their exit, I was ready for the 12:30 PM panel, titled "Eliza Dushku: Tru Calling." Actually, this panel was organized by Fox Television to promote three of its forthcoming new dramatic series. But the organizers clearly knew that the big draw for their panel was the personal appearance by Eliza Dushku, the young actress who plays Faith, the other vampire slayer, on Buffy and Angel.
Over the past year, as speculation mounted that Buffy would not return for an eighth season, it seemed that many of the show’s fans hoped there would be a spinoff featuring Faith. Some months ago Joss Whedon and others admitted in interviews that the idea of a Faith series had been under consideration. But Eliza Dushku chose to play a new and different role, the title character of Fox’s Tru Calling.
The panel included a screening of the pilot episode, which introduces Tru, a recent college grad based in New York and seeking a career in medicine. Her mother died when Tru was a child, and, through no fault of her own, she has strained relations with her sister and brother. She is no "bad girl" like Dushku’s Faith, but has much of her forcefulness, as well as sharing Dushku’s ability to make even her expository dialogue seem sultry.
Working in a morgue, Tru discovers that she can "hear" the recently deceased speak to her. Moreover, she can then relive the previous day and attempt to stop that person’s death from taking place.
The pilot episode was intriguing and well-made, apart from an irritating mannerism of recurring sequences of Dushku running from one place to another; later, during a question and answer session, an audience member asked the Tru panel if this was copied from the movie Run Lola Run, and we were told this gimmick would be dumped from the series.
I thought a more important potential problem was that it appeared that each episode would follow the same plot formula - Tru going back in time to prevent a death every week - which would quickly grow tiresome.
This may have been a Fox Television panel, but it also turned out to be a kind of sequel to yesterday’s Buffy and Angel panels, showing what three of the shows’ alumni had moved on to do.
Before the Tru Calling panelists arrived, two other upcoming series was previewed. The first of these was Wonderfalls, introduced by its executive producer Bryan Fuller, formerly of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, who now does Showtime’s Dead Like Me series. And, it turns out, former Angel writer Tim Minear now works on Wonderfalls.
We were shown the first six minutes, which introduce the young heroine, who, much like her counterpart in Dead Like Me is a sardonically witty young woman who finds herself in a mind-numbing regular job that brings her into contact with eccentric people, and is simultaneously involved with the supernatural. In Wonderfalls’ case, the heroine works in a shop by Niagara Falls selling tacky souvenirs, and discovers that inanimate (but computer animated) objects speak to her, commenting on her life. Whereas it took me a while to warm up to Dead Like Me, I took a liking to the first six minutes of Wonderfalls right away. Once the heroine described herself as "overeducated and underemployed," I knew we had something in common.
Next, in an unannounced surprise, came Marti Noxon, formerly show runner for Buffy, to introduce a trailer for the new series she now works on as executive producer and a writer, Still Life, which will debut in mid-season. This was yet another sign of Comic-Con’s increasing importance to the world of television and movies, since, as far as I knew, Noxon had come down to San Diego solely for the purpose of talking to us for a handful of minutes.
"Hi, I’m Marti, and I’m an alcoholic," she began. "Oh," she corrected herself, "wrong meeting."
"I just wanted to come and introduce Still Life to you guys." Noxon said. After leaving Whedon’s Mutant Enemy Productions, "I had a lot of options because I was so blessed being on Buffy and this is the show I chose to write on." It is not her creation, but one she found appealing: "It is a heartfelt family drama, but the twist is that it’s shown and narrated through the eyes of the son who was murdered the year before, and he is still a spirit; he’s still around."
A trailer for Still Life followed, and it seemed as if it would be too sentimental for my tastes. It’s not a genre that interests me, but I’ll probably give an episode a try if for no other reason than to follow Noxon’s work. Finally, out came the Tru Calling panel: star Eliza Dushku, executive producer Jon Feldman, and cast members Jessica Collins (who plays Tru’s sister), Shawn Reaves (her brother), and comedian Zach Galifranakis, who portrays a co-worker. The supporting cast said little, and Reaves, I think, did not speak at all; it was Dushku whom the audience had come to see and who got the majority of the questions.
As noted in the last column, Joss Whedon often talks like one of his own characters, Xander. And we in the audience discovered right away that Eliza Dushku’s style of talking is not unlike Faith’s. Sounding genuinely excited to be there, Dushku exclaimed, "Hello, hello. . .This is my first time here. This is a trip! Thank you guys for coming. This is awesome!"
Since we had already seen the pilot, the panel went almost immediately to taking questions from the audience. Now, as my readers know, I detest blanket condemnations of fans. But, yes, there are indeed fans with various problems, who lack self-awareness and seek the spotlight, thereby inflicting their failings upon us.
So it was that the first person in the question line asked Dushku if her brand new series failed, would she consider doing a Buffy spinoff about Faith?
The audience, appalled at this woman’s faux pas, booed. But Dushku handled it quite well. Her initial words look stern in print, but they were delivered calmly, without anger in her tone. "You know, I’m trying to be optimistic here, so those kinds of questions aren’t appreciated, no. We’ll see. I wanted to take a ride. That’s what I’ve always done in my career, and I feel like what’s there to be afraid of? What have you got to lose? Go big or go home, right?" Dushku had quickly turned an understated reprimand into a positive declaration of her philosophy on life, one we could admire, and the audience applauded in pleasure.
Then came a guy who said he really liked Bring It On, a recent movie in which Dushku and others played cheerleaders. In fact he seemed to like it a little too much, and he wanted to know if Dushku would do another cheerleader movie.
This time Dushku defused the problem with humor. "I’m sorry, what?" she asked, pretending she hadn’t heard him correctly. "You want to do a cheerleading movie? Come up here and show us some skills, my friend. Let’s see what ya got."
"No, thanks," said the fan, who still hadn’t gotten the point. "Would you do a cheerleading TV show?"
Dushku turned to her producer, "Jon, can you add cheers to the show at some point to satisfy this gentleman?"
"Episode 7," Feldman responded.
Then there was a woman who didn’t know when to stop talking, whom Dushku treated with admirable patience. Not so with another guy in line was a fan of Zach Galifranakis, but somehow thought it was funny to tell him to his face he was ugly. The audience rumbled its displeasure, and Dushku, seeming amused more than angry, told the guy he had "lost" the crowd and got him to sit down.
Finally the level of questioners improved. Dushku had played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s daughter in James Cameron’s thriller True Lies, and an audience member wanted to know if she would be interested in doing True Lies 2.
"I would love that, too," said Dushku. "That was kind of a killer job, and if Jim Cameron hits one of these conventions anytime soon, would you go ahead and ask him for me?"
A question that followed tied into the previous one. Would Dushku’s schedule shooting Tru Calling allow her to do movies during the summer?
Dushku said that having a break in her TV schedule "was one thing that was important to me, whether it’s a hiatus to do a movie or a hiatus to just chill. I ran into Sarah Michelle Gellar recently, and she just started dying laughing when I saw her," Dushku said, amused herself, "and I was like, ’What’s so funny?’ And she said, ’Honey, get ready to say goodbye to your life" since starring in a TV show like Buffy consumes ninety hours a week. "And so she’s kind of prepared me that I might want to use my time for a break, but I might throw out some kind of flick if it’s cool."
A new questioner, thinking along the same lines I was, wondered if the series would just be about Tru trying to save a different person each week, or if there would be a continuing story arc over the entire series.
Producer Feldman replied, "The answer is both. Every week she will have the opportunity to save or not save someone and it’s real important that she’s not going to be able to save some of these people. And we do have a sort of overall arc mythology that sort of explains how she came to receive these powers from the universe and who’s responsible as well as what happened to her mom."
Then there was a young girl - could she have been the same little Faith fan from Joss Whedon’s panel yesterday? - who asked how Faith was different from Tru.
Dushku began, "Sometimes I feel like, you’ve heard it before, art imitates life, and when I first started playing Faith I was a little bit more insane than I am now, just from being 17 and going through high school. How old are you?" she asked.
"Eight," replied the little girl.
"You’re eight?" asked Dushku. "Yeah, high school. Get ready, honey, like strap on your coat of armor because it’s not fun for a lot of people. I was kind of playing out my anger and my fear, my frustration and insecurities sometimes in the early days of Faith. And a lot of people thought she got soft when I came back for the season finale this year. I think that as I’ve grown up. I think that it’s opening more doors for me to play characters who are still strong, who are still bad-ass, kick-ass, but who - "
Dushku suddenly stopped, looking at the child who asked the question. "Oh, pardon me, you’re eight?" "I’ll never be invited back to Comic-Con again!" Dushku laughed. She then rephrased the offending words to "Kick butt!" and carried on.
With Tru Dushku wanted to be "keeping that strength, but also taking a little bit more responsibility. . .I think that she’s also strong; I think she’s more of a problem solver. I think that she’s going to try to think and talk out her problems as opposed to beating them out. And that might be nice for some people to see, and send a bit of a better message. Thank you," Dushku said, smiling at her young fan, adding "tell your mom I’m sorry."
Actually, if that had been the same girl from the Whedon panel, then she had already heard Joss discuss attempted rape the day before. So, really, in comparison, Dushku’s "kick-ass" remark doesn’t seem so bad at all.
Dushku had actually just answered the question, but someone still asked why she chose to do the Tru Calling series.
"It all started with the script, I guess," she replied, referring to the pilot. "I mean, I couldn’t put it down. There were so many elements, there was humor, there was drama, there was suspense; it just seemed to have the whole package. I really hadn’t done other previous TV except for Buffy and I knew that coming from that my stakes were pretty high, and the script really had it. Sometimes you just go with your gut and it just felt like the right thing to do."
At the panel’s end Dushku enthusiastically thanked the audience, who clearly loved her. She’d been just what you might hope from an actress whose work you admire: friendly, funny, full of energy, with the courage to follow her instincts and ambitions and a positive attitude towards life that was genuinely infectious. She could not have made a better impression.