Former child actor Eliza Dushku grew up fast in the surprisingly great cheerleader comedy Bring It On and as Faith, the teen-goth nemesis of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, after a year as a Good Samaritan time-traveler in the canceled series Tru Calling, the onetime Mormon, 24, finds herself Off Broadway in the dark “Peanuts” parody Dog Sees God. She spoke to Boris Kachka.
Do you have any fond memories of “Peanuts”? You play a character based on Lucy.
She was probably my favorite— I can draw a few parallels in my own personality. Lucy’s a little bit of a troublemaker, so I think it’s really appropriate to have her institutionalized for pyromania.
You often play the sexy ass-kicker. Are you worried about being . . .
Typecast? I can think of a lot worse things to be typecast as than a strong, bold young woman.
But you’re not that dark. Your dogs are named Coco Chanel and Max Factor.
I wanted a dog named Max, and he needed a middle name. I have a bit of gay-boyfriend influence. My mother came to see a preview and she heard someone say, “Oh, God, Eliza Dushku has in her bio that she resides in Los Angeles with her dogs Max Factor and Coco Chanel. What is she thinking?” And my mother was like, “Excuse me, that’s my daughter! She’s a human being!”
So what’s the next thing to go in your bio?
I have a coach here in New York, and before the plays, we read scripts. After doing Buffy, with my ADD, I could never sign another six-year deal.
Is that why you turned down a Buffy spinoff in favor of Tru Calling?
I started to feel a little responsibility to young women, but it didn’t quite jell. It certainly wasn’t this young, strong female character that I expected it to be.
That’s something you really think about when taking a role?
Absolutely. Especially in America, people waste so much time watching smut for all the wrong reasons. I don’t want to be a part of that, and I don’t think that I have been.
But this isn’t charity work. You’re selling sexuality.
Being sexy is part of the game. If I can get that initial head-turn, then maybe people will stay to see a little bit more of, like, the message.
What was the message behind posing for Maxim?
I was basically forced by the studio to do Maxim. It was a new studio and they had a lot of power.
What does your Mormon family make of your roles, and the 50-odd F-words in the play?
My grandma did try to call Michael Ovitz when I was represented by his company, telling them, “My 17-year-old granddaughter is naked on the television!” She didn’t talk to me for a couple of weeks.
Are you a Mormon?
I was kicked out of Mormon girls’ camp for talking about seeing two men kiss. I’m trying to find new things and—what do they say?—a higher power. Something bigger than myself.