Audiences know her from her multitude of hit TV and film roles, but there’s a lot more to Eliza Dushku than meets the eye. In addition to acting, the Boston native also spends her time as a producer, a college student, and an activist for a charity that’s close to her heart.
It was at her brother’s audition that 10-year-old Dushku caught the attention of producers, though not in a conventional way – she tripped and fell. That incident led to a phone call that changed everything.
“The first time I was called to go in for a screen test, my mother answered the phone and said, ‘Thank you, but no thank you. I don’t think this is what my daughter’s going to do in her life, but we’re flattered,’” recalls Dushku.
Thankfully, Dushku’s brothers suggested she take the offer for a free trip to Hollywood. “They didn’t think I would get the part,” she jokes.
But one thing led to another, and Dushku landed her first starring role in the film “That Night” alongside Juliette Lewis and C. Thomas Howell. From there, she went on to appear with heavy-hitters Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in “This Boy’s Life,” and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in “True Lies.”
As Dushku continued to work, she was encouraged by the support of her family. “My mother was always interested in unconventional ways [of doing things], so if I was having fun and it didn’t interfere with my schoolwork, she let me go for it,” says the actress. “When the time came to go to college, she encouraged me to stay in school.”
Just as the actress was preparing to start her freshman year of college, however, along came the call to appear in the WB’s hit show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Slated to appear for just three episodes, Dushku looked at the job as an opportunity to earn some extra money before starting her first semester. But when producers asked her to stay for the season, her education was put on hold – until now.
Heading Back Home
“For 15 years I said I was going to go back to Boston to get that freshman year under my belt, and as soon as I did the people from ‘Banshee’ called,” says Dushku. Luckily, the scheduling worked out, and this time there was no reason to defer her education.
“It’s funny because I sort of live this double life now,” she says. “My friends watch me go from being a study buddy to doing my Hollywood thing.”
Though the return to college is recent, Dushku says education has always been a major part of her life. In fact, her mother was a college professor for almost 50 years. “She encouraged me throughout the 25 years I was acting to further my studies in between.”
When she’s not studying, Dushku is busy working on the fourth and final season of Cinemax’s hit action show “Banshee,” which begins airing April 1.
“When I got the call from [co-creator and executive producer] Jonathan Tropper, I knew it was one of those roles where your heart rate speeds up and you can feel and see yourself in her,” says the actress.
Dushku had a lot of fun playing special agent Veronica Dawson, a sexy, reckless FBI profiler. “She’s intense but also quick and witty, and a perfectionist when it comes to her work. She knows she’s in a boy’s world, so she finds ways to insert herself into their circle. I can relate to that.”
The season was shot last summer in Philadelphia – an experience Dushku describes as “epic.”
“It was an awesome shoot and it made me realize there is a part of that world [acting] that fulfills me,” she says. “When I went back to school, I wasn’t sure how things would turn out or how I’d feel. But I know after this experience that acting is a part of me. Now it’s going to be about navigating both worlds and essentially leading a double life.”
Discovering Her Roots
To add yet another layer to her double life, the actress and student also runs her own production company, Boston Diva, with her brother Nate. She is extremely proud of the projects they’ve been developing together, especially “Dear Albania,” a story that’s been five years in the making.
“It’s a personal story of me going to find my family and my roots, but also with an educational and historical background,” explains Dushku. “There has never been anything like this done on the country, which is difficult to believe.”
She describes the project as an hour-long love letter to a country that has been unknown for many years. She and her brother wanted to reintroduce the Albania their ancestors came from, a country their father knew intimately, and share it with the rest of the world.
“We were excited to do this and present it to our father, nieces, and nephews, and for all Albanians who don’t feel represented,” says Dushku.
Dushku is also looking forward to working on a biopic of the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe this summer. The film is slated for production right here in New York, starring Matt Smith from “Doctor Who” and Zosia Mamet from “Girls.”
“This is another project we’ve been working on for many years, and it’s finally coming to fruition,” says Dushku. In order to do that, the actress took the spring semester off to focus on the project.
“My degree is a marathon, not a sprint,” she says. “I have this other life and I want to tend to both responsibly and appropriately.”
In addition to acting, producing, and studying, Dushku is an activist, dedicating her time to the causes about which she’s most passionate. She is on the board of her mother’s nonprofit organization, THRIVEGulu, a non-governmental organization focused on building and operating a trauma-healing and reflection center in Northern Uganda for former child soldiers and victims of war and trauma who are trying to rebuild their lives. In fact, Dushku led her first trip to Africa this month (March?).
Looking back to her early days as an actress, Dushku says the best advice she ever received came on the set of “True Lies.”
“Jamie Lee Curtis told me, ‘Have another life. Have a plan B, because while this can be the most extraordinary and exciting business, you don’t control it. You don’t know when your next job will be, and you need to have something that fulfills you and brings you joy.’”
With the multitude of projects on her plate, Dushku seems to have taken Curtis’ advice to heart.
“I went ahead and found [at least] five things in life that fulfill me, and to this day I still hear her words.”
Social Media handles
FB: Eliza Dushku