'Dollhouse': Alexis Denisof, and yeah, we're still tracking it
The first time I spoke to Alexis Denisof, he was walking down the streets of New York City ... and we got cut off. Despite the hustle and bustle around him, he tried to answer questions, but was silenced as he went deeper underground. Kind of like "Dollhouse" -- kind of like Joss Whedon, who goes into detail with Maureen Ryan over at the Watcher about what he felt were the problems, and what he'll be doing in this post-"Dollhousian" world.
It's a conflicting thing continuing to "track" a show when we know that the tracks have already been pulled up. The Fox coyote painted a tunnel on the side of the mountain and continues to let the "Dollhouse" train speed toward it. To use another great show's saying: "This has happened before, and it will happen again."
It's happened to Alexis Denisof, who went through the process when the plug was pulled on another of Joss' shows, "Angel." The Whedon protégé has an important arc in upcoming episodes of "Dollhouse." As Sen. Daniel Perrin, he doggedly begins to pursue the dollhouse, hoping to bring its existence to the public and planning to shut it down. But there's a twist. There's always a twist.
Denisof is one of the few actors to play pivotal roles in three of Whedon's shows. From "Buffy" and "Angel" as Wesley Wyndham-Price, and now as Perrin (who might not be a regular, but will have an impact). Denisof offers a heaping helping of praise for Whedon, some insight into the psyche of the show, and even a bit on the show's direction had it gotten picked up. We spoke before the show's fate was sealed.
Show Tracker: Any thought of politics personally?
Alexis Denisof: [Laughs] I don't know. I think there's too many showers that you have to take, and you're still not clean. That's really saying something when you're in the entertainment industry. I probably don't have a leg to stand on in that regard.
If your character had control of the "Dollhouse" technology, what would the ambitious politician do with it?
I'd like to think that he'd dismantle the technology knowing that mankind can't be trusted with it ... kind of along the lines of nuclear technology. We all feel that we should be the ones in control of that technology and that it can't be trusted in the hands of others. I think the same may apply to the dollhouse technology.
But he would probably end up, like so many of us, morally conflicted. Intending to use it for good and eventually using it for something other than good.
Especially in light of what happened to his mother?
Right. Joss and the writers are so good at weaving larger themes and making them personal, so that the healthcare issue is in bold letters and isn't just a political problem to be solved but is also a personal matter.
I asked Joss about you specifically and made him give me three words to describe you. He said "stalwart, tortured and great." First off, what do you think of that description, and second what do you think of Joss? And you can let loose.
[Laughs] Well, Joss is a rare species in this Hollywood jungle. He's a totally decent human being and a complete genius. That's what makes him unusual here. Often people are one or the other, but not necessarily both. He's also loyal and funny and intensely creative. And I think we share the torture.
And knowing him as you do, were you surprised at the tone of the show? The undertow of humor in "Angel" and "Buffy" doesn't seem to be as noticeable.
Yeah, I think that's true. I think that there's a thread to his work for sure though. He's willing to be complex when Hollywood wants it simple. Willing to be dark when Hollywood wants it light. He's a brave storyteller and a brave writer and I admire him tremendously.
I think that the undercurrent that you're talking about in "Buffy" and again in "Angel" is present in "Dollhouse" ... it's maybe Joss' attempt to struggle with the confusing and complicated and darker issues that sometimes give us all sleepless nights. It would be nice if morality were black and white, and sexuality were black and white, and right and wrong were clear as day and night, but they're simply not. Anybody who believes and experiences their life and doesn't have shades of gray in it doesn't live where I live and is simply not in touch with the reality of the human condition.
In the struggle, there's beauty in art music and poetry and engineering that mankind has come up with to cope with these things. The show and the dollhouse may just strip bare some of the darker themes that exist in the world, and he's writing to a different audience than 'Buffy." His audience is maturing and Joss is wise to allow his writing to.
How much have you shot and how much do you know about your character's future?
As far as my character, we've only finished an arc ... And I'm not allowed to talk beyond that!
Or I'd be put in The Attic. So, moving on, Daniel Perrin would probably beat up Wesley Wyndham-Price?
Well, he'd beat up Wesley in Seasons 1 through 3 1/2 of "Angel" ... But I think the Wesley of Seasons 4 and 5 might be able to handle himself well. I really wouldn't want to put my money on either of them.
Well, and not to get too off topic, but I've always wanted to know how you felt about the way "Angel" ended and whether that has changed over the years.
Well, I was sad that the show ended, and sad that the journey of those characters was no longer going to be told on screen by us. I felt that in Season 5 the show was coming into a really good groove, that it had been in at various times in its incarnations, but I thought it was really finding its feet and the shows were getting better and better.
And that's one of the strengths of Joss and his team: They're capable of telling these long stories that have enormously lengthy payoffs and are very rewarding if you stick with them. And I felt that we were getting into that [with "Angel".] ... I have a melancholy feeling that Wesley perished. It's a sweet melancholy, but I was very attached to the character.
When Joss found out that "Dollhouse" had been picked up (after Season 1), did he let you know what he had planned?
I don't think I'm speaking out of turn when I say that he was surprised that the show had gotten picked up. ... By the time he spoke to me about it, he was pretty clear about some of the major themes that he wanted to explore. He had clear ideas about how he wanted to [take] the dollhouse out of its isolated form and have it tie in a little bit more deeply and darkly into the political structure of this country. And then start to play with ideas about corruption and the manipulation of politics in our system of government ... The inherent corruption of man can often bring down the best system. We're no better than who we are. We make a great system worse than it is. The American story is a story of great moments and dreadful moments.
-- Jevon Phillips
Photos: Alexis Denisof as Daniel Perrin on "Dollhouse"; and Denisof with Echo (Eliza Dushku). Credit: Fox
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