Slayer returned from the dark side
Slayer returned from the dark side

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the story of a teenage girl battling undead by night while trying to survive the rigours of high school by day, became an unexpected cult phenomenon when it debuted on television in the late 90s. Seven years since production ceased, many still view the series as an example of postmodern television at its best.

Among celebrity guests at Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Perth this weekend is actress Eliza Dushku, who played tortured slayer Faith in the series, a character seduced by her own violent impulses and self-destructive tendencies. Faith's turn to the dark side is infamous in pop culture history, probably second only to Anakin Skywalker's transformation.

"What I loved about her," says Dushku of the character, "was that even when she was completely in the dark side, completely out of her mind and killing people and torturing people, she was written in a way, and we played her in a way, that people still felt for her, people still pulled for her. It wasn't just black and white, good and evil, it was this really complex grey area and people loved her in spite of everything she did."

Taking the part after high school to earn money towards university tuition, her study plans were put on hold when the character proved overwhelmingly popular. Originally signed for a handful of episodes, Dushku went on to reprise the role in 20 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's seven-season run and six episodes of the spin-off series Angel.

"I realised at a certain point how incredible that role was, when I had young women coming up to me on the streets and writing me letters, telling me stories of how they had been abused, and when my character came on Buffy they confronted their abusers. That it just empowered all these young women … I couldn’t believe it."

Series writers let her know a week or so in advance of coming story arcs involving her character.

"You know, tell me that I'm going to be torturing Wesley with cooking spray and a lighter, and slashing his face up, and trying to kill Buffy's boyfriend," she says.

"They'll tell you in sort of a nonchalant way and you just trust them, because every time I've ever worked with that group they've found a way to make it make sense. Definitely it's provoking, and they push the envelope and they provoke the audience that they love so much, but I think that's why the audience loves them back, because they never know what to expect."

Dushku recently paired again with Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for the short-lived series Dollhouse, which she also produced. Cancelled after just two seasons, Dushku feels "five by five" about the whole experience, to borrow Faith's famous catchphrase.

"The show ended in a sort of dark way and I had this feeling fans wonder if I'm OK, wonder if I'm broken? It's quite the opposite. We were grateful for the opportunity. I feel like we created this exciting and smart world for people with the two seasons of the show. We were grateful Fox let us finish out the story and now it's time to move on to something else."

While her reputation is largely built on performances exploring darker themes, Dushku says she'd love to do more comedy and working behind the camera is also still on the table. Considering the current vampire zeitgeist, will we be seeing her on the other end of a stake, portraying a bloodsucker? According to Dushku, it depends on the material.

Supanova Pop Culture Expo takes place at the Claremont Showground, on Friday night (preview night) and Saturday and Sunday from 10am. Tickets from Ticketek, or at the door. Buffy screens Fridays at 4.30pm (AEST) on SciFi.

The West Australian

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