Dollhouse, Joss Whedon's dark sci-fi drama, revolved around a black-market organization that rented programmable people — dubbed "Actives" — out to wealthy clients for "engagements" that ranged from sexual and illicit to dangerous and illegal.
Like many a Whedon series, Dollhouse was far from a ratings hit (the series premiere drew 4.72 million viewers and was the highest-rated episode ever) and was canceled by Fox in 2010, after 26 episodes. But in a turn of events that's fitting for a show about characters who are endlessly reborn, Dollhouse has found a second life on DVD and Netflix.
Cancellation was also unable to erase the bonds formed by the cast and crew, with many subsequent Whedonverse collaborations rising from Dollhouse's ashes. The latest is Lust for Love, a new romantic comedy available today in theaters and on VOD, which stars Fran Kranz, Miracle Laurie, Enver Gjokaj, and Dichen Lachman, who also co-produced. The film follows the hopelessly romantic but endlessly misguided Astor (played by Kranz) as he searches for love in Los Angeles.
At Lust for Love's Los Angeles premiere, BuzzFeed brought the four together backstage in the green room to talk about the fan-backed film, look back on the biggest lessons learned from Dollhouse's demise, and reflect upon life in Joss Whedon's ever-expanding troupe.
Was the plan to always cast the film with Dollhouse alums?
Dichen Lachman: Yes. I wanted to work with friends because we're still so close. It just became about shuffling the parts around to fit everyone's schedule because, obviously, these guys didn't get rich doing this movie.
Miracle Laurie: What? I didn't? (laughs)
Dichen: So it was about working with people's schedules and finding the right role in the right time.
When Dichen called, was there a discussion about your roles, or did you simply ask, "When do you need me?"
Miracle: "When do you need me?"
Fran Kranz: To me, it felt like an opportunity to get the gang back together and have fun while also creating something amazing in the process. And I was promised I'd get to kiss multiple beautiful girls, which I did.
Enver Gjokaj: As an actor, you're so powerless. You're always waiting for someone to say you get to do something, so it's amazing when we can be the ones to create the opportunity to work with each other again. This was the perfect opportunity. But for Dichen and Anton [King, director], I'd be the guy wearing a silly mustache saying, (mimics Italian accent) "Sorry, wrong room!"
Miracle: That's a really bad Italian accent. (laughs) You sound like Mario.
Enver: (laughs) What I'm saying is, I'd have done whatever they wanted.
Miracle: Enver is right. You are blessed enough to be on a TV show for a couple of years, and that opens a lot of doors — but then not so many. And you have no idea what this business is going to turn into for you, what opportunities you'll be afforded, and what power you'll have ... which is none. I think it was wonderful of Dichen and Anton to create this happy pocket to dive back into after the show.
There seem to be two acting "troupes" currently thriving in Hollywood: Ryan Murphy's (Nip/Tuck, Glee, and American Horror Story) and Joss Whedon's. Why do you think graduates from the Joss Whedon school have become so omnipresent?
Enver: I think he has an amazing ability to pick really talented and really cool people — I haven't met a single person he's ever worked with who I think is an asshole. And what happens when you're in that group is you start meeting other people he's hired and you realize they're awesome too. He's so creative and he's so talented, it's almost like Joss leaves creativity in his wake.
Miracle: That's so true. I've met people at conventions from Buffy, and now I'm honestly good buddies with Nicholas Brendon, who I loved as Xander, because I actually watched Buffy. And that happens all the time. You just connect with these people who have been on the same journey because, I think, the community of actors and writers in the Whedonverse are very specific kind of people. I think we all know how lucky we are, I think we like to celebrate that and now have one another's back in a very bizarre way.
Dichen, do you think Lust for Love would have been able to meet its Kickstarter goals if it wasn't for the Dollhouse connection?
Dichen: Absolutely not. This movie would have never been made if we hadn't had the opportunity to work on the show with someone like Joss.
Miracle: The proof of the Whedonverse's power is in the Kickstarter. The fans were like, "My Dollhouse people back together? Yes, please!" (laughs)
Dichen, because you asked the fans for money and promised them a Dollhouse reunion, how much pressure did you feel about delivering a product that was on par with the quality they'd come to expect from the Whedonverse?
Dichen: I cannot even tell you how much pressure I felt every single day. I felt a huge sense of responsibility to deliver something of the best quality. It was incredibly stressful and I cried many times — Enver, who comes to my house nearly every day, has seen me in pretty foul moods. But when people tell me they enjoyed the film, a little piece of me comes back to life.
As a Whedonverse fan myself, I've noticed an endurance to the fandom that doesn't exist in many other places. Have you been surprised by how passionate the Dollhouse fans still are?
Fran: It makes you wonder why the show was canceled, doesn't it? (everyone laughs) People tell me they're obsessed with Dollhouse, or that they were just watching the show. Once you're a part of the Whedonverse, it doesn't go away, so it doesn't feel like we made that show five years ago. It feels far more recent, and I think we carry that around with us. I've always connected with the fans because I am a fan myself. Sometimes I'll even find myself keeping them around. Like, "What about that episode when Topher did this?"
Enver: Like they want to leave?
Miracle: Yep, they just wanted a picture and then you start talking about fan theories and they're all, "I'm good, thanks." (laughs)
Fran: I had it happen on the subway where a guy had to be like, "Um, this is my stop."
Well, why do you think the show didn't click with more viewers when it aired?
Miracle: I think the timing of Dollhouse was everything. We existed right before it became trendy and popular to catch up on shows after the fact. We were right before binge-watching became such a thing. So, I meet people all the time who are just now watching the show online. I think if we were online when that was more accepted, we might have stayed alive a little longer.
Dichen: Maybe Netflix will pick up a third season of our show. (laughs)
Miracle: Netflix, we're free!
Enver: I didn't know the show was going to become available on Netflix, but I could tell the instant it did because, out of nowhere, people started coming up to me — and tweeting me — about Dollhouse all the time.
Did any of you know one another before getting cast?
In unison: No.
Enver: Wait! We did! I knew Fran!
Fran: Do I know this?
Enver: The night I got cast in Dollhouse, I went out for drinks across the street from my house, and he was there. I was like, "I think that's the other dude who got cast in Dollhouse."
Fran: Oh, right!
Enver: And I went up to you, said hi, and it was like, "I can't believe we just got cast in a TV show!" But that was only days before [we started filming].
Fran: That's right! Was that the same night I got thrown out of that bar?
Miracle: Oh, Fran....
Fran: I got thrown out of that bar by Summer Glau's boyfriend, of all people.
Miracle: See! It's a small world, an even smaller town, and the Whedonverse makes it even smaller.
Fran: That's right, I remember I texted Dichen afterwards asking if Summer Glau's boyfriend worked at The Woods. Yeah, OK. Oh man.
Looking back, what stands out to you about making the show?
Enver: We were so spoiled. This was my first actual series and I thought it was just how all TV shows worked. I thought everyone was always super cool and the scripts were totally awesome and everything is happening in a very orderly fashion on set. Then, after Dollhouse got canceled, it was such a letdown because I had this totally false expectation of what a set was like. I've been on sets where nobody wants to talk to the other person, or someone's a diva.
Dichen: We really were like a family. And we still are.
Fran: You make friends on other projects, but this was different. I still feel like these people are my family — and the larger Whedonverse population is my extended family. But I expect these relationships to be a part of the rest of my life and I can't say that about anything else I've ever done professionally. It's so special. And there's something to be said about that quality of the scripts, like Enver was talking about. There's sadly so little of that out in the world. I mean, these friends are special, but to get such unique scripts ... I just miss the the whole experience of making this show dearly. I didn't take it for granted, but I didn't necessarily totally understand just how special it was to have something that original. We were all spoiled at a young age. You read television pilots now and it's like, "Yikes!"
Coming into Dollhouse, how aware were you of Joss' work and the Whedonverse in general?
Fran: I knew about the success of Buffy but I hadn't seen it, so I thought it might have been a silly WB vampire show and I thought of Joss as a cult, niche creator. Then I read the Dollhouse script, and it was so great that it made me totally rethink my preconceived notions of who Joss was. Then I watched Firefly, because I'm a Star Wars fan, and was just blown away. That's when I knew he was a genius.
Enver: My friends at Berkeley all loved Buffy, but I had no idea. So when I got cast in Dollhouse, all my friends lost their minds. After I was cast, I didn't want to watch eight seasons of a show just to be blown away so I could show up the first day of work utterly unable to speak to my new boss. So I didn't watch anything until Dollhouse was over. Then I watched Firefly in between Seasons 1 and 2 and it was just so good.
Fran: Yeah, I was definitely starstruck after I watched Firefly. My whole attitude towards him changed. He was no longer just some writer/director, that's why I think Enver was smart to wait. Joss is just that good.
Miracle: I had been auditioning for Buffy since I was 19, one of his casting directors saw me in a workshop and brought me in for this tiny co-star role and then brought me back for a solid five years for co-star roles, guest star roles — I was actually up to be one of the potential slayers in the final season. My relationship with that office was solid, but it never worked. I then was up to play Kaylee in Firefly. Jewel [Staite] obviously got it, but I was definitely very close, so by the time Dollhouse rolled around, my journey in the Whedonverse had been going on for so freakin' long! I remember thinking, All right, this better work because I feel like this part was written for me and is mine to lose. And it worked. For me, it was really funny to have it click after all that time.
What do you consider to be the best thing you've learned from or experienced through Joss?
Miracle: I remember reading the episode where Mellie [is revealed to be a sleeper Active], I was like, "Joss loves me!" I got to have sex and I got to kill a guy, it was just the best episode ever. Having someone like Joss Whedon believe in you is a whole other level of joy and sweetness you don't get in this business all the time. I think having that kind of environment, where the creator of your show believed in you and genuinely loved you and cared about you and fought for you to be on his show, proves that his heart is a special thing. I'm still grateful to be in it.
Fran: I take [my work] pretty seriously and I feel like Joss instilled a real sense of responsibility in me. It might come from the fact my perception of him changed so quickly from auditioning, where I saw him as just another writer/director during pilot season, to being a starstruck fan, but I really look up to him. And I think my work ethic changed because of the sense of responsibility I feel to him to do my best work. I remember when I booked Dollhouse, a friend told me, "You will have fans for the rest of your life now. You don't understand, but your whole life just changed." And it's true. It's years later and I know that there are people out there all over the world who actually care about me and my career. I can't articulate exactly how much that means to me. That's what we do this for. That's who we do this for. I attribute that to Joss. I owe him a debt I can't repay.
Did any of you have an inkling that your whole life could change, like Fran said, because of Dollhouse when you were making it?
Dichen: I was relatively unaware. I think it's partly because I grew up in another country where we didn't have a ton of American culture. I didn't know what I was getting into, and I was blown away by it. I didn't expect all the people to be so wonderful. I think a lot of us keep in touch with fans, personally, that we've met through this job.
Miracle: They turn into friends.
Enver: The fans are what make this different from another job. The fans are so supportive and so cool and so informed. On a general level, the fans are very sophisticated viewers and they will get into it with you.
Dichen: Our fans are so amazing — there's a guy from Italy who flew here just to come tonight.
Miracle and Enver, in unison: Giorgio's here?!?
Dichen: Yeah! I mean, this guy built Obama's helicopter. He's an engineer, and he's here tonight. There are so many fascinating, interesting people from all walks of life who I've met through this show and that's what I really didn't expect.
Is it possible to articulate what it means to have people so passionately invested in your work?
Dichen: It's pretty overwhelming. I think we got incredibly lucky.
Miracle: We are incredibly lucky. The fact any of the fans have turned into friends is amazing, and I don't know that many actors can say that. The fact Giorgio is here blows me away.
Enver: I didn't want to get on Twitter for a long time and someone explained it to me this way: Actors have always had something between them and the people who want to consume their product. But we now live in a world where, for the first time ever, someone can say, "I like what you do," and I can reply, "Thank you, dude!" I can have that direct conversation, and as simple as that seems, it's never existed before. I think this whole movie is such a tribute to how much of a page has turned in terms of entertainment and we're only starting to feel the ramifications of it now. I mean, this movie is possible because we're able to communicate directly with people who, for one reason or another, actually want to see us all together. And thank god for that, because it's unbelievably powerful when you realize that people from all over the world are supporting you.