The Reinvention of Eliza Dushku

The Watertown native is out to prove she's more than just a 'dumb actress.'

Eliza Dushku Photo by Toan Trinh

Eliza Dushku Photo by Toan Trinh

After almost 25 years in the entertainment industry, Eliza Dushku is making a few changes to her life.

The Watertown native, who began acting at age 9, rose to fame with memorable roles in Bring It On and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and has worked with everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Leonardo DiCaprio. But despite all of her success, Dushku recently decided to move from Los Angeles back to her hometown in what she calls a “put up or shut up” moment.

Returning home has helped Dushku reconnect with her roots, something she thinks celebrities lose sight of when fame comes knocking at their doors.

“I think so often when people go to Hollywood, everyone starts to morph into the same thing and everyone starts to look the same and sound the same,” Dushku says. “I really like the things that make us unique and diverse.”

Moving back to the Boston area isn’t the only way Dushku’s getting back in touch with her roots, as she steps into the world of documentaries with her new, very personal work, Dear Albania, that premiered last week on PBS.

Dushku spent five years working on the project with the help of her brother Nate, who directed the film, as well as fans who supported the documentary through Kickstarter. The siblings were inspired to shine a light on Albania because of their father, a first generation Albanian whose parents immigrated to the South End in the ’20s.

The country has endured centuries of strife and oppression under various regimes, so Dushku felt it was important to use her platform to inform the world about this often overlooked country.

“We grew up in Watertown, which has a huge Armenian population, and people used to try and convince us that we were Armenian,” Dushku says. “We would say, ‘No, we’re Albanian.’ Nobody seems to know what that is, so it became sort of a theme.”

Dushku first traveled to Albania in the ’90s with her brother and father and fell in love with its culture on the trip. All three family members got tattoos of the Albanian flag’s double eagle emblem during their stay.

Dushku doesn’t plan on doing documentaries full time, but she does want to work on more projects that have some weight to them, like the biopic of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe she’s been working on for the past decade.

Outside of the entertainment industry, though, the Massachusetts-born star feels like she needs to “change lanes a little bit.”

When she’s not advocating for charities or getting certified as a yoga instructor, Dushku takes the bus and the T down to Suffolk University, where she’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Dushku’s mother, who was a professor for 47 years at the school before retiring two years ago, inspired the actress to complete her education. After graduation, Dushku hopes to help people suffering with addiction.

“People are dying and it really is a disease that has this stigma attached to it,” Dushku says. “I have my own personal experience in it and with it, so I think that I can bring a valuable insight or face to it as well.”

Not only has Dushku’s mother influenced her schooling, but she’s also played an integral part in forming the actress’s world views.

Like her badass onscreen characters, Dushku isn’t afraid to speak her mind and is politically vocal, especially when it comes to Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. She credits her mother—whom she describes as a “feminist socialist”—for giving her the confidence and knowledge to fight back against critics.

“People will always also go, ‘You’re just a dumb actress,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, my mother did teach government and comparative politics for the last almost 50 years,’” Dushku says. “I may be just a ‘dumb actress,’ but I also have picked up a few things and observe the goings on of our country. I think that I have a right to have an opinion—and an educated one at that.”