From almost any perspective, that seems like an understatement from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum
Married last summer and expecting her first child this summer, Dushku has seen her more than a decade-long endeavor on the Ondi Timoner-directed film about the controversial and hyper-stylized photographer successfully make it to the big screen. After a premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, the Samuel Goldwyn Film distributed-picture, with former Dr. Who and The Crown star Matt Smith in the title role, made a leap today with openings in NYC, LA, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, the nation’s capital and more.
At the same time, Dollhouse star Dushku was thrust into a controversial spotlight of her own as it was revealed that the actor was paid $9.5 million to settle sexual harassment claims on the set of CBS’ Bull concerning star Michael Weatherly. Coming less than a year after Dushku herself spoke out about being sexually assaulted by a stuntman on True Lies when she was 12, the Bull situation originated from The New York Times publishing information from a leaked probe of ex-CBS boss Les Moonves’ behavior and the overall culture at the company.
Restrained by a non-disclosure agreement as a part of her settlement, Dushku nonetheless penned an op-ed in her hometown paper the Boston Globe in December 2018 delivering her side of the story. “I didn’t leak the story, but I was not comfortable with the false narrative that had been propagated, as I wrote about in the Globe piece,” Dushku told me this week.
Walking a legal line, the op-ed laid out as much as Dushku could what really happened with Weatherly. The actor also detailed why as a once expected series regular, she suddenly was written out of the Amblin Television-produced series after just a few episodes in its first season after presenting her concerns to the network.
I sat down with the frank Dushku recently to talk about the making of Mapplethorpe, where she’s at now and how the current Boston-based Lesley University student got there this year.
DEADLINE: So, as Mapplethorpe is about to open in L.A. and expand across the country, and after a year of, well, a hell of a lot, how are you?
DUSHKU: I am well, thank you. I’ve become good at sort of compartmentalizing even if some people see that as a good thing, some people see that as a bad thing. The year has been in some ways just extraordinary in a beautiful way and it’s been in some ways extraordinary in a really challenging way. However, I feel like this field that I’m studying now, holistic psychology, is about combining all of these — you know, your mind body and spirit — and it’s exactly what I’ve needed and where I’ve needed to be.
So I feel like the universe was looking out for me in that. And in another sense, everything was supposed to happen for us to get to Matt Smith playing Robert Mapplethorpe. He is so good in the movie. Even people that don’t love the movie, they love Matt Smith in the movie.
DEADLINE: In that vein, I know Mapplethorpe was not a film that came together quickly, but how did you get involved in your first run as a feature producer?
DUSHKU: Well, the first time my brother brought me the script from the original writer was 14 years ago. We partnered with Ondi Timoner, the director and co-writer, and optioned the material from Mapplethorpe’s foundation, and it was a long, rough ride.
DEADLINE: How so? I mean, I’d assume one of the hardest parts would be getting the foundation on board.
DUSHKU: For us, there were a number of challenging factors. We had different other cast involved at different times. We worked on the script with the help of the Sundance Institute. We had taken the script to the producer/writer/director labs and wanted to do it right.
DEADLINE: Was Sundance helpful?
DUSHKU: Yeah, it’s a tremendous resource. They do exactly what I was talking about. They bring incredible mentors, and [Robert] Redford himself is up there. They’re giving filmmakers the tools to shoot scenes and then they critique them, and we were really lucky to have some Sundance love.
DEADLINE: So, talking about that rough ride, where was the love harder to find, so to speak?
DUSHKU: (Laughs) Look, this is a business, and as we all know these art movies — whether it’s Frida or Basquiat — they’re not typically a Marvel movie in terms of the return. So you have to sort of find the right financiers for a movie that want to tell a story that’s important.
DEADLINE: Did you think of packing it in by, say Year 10?
DUSHKU: Honestly, sometimes, sometimes. I remember reading about Frida and Salma Hayek, talking about how she’d worked for 12 or 14 years on that movie. This was like just a few years into Mapplethorpe and I thought, “What, that’s insane, how could anyone spend that much time?” But every time it felt like the movie had fallen apart, and there’s no way to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, the sky would open up and a glimmer of light would come through and we would sort of like chase that light. We found ourselves like hopping on a flight or going and meeting this person or chasing every leaf, turning over every stone.
We came so close to missing the window and I think you do, you get a real sense as a producer that’s invested in it that long that you’re leaving something behind, and it really has your sort of print on it and this one makes me really proud.
DEADLINE: Besides actually getting it made, which is a massive accomplishment, what makes you so proud of Mapplethorpe?
DUSHKU: When my brother Nate first brought me that script, I wasn’t familiar really with much of Mapplethorpe’s work. I mean, I knew he took some dirty pictures and I knew that he also took some flower pictures and I knew a little bit about his relationship with Patti [Smith] probably, but nothing substantial.
It wasn’t until we really did a deep dive into his work and met with his foundation and we ended up traveling to Florence for a day to see an exhibit where they had surrounded the David statue with his photographs and I started to realize what an international impact this artist had. What a great American artist he was. The guy was a trailblazer, he was a cultural lightning rod. He was so really brave and imperfect, but we also explored his complicated relationship with his family, his relationship with his religion, and with his peers.
We tried to get to the why and the what drove him. You see his journey and where he began to sort of reconcile in himself that “I am an artist and I have something to say that’s very different than what anyone has ever said.” I thought that was extraordinary, and that was where I saw so much courage in him. I mean, you think about being homosexual and doing what he did in today’s day and age would be challenging. Think about it 30 years ago.
DEADLINE: I do, and I think about it in the context of today’s day and age, as you said, and, to be honest, some of what you gone through …
DUSHKU: Yes, I mean, it’s terrifying. In many ways, we’ve regressed so much when we had made so many strides.
When you talk about Mapplethorpe and back in the ’80s and you’re talking about censorship and First Amendment rights. Yes, of course, there’s the irony of the year that I’ve experienced in terms of silencing people and big corporations. The silencing people in this day and age.
DEADLINE: You mean like NDAs and legal threats?
DUSHKU: To some degree. It’s scary, and I think, frankly, people need to be outspoken and say “We’re not accepting that.” That’s not who we are, that’s not what our democracy is based on. We have our First Amendment rights, and we intend to use them and not have people strip them from us.
So, to go back to Mapplethorpe, it’s extremely relevant right now. Also, in some ways, it’s wild because of the amount of time that it took to make this movie and yet the way that everything has lined up and the timing feeling so important and relevant. The anniversary of Mapplethorpe’s death was 30 years ago last week. The movie is now out across the country and expanding, and he has this beautiful exhibit in the Guggenheim in New York right now. It’s sort of this time of all things Mapplethorpe, so we have to believe that there’s something kismet in that.
DEADLINE: To shift gears, obviously the sexual harassment that happened to you on Bull and the millions CBS paid out in the hopes it and you would go away put a different spotlight on you last year when a copy of the internal investigations over Les Moonves and the overall culture there was leaked to The New York Times. Even with the NDA you signed, you not long after penned an op-ed in the Boston Globe on some of your side of the story, and people should read that, can read that if they want to get your POV. But in terms of NDAs, you recently said you believe that they re-victimize, what did you mean by that?
DUSHKU: As we just talked about in terms or our rights as Americans, and to be able to be complete people, we need the right to stand in our power and in our truth. When you rob somebody of that or when you threaten somebody, it’s really damaging. It’s damaging beyond my business or it’s damaging to a person’s personhood and that is what I’ve really struggled with and realized over the last year.
DUSHKU: As I’m studying trauma and addiction and holistic psychology and the way we store things in our bodies, I’ve also watched this year and I’ve talked to other women who have been part of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement, and it’s been a year of reckoning.
It’s time for us to be open about that and say, “No, we’re going to stand in our truth, we’re going to stand in our power.”
DEADLINE: Do you think that #MeToo and Time’s Up can really work, or do you think that Hollywood eventually will revert to its tried and true and bad ways when it comes to sexual harassment, sexual assault and the culture of complacency?
DUSHKU: I’ll say this: In my case, what made me feel a responsibility was the fact that I had been around for so many years. I have been around for almost 30 years. I had worked and built myself up to a place where you know I wasn’t off the bus and yet on a set, I didn’t have a voice. After all those years, to find myself feeling powerless and feeling victimized was not — it was more important to me to tell the truth and face the consequences.
I didn’t leak the story, but I was not comfortable with the false narrative that had been propagated, as I wrote about in the Globe piece. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. But, as you said, I took the opportunity to fully respond to the leak in the CBS case. I responded very deliberately and very intentionally with my Globe piece in many ways in hopes that then I would be able to go on and celebrate the things that I have worked so hard for and on, and not have the bad behavior of men and others define my life going forward.
DEADLINE: Clearly, that’s not where your head is at…
DUSHKU: This year did shake me, you know — didn’t break me, that’s for sure. Like, this is one of my first trips back to LA in a little while, and I actually spent the morning with the three heads of the Time’s Up organization and Mr. Steven Spielberg.
DEADLINE: What was that discussion like with them and the man who, among other things, is the boss of Bull producers Amblin TV?
DUSHKU: Good. We sat and brainstormed and discussed possible solutions for this systemic imbalance of power, the abuse and harassment that we’ve been seeing and hearing and experiencing and both in our industry and beyond. That’s something that you know that I can and will continue to contribute to and I want to look at it from my own experience.
DEADLINE: Do you think others, at that meeting today and otherwise, get that?
DUSHKU: Yes, I think this is a movement. This is not a fad and that’s one thing that was really clear in talking with these women this morning. We need strength in numbers. We need allies like Steven Spielberg, and of course, we do need the media to tell the stories and to help lay responsibility and accountability where it needs to be.
DEADLINE: And for you?
DUSHKU: I want to look at it from a holistic healing perspective and the work I hope to do there. You know, I wouldn’t sit here and say it’s all very exciting, but I think we all at a certain point realize in our lives that as everything starts to intersect you do start to figure out sort of who you are and what you’re here for. I think one of the hardest parts when we’re all facing the different forms of adversity in our lives, is that we do end up carrying a lot of shame. We do end up covering things up and hiding things and then if you come out with things then you have to face the sort of backlash or the opinions of everybody sort of looking at you and judging you. It can all be really overwhelming and you can feel like you just want to numb out and escape. Now, I’m learning to transform that into something that might help someone else.
Of course, I understand that journalists have their job and that they have to ask, but I also would hope that that’s something that people pay attention to. That part of my being able to heal and to move on is to be able to stand in the power that I produced this movie for 14 years and it’s doing incredibly well and we’re expanding this week. It’s an accomplishment having been an actor for so long, as my first feature as a producer and yeah, I’m really, I’m really psyched about that.
DEADLINE: No argument there…
DUSHKU: Yeah. I’m not only in service of Mapplethorpe, I’m in service of everyone that came together to make this movie. While my story is important, I’ve talked about it, I’ve written about it. Now I want to be in service of this movie and this story and everyone that worked on it.
DEADLINE: So what’s next?
DUSHKU: (Laughs and points at her pregnant belly) Well, my next major production will be this summer in July and that’s right here. Other than that, I mean, god, to look back at almost 30 years in this business I feel like I’m just so grateful, I’m proud of so many of the things that I’ve done as a producer. You know, I was a producer on Dollhouse and that was an incredible experience. My brother and I also had produced a documentary about Albania with PBS, and it’s on Amazon now called Dear Albania.
So what’s next is just having that freedom to tell any kinds of stories that I want to tell that are important to me.