While the exquisite face is unmistakable, the woman underneath is a chameleon, having starred in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse as the in-demand active Sierra, taking on a new personality every week, before moving on to guest roles on Torchwood and the American version of Being Human. In person, however, she is never anything other than lovely, and on Sunday 13th May, while attending the science fiction convention Starfury Inva2ion, Dichen Lachman was kind enough to kind enough to make time away from the gathered fans to sit in a quiet corner of the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel, Heathrow, to discuss her career and her current projects.
Geek Chocolate – In two seasons of Dollhouse, there wasn’t a single conceivable emotional state or attitude that you weren’t asked to adopt. Are there any moments that stand out for you?
Dichen Lachman – I definitely think that the Priya episode, Belonging, her backstory, was the most challenging and stood out to me the most, and I feel like it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do up until that point as an actor to achieve all those different states in such a short period of time, to go back and forth from the doll state to a fully fleshed human being.
GC – Although Eliza Dushku’s Echo/Caroline was the intellect, the drive of the show, Priya was very much the soul of it, wouldn’t you agree?
DL – I think a lot of people felt like that, and then there are a lot of people who responded to Echo’s story as well. Priya was much more of a vulnerable character, and even though Echo had those moments, she was very strong and very much represented that sort of leadership. Priya had a lot of baggage and was still dealing with that, whereas Caroline was fighting it.
GC – How fantastic is it that your agent can put together an entire showreel that most actors would take decades to achieve, and all edited from just one show?
DL – It’s amazing, it’s amazing. I actually cut my own showreel because they didn’t do it for me! But going through all the footage, it was so hard to pick because there was so much stuff I could have used, other than the doll footage, because out of context it’s hard to understand in a showreel, why is this person not acting normal? But it was a goldmine of stuff, I couldn’t believe it.
GC – Dollhouse was a tough sell for a Friday night. Do you prefer challenging work, even though it’s harder to grow an audience, or do you ever just want to slip into something simple?
DL – I always prefer more challenging. I would much rather work on a cable network, obviously the HBOs and the Showtimes, and do something that’s really good and can push boundaries. You know networks can’t because it’s for everybody and they have to cater to advertisers and different age groups. On cable you can push those boundaries which means you can do more interesting things, and I would much rather cater to a smaller audience doing those things than spitting out criminal investigation jargon all the time where I don’t actually get to have an arc.
GC – And speaking of cable, I know that you’re a big fan of Game of Thrones, and you’re keen to get on there.
DL – I would love to be on Game of Thrones. It is such an interesting place to experiment with people’s relationships to power, their relationships to each other, political climates, but in a fantastical world with all these amazing characters, and the scenery is phenomenal, and the writing is remarkable. I would love to be on that show, but we’ll see what happens.
GC – This is your fourth Starfury convention, and you’ve always been charming, enthusiastic and gracious to the fans. How aware of the fanbase were you, taking on a Joss Whedon show, and have your feelings towards the fans changed in this time?
DL – I wasn’t really aware of Joss fans really until all the internet buzz started about the show, so I didn’t know there was an entire culture based on what he’s done and his work, and I felt very lucky and privileged to become a part of that, and you know Felicia (Day, of The Guild, Geek and Sundry and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, another guest at the event) put it very well tonight, to see the human being, the people who watch us and support us, it’s such a wonderful, refreshing and really grounding experience. I get so much out of meeting them all.
GC – Since then you’ve had dealings with the Torchwood team on Miracle Day. Were you ready for a new branch of fandom?
DL – I wasn’t ready, really, but I think that a lot of Torchwood fans are the same as Whedon fans, they appreciate the sci-fi genre. It would be rare to find a Torchwood fan who wasn’t immersed within the Whedon world and vice versa. I’ve met some of them here, and they’re Dollhouse fans and Torchwood fans, so it’s really interesting.
GC – Were you aware of the British Being Human before you were offered the part in the US version, and how do you think they compare?
DL – I had the DVD boxset of the British version given to me here by some lovely fans, Steve and Susie, who were in the fancy dress last night, but I’ve only seen snippets of it. I think they’re very different shows, and it’s always interesting when people adapt material, seeing their new take. There’s also a Dollhouse writer on that show, and the creators were fans of Dollhouse, so they’re also in that world, that genre. It was really cool to play a vampire, and one of the reasons why I didn’t watch too much of the British show is that I didn’t want to be too influenced tonally before I went and did the job.
With Sam Witwer on Being Hum
GC – Transatlantic remakes have been going on in both directions for years, but with multiple cable channels and internet television, it’s possible to follow two iterations of a show simultaneously. Do you think that puts more pressure to succeed, or does it allow each to play off the other, move things in unexpected directions?
DL – I think it does put a lot of pressure on. In this pilot season, they were trying to make Downton Abbey ripoffs, and they tried to make a Girl With the Dragon Tattoo pilot, but Sony was threatening to sue Warner Brothers if they went ahead, because it was a direct ripoff. It does put a lot of pressure, sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s not. I think it puts pressure on the creators and the actors, because people have expectations. I think it’s a difficult thing, and it’s a dangerous place to get caught up in, because you stop thinking of original ideas, but at the same time it can give birth to a new way of doing something. So it’s a weird place to sit, but I think we’ll find our way out of it in a good way.
GC – You’ve worked on three very different shows, an Australian soap, an American episodic drama, and now a cable miniseries. How would you contrast the different production styles?
Topher and Sierra in the Dollhouse
DL – Americans spend a lot of money, a lot of money. One episode of Neighbours would not have paid for a day of Dollhouse. There’s more money, and there’s more people in America, so it’s very different. They generally spend a lot more money, but the craft is the same, acting is the same, it doesn’t change. You have your technique, your little process or whatever and you just take it from there. Ian Smith, who plays Harold on Neighbours, said one thing to me before I left which I’ll never forget. He said, “Darling, whenever you go onto a set for the rest of your life, just pretend you’re here, and just feel comfortable, because there might be more money, the people might be different, but it’s just the same thing.” And I never forgot that, god love Harold!
GC – The soap industry is pretty brutal, but if you can survive that, you can do anything, and many who have graduated that school, like yourself, have done well in America – Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Ryan Kwanten, Kylie Minogue. Was it a good place to start, and how did it set you up for your career?
DL – It was an amazing place to start, and what it did in terms of setting up my career was it gave me the financial security to pursue acting like hell for leather, because I didn’t have to focus on any other job just to keep my head above water, it allowed me the means to take meetings in the United States. I don’t think there’s a better way for an actor to really get started short of being plucked off the street by Steven Spielberg.
GC – Finally, so long after filming, The Cabin in the Woods is out, featuring both Chris Hemsworth, another Australian soap escapee, and your former Dollhouse programmer Fran Kranz. How much did he let slip to you ahead of time?
DL – Fran has a habit of telling people everything, but actually Kevin (Beaumont, who ran dollverse.com and the UK Browncoats website) told me more about the movie than Fran did, and I never would have shared it of course, Joss, if you’re reading. No, I didn’t really know a lot about it, I knew it was a horror, and Joss gave me some little tidbits, but I had no idea when I went to see it that it was going to be what it was, absolutely none. And Fran was incredible in that film, and he’s in our film that we raised the money for on Kickstarter, Lust for Love, and he’s just so good in it and just so different.
Caitlin, Fran and Dichen in Lust for Love
GC – And tell us more about that film, Lust for Love.
DL – Well, it’s a romantic comedy starring Fran Kranz, Beau Garrett, myself, Caitlin Stasey, who is another former Australian soap actress, who played my sister on Neighbours, and she’s also on I, Frankenstein, the new Stuart Beattie film with Aaron Eckhart and Yvonne Strahovski. We raised $100,000 by, some means, the grace of god, you know I’m not that religious, but you guys pulled through, and we made a film, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done I’ve ever done in my life. We’re in post-production now, and it’s going to be a fun movie. It’s not in the sci-fi genre, but it definitely represents an outsider. Fran’s character, Astor, definitely represents the person that doesn’t really fit in, and I think that people in the sci-fi world respond to that, because generally sci-fi is about that, the outsiders, the people who are not conforming, or who don’t fit in. In those terms people will really respond to the film, and Fran is just so watchable. I could watch him read the phone book, you know, he’s really good.
GC – You enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods, didn’t you?
DL – I loved it. Game changer.
GC – So, you wait six years for a Joss Whedon film, then between Cabin, The Avengers, which has Enver Gjokaj in a supporting role, and the forthcoming Much Ado About Nothing, with Amy Acker, Reed Diamond and Alexis Denisof, all of whom appeared in Dollhouse, you hopefully get three in one year. Do you hope to work with Joss again?
DL – I don’t think there is a person in the world who has worked with him who wouldn’t want to work with him again. He’s a really great writer. I mean, he’s a genius! I would work with Joss Whedon in a heartbeat, and I hope he casts me again in something that he thinks I’m right for. His family is like my LA family, Jed and Maurissa (Whedon, Joss’ brother and Tancharoen, both Dollhouse writers) are like my dearest, dearest friends, I would do anything for them. Dollhouse, more than anything, gave me a real sense of home in LA by meeting Enver and Fran and Jed and Mo and Joss and his family and his extended family. We go to Christmasses together and we have barbecues together. That’s what makes LA feel like home, so regardless of the work, I’ll always have the personal connection, and that means a lot to me. But I’d work with Jed, Maurissa, Joss in a heartbeat. In a heartbeat. I wouldn’t even have to think about it. You could answer for me!
GC – I think pretty much everyone who has ever worked with him has said that.
DL – Yeah!
GC – I know he is hoping to take Much Ado to film
festivals. Are you planning on that for Lust for Love, or are you going to try and take it direct to distributors?
DL – Well, we haven’t quite decided. The world is changing so fast, and you guys are consuming things so differently, so we’re going to wait and see. It’s a commercial film, so I don’t know if it’s going to really do well at festivals, because festivals like darker dramatic films, and that’s wonderful and we need that, but our film may not feed into that world. We’ll see what happens, but we definitely think that you guys will enjoy it. I certainly enjoyed watching it and I’m sure Much Ado will do brilliantly.
GC – I understand the scriptwriter was successful in his time.
DL – Yes, exactly! I was really annoyed, Joss said “do you want this small part,” and I was like “oh, I wish I could do it,” but I had to go to Canada to film Being Human, so I missed out. Next time, next time.
GC – One of the things we spoke about yesterday, on Dollhouse, the physical set itself, that was not a set, that was an environment. How much did that shape the performance, to have that presence?
The cast of Last Resort
DL – Yeah, absolutely. It’s like the guys when they talk about Game of Thrones, they don’t have to act sometimes, because it’s just cold, or it’s hot, or they’re thirsty. Their world is so well built because they’re actually in the location that the environment is doing the acting. It’s like when you put prosthetic makeup on, the makeup is doing the acting, you just have to feel it. I absolutely think that environment helped the performance.
GC – You’ve played a vampire, a nurse, an FBI agent, almost everything conceivable within the doors of the Dollhouse, but I believe you would like to play a Vulcan for JJ Abrams?
DL – Oh, I would! But I don’t know if that will ever happen. There are many doors between me and JJ, and some of them aren’t opening. But, you know, all in good time, and I really believe everyone’s journey is very specific, and we all have a path, and we’re just slowly making our way there. I hope to work with him in the future, and maybe it will be on Star Trek, I don’t know, but I am a fan. We’re all fans of something. Everybody’s a fan, and that would make me tremendously happy.
GC – Dichen Lachman, thank you so much for your time, it is always a pleasure to see you.
DL – You’re so welcome!
Special thanks to Dichen Lachman for her time, and Sean Harry of Starfury Conventions for arranging the interview, and Grant Gowdy for the photos from the event. Details of upcoming events can be found at www.starfury.co.uk
The complete Dollhouse is now available on DVD and blu-ray
Dichen’s new television show, Last Resort, written by Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield, and also starring Scott Speedman, Andre Braugher, Robert Patrick and Bruce Davison, debuts later this year, and she has also recently starred in the film Sunday Punch