Tahmoh Penikett Talks about Bringing Down the Dollhouse
After months of press and promotion — and a two-week production shutdown — Joss Whedon's new series Dollhouse will premiere on Feb. 13. TVGuide.com recently spoke with series co-star Tahmoh Penikett, who plays FBI agent Paul Ballard, a man with a mission to bring down the Dollhouse permanently. We asked Penikett what he thinks is really behind Paul's obsession with the Dollhouse, what it's like working with Whedon and when his character will actually meet the elusive doll, Echo (Eliza Dushku).
Dollhouse airs Fridays at 9 pm/ET on Fox.
TVGuide.com: How excited are you that the premiere of Dollhouse is almost here?
Tahmoh Penikett: I'm really excited. I'll tell you, I'm still surprised — and a lot of us are — that we're already there. It's amazing how fast [filming] the first season went by. There are a lot of things that happened over the season. It was tumultuous at times with all the speculation, and the press, and the hype and everything. I don't know. I'm just really surprised that we're almost mid-February and that we're done. We finished 13 episodes.
TVGuide.com: After production was shut down briefly, when did you feel the show found its rhythm in filming the remaining episodes?
Penikett: I really feel that the first three episodes are very much... they're stand-alones. I've heard some critics call them almost procedural-like. I think they are what they are. I think Joss' fans — and the audience out there — are really going to appreciate the show, but they will have to stick with us for a little bit. Around the fourth or fifth episode, the show really defines itself in a unique way. There was a consensus on set that we found our feet. You could feel it. You could feel the energy, and the scripts were really, really good. That's where the longer storylines and arcs are starting to get developed. There's a real positive and optimistic sense amongst everyone, I would say, because these last four or five episodes of the series are really, really strong. It's gonna blow you away.
TVGuide.com: How collaborative is Joss with the actors regarding storylines?
Penikett: Joss has been very much behind the scenes writing the scripts and stuff. In the beginning he was wearing many different hats: executive producer, director, writer. If I have any suggestions for a scene, he's open to hearing them. The thing is, you don't often have too many problems with a scene because Joss is just such a damn good writer. Every single word — his ideas, what's playing out in the overall scene, and whether that scene is going to form a later scene or a greater storyline arc. So you just trust what he's doing and go for it.
TVGuide.com: Your character, Paul, is kind of a loner; his fellow agents make fun of him for his interest in the Dollhouse. What's the real motivation for his quest?
Penikett: I think Joss is really trying to establish that in the first episode — there's no quitting with this guy. The only reason he's in a bad position at the FBI is because of his ambition and his sometimes heavy-handed tactics. He has to bend the rules sometimes to get his way. But that's one of the most compelling and interesting things about this character. Why is he so eager to do things? Why does he need to do things by himself? Has he always been this way? Has he always alienated himself from other people? Once he sees the face of the Dollhouse — that being Caroline/Echo — he's even more driven to bring it down and expose it. Something clicks in him.
TVGuide.com: Dollhouse is a bit darker than Joss' other shows. Will we get to see Paul have a sense of humor at all?
Penikett: Yes, you will. He's not just a bitter, angry man. You're going to see more of that this season. Joss — obviously — always has his wit in there. Paul's headspace is really serious right now, but one of the other actresses I work with, she and I just clicked right away. She's awesome ... we have fun together. So, we actually started finding humor in the scenes, especially when we have a little banter happening between us.
TVGuide.com: Who is this other actress?
Penikett: I'm not telling you. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Are we ever going to see Paul find an ally at the FBI? Someone who believes in him and his search for the Dollhouse?
Penikett: Potentially. There's someone who might believe in some of the stuff that he's pursuing and might even help him out. This season you'll meet someone who will help him somewhat.
TVGuide.com: When are you going to come face to face with Echo for the first time? Soon?
Penikett: You won't have to wait long. It'll happen this season and it'll happen soon.