Sci Fi (US) – 2008
Amy Acker heats up the screen in the Sci Fi channel original Fire & Ice and Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse.
FOR A PETITE, SOFT-SPOKEN BALLET DANCER from suburban Texas, Amy Acker has kicked a lot of ass. On screen, at least. Since being cast as the brainy and quirky Winifred “Fred” Burkle in Joss Whedon’s vampire spinoff series Angel, Acker has become a go-to girl for projects involving strong female characters.
She’ll next be seen in the SCI FI Channel original movie Fire & Ice, in which she plays a princess who is anything but a damsel in distress.
“I had always wanted to do some sort of period piece,” Acker says in an interview. “I just seem to always be attracted to sci-fi-ish things anyway, and I like the strong character that I got to play. She wasn’t the typical girl. So it was fun to just get to travel and do some things that are not your normal TV show.”
In the movie, which airs in October, Acker plays Luisa, a wilful, tomboyish princess who takes it upon herself to save the kingdom from a marauding, fire-breathing dragon. She sets off in search of a famous dragon killer, but when she discovers that he’s dead, she has to make do with his son (played by British actor Tom Wisdom) instead. Together, they come up with a plan to lure a larger ice dragon down from the mountains. But the solution may end up being worse than the problem.
The film was shot on location over the course of seven weeks in Bucharest, a rapidly growing center of production in Eastern Europe. Acker, a mother of two young children, was concerned about spending nearly two months from her family, so she packed up the kids and brought them to Romania with her.
“My whole family went,” she says. “So I took my two little kids and my husband, and we all went to Romania. So most of the difficult part was just trying to navigate being in the country, finding diapers and stuff.”
While not playing the role of jet-setting mom, Acker was learning fight choreography, running from tennis balls on sticks (which would later become CGI dragons), riding horses and basically living out a childhood fantasy herself. She enjoys doing projects that allow her to participate in activities she wouldn’t normally get to experience. It’s what keeps her coming back to fantasy and science fiction films and television series again and again.
“I enjoy doing it because I think you really get to be imaginative, and you get to do stuff that’s not in real time and something that’s totally different,” she says. “It’s something you would never get to experience. I think it’s fun to just take it to that whole other level.”
It certainly helps to have a good friend by the name of Joss Whedon, who just happens to be expert at creating strong and interesting roles for women. The two have stayed in touch since Angel ended, and Acker says she owes many of her subsequent tough-girl roles — including a recurring role as Jennifer Garner’s nemesis on Alias — to the exposure and recognition she got for playing Fred.
“I guess when you’re hanging out with Joss, he’s always got the girls fighting,” she says. “It would probably be weirder to be the damsel in distress.”
When Acker heard that Whedon was developing a new series, she was naturally drawn to it. The show stars and was co-created by Eliza Dushku, another Buffyverse veteran, who many will remember as renegade slayer Faith Lehane.
“I kept telling him how jealous I was of Eliza and all the other people, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I wish I could write a show for my friends,'” Acker recalls. “And then about a week or something before they shot the pilot, my husband picked up the phone and was like, ‘Joss wants to know if you’re going to come do the thing for Dollhouse.’ And I was like, ‘What? What’s he talking about?’ And this character sort of came in later.”
Acker plays Dr. Claire Saunders, the caretaker of a special unit of agents called “dolls,” who are programmed with false memories and personalities catered to specific assignments. Once their task is completed, their memories are wiped clean, but as the show begins, it becomes apparent that some of their past is starting to seep through.
“I’m the doctor who takes care of all of the dolls in the dollhouse,” Acker explains. “And I have these horrible scars all over my face, so you get the sense that there’s a little history to my character, and you’re going to find out what happened to her and why she got these and why she kept them, and all of that stuff.”
Originally, Whedon told Acker that he wanted to avoid bringing in other cast members from Buffy and Angel, to keep the projects and their worlds separate from one another. The part of Dr. Saunders was written for an older woman in her 40s or 50s, but Whedon eventually decided that Acker was the right person for the role and adapted it to fit her. She admits that she would have been happy to be involved in the project in any capacity.
“I was like, ‘Um, thank you,’ because I was asking if I could makeup or wardrobe or something. I just wanted to be a part of it. It sounded really cool.”
Dollhouse will premiere on Fox in midseason, but the project is already generating buzz among Whedon fans, who are excited to see him return to television. The exposure likely won’t hurt Acker’s image as an actress who likes to take risks. She’s pleased with the trajectory of her career, she says, although it has taken her miles away from where she thought she’d be.
“I was telling my professor at college. I saw him and I was like, ‘You guys never had any classes about acting with monsters or vampires or imaginary dragons,'” she jokes. “That seems to be what you really need to know how to do. Maybe I’ll go back and teach that one.”
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