Eliza Dushku was the queen of the early 2000s, slaying her way through the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series as Faith and, of course, taking on the role of Missy in the 2000 teen favorite, Bring It On. She also entered a scream queen phase in the 2003 horror flick, Wrong Turn. But since her last starring role in the 2009 series, Dollhouse, Dushku’s star has faded a bit.
Once a staple on the big screen and men’s magazines, the Massachusetts native’s life and career have included several happy firsts and horrible setbacks that played out in the public eye. That said, the former child actress has been in the business for over 30 years, so we couldn’t hold it against her if she wanted to retire. However, while there’s no retirement plans just yet, the Tru Calling star has found more than a few reasons to leave Tinseltown behind for good.
Here’s the real reason Eliza Dushku left Hollywood.
Eliza Dushku is busy with her charity work
Eliza Dushku’s mother, Judy Dushku, has been involved with charities abroad for awhile. In honor of her 30th birthday in 2010, Eliza teamed up with her mom and digital media site Tonic to raise $30,000 for THARCE Gulu, a center for former child soldiers in Gulu, Uganda. Eliza and Judy visited the African country (along with Eliza’s now ex-boyfriend Rick Fox, a former LA Laker) that same year, sealing Eliza’s love of charity work.
"It was unbelievable to hear their stories first-hand. Rick and I weren’t under the university’s liability so we went to Gulu. We visited some of the camps where people had been displaced. They were forced to leave their land and live in really small, cramped camps," Eliza said of the experience to Buzznet. In 2013, Eliza was honored in her hometown of Boston for developing a program for inner-city girls in New Hampshire. The ceremony at Fenway Park honored her as a "Camp Champion" by the American Camp Association.
Having supported other charities, like Invisible Children and the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, perhaps Dushku has found her true calling as a humanitarian? But she’s not the only one. "I really admire the way the fans have joined me in social justice endeavors and the charitable work that I’ve been involved in," Dushku told HuffPost in 2014. "… I think people hear and feel the genuine nature of my passion for the causes."
Eliza Dushku revealed that she is an alcoholic and struggled with drugs
In 2017, Eliza Dushku revealed that she is an alcoholic and had struggled with substance abuse in her past. Speaking to an audience of 8,000 teenagers at the Youth Summit on Opioid Awareness (hosted by Jim Walhberg of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and the DEA) to address the New Hampshire opioid epidemic, Dushku warned the audience about the dangers of drugs using her personal experience.
"Something a lot of people don’t know about me is that I am also an alcoholic, and I was a drug addict for a lot of years," Dushku said. "You hear people say, ‘I am that,’ because I am that, and I’m always going to be that, but the difference between me and an alcoholic or an addict that still drinks and does drugs is that I’m sober."
The actress then explained how drugs ruined the lives of her friends and almost ruined hers before she got clean. "I loved the first time I took a drug, because I loved how it made me feel, I loved the way it made me not feel, and I didn’t have to feel," Dushku continued. "… It was fun, and I loved it until it wasn’t. Drugs didn’t love me, they didn’t love my family. They definitely didn’t love my friends that died, I have a lot of friends that are dead." Did this have an effect on her career?
Eliza Dushku moved back to Boston and went back to school
Eliza Dushku grew up in the Boston suburb of Watertown, Mass., and returned home from Hollywood to achieve a higher education. In a 2016 interview with SCN, Dushku revealed that she was attending Suffolk University — where her mother taught for 47 years — to obtain a degree in Sociology. The actress, who was raised by self-proclaimed Democratic Socialists, used her eventual student debt to explain why she supported Sen. Bernie Sanders’ run for presidency.
"I just moved back to Boston, and after 15 years of saying I was going to move back to go to school, I am finally a student again," Dushku said. "Right in front of me is the problem of student debt. It used to be the best thing you could teach your kids was to go to college and get an education, and find a great job." She added, "Unfortunately, we’ve gotten to a place where I’ve had classmates that have had to drop out after one or two semesters because when they go to college, they wind up signing a deal with the devil, facing a lifetime of debt that they will likely never get out from under."
Three years later, Dushku told Boston magazine that she was attending Lesley University and studying holistic psychology. "I sit in the second row. I’m such a nerd, but maybe that’s because of the fact that my mom was a professor and my dad was a Boston Public Schools teacher," she said.
Eliza Dushku got married and had her first child
In September 2018, Eliza Dushku revealed that she’d married former professional tennis player and the CEO of Intercontinental Real Estate Corporation, Peter Palandjian, in a private ceremony. Sharing a series of photos from their wedding on Instagram, Dushku captioned the gallery with the couple’s wedding date, "8.18.18," along with two black hearts.
The following year, Dushku announced she was pregnant with the couple’s first child (Palandjian, who is 17 years her senior, has four children from a previous relationship). "I’ve been really excited about what I’m doing with my life these days," she told Us Weekly in early 2019. "I’ve been living in Boston. I’m about to be a senior in college. I’m studying holistic healing and addiction and trauma. And I’m newly married and I’m just so excited about this next chapter in my life." Dushku added, "You know, I’ve been acting since I was 9 years old and I’m sort of finding these new things that I’m really excited about. It’s been a big year but a great year."
On Aug. 1, 2019, Dushku shared the first photo of their son, Philip. "Our BABY = #Bourne," Dushku captioned the sweet snapshot of Palandjian holding the newborn up like the scene in The Lion King. "Can you feel the love, Philip ‘Bourne’!? So [thankful emoji] for all this love [black heart emoji]." The couple did not share Philip’s exact birthdate.
Eliza Dushku suffered sexual molestation and harassment in Hollywood
In a lengthy Facebook post shared in Jan. 2018, Eliza Dushku claimed that she was sexually molested by stunt coordinator Joel Kramer while filming True Lies when she was 12. "I am grateful to the women and men who have gone before me in recent months," she wrote. "The ever-growing list of sexual abuse and harassment victims who have spoken out with their truths have finally given me the ability to speak out." Per Deadline, Dushku’s legal guardian at the time backed her claims, while Kramer denied the allegations.
Later that same year, Dushku received a $9.5 million settlement from CBS after she was fired from her recurring role on Bull for informing producers that the series lead, NCIS alum Michael Weatherly, had allegedly engaged in inappropriate behavior on set. The actress claimed that after she confronted Weatherly about his behavior, which included rape jokes, sexual comments, and touching her inappropriately, that he had her written off the show. "The allegations in Ms. Dushku’s claims are an example that, while we remain committed to a culture defined by a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace, our work is far from done," the network said in a statement (via The New York Times).
"When Eliza told me that she wasn’t comfortable with my language and attempt at humor, I was mortified to have offended her and immediately apologized," Weatherly said. "I am sorry and regret the pain this caused Eliza."
Eliza Dushku was fed up with Hollywood protecting powerful men
Eliza Dushku further opened up about her experience with former NCIS star Michael Weatherly in a scathing 2018 op-ed in The Boston Globe. She didn’t hold back in describing the alleged abuse Weatherly subjected her to and in her criticisms about the "narrative propagated" by CBS in the above-mentioned The New York Times article. "I declined to be interviewed for that piece because I wanted to honor the terms of my settlement with the network. I was under the impression that Weatherly and Caron would also not respond per our settlement," she wrote. "Instead, both commented to the Times in what amounted to more deflection, denial, and spin."
She discussed the entertainment industry’s habit of protecting powerful men from facing consequences during an interview with Time in 2019. "I guess what makes me angry is people knew. Important people knew. They could have done something. And they didn’t," Dushku said. The Bring It On star also explained how women are often hamstrung by non-disclosure agreements that prevent the actual truth from coming out. "We’re talking in code. NDAs re-victimize people," she continued. "They give more power to the powerful. And as the less powerful person, you have to live in someone else’s f**ked-up version of reality."
Dushku also hinted that her experiences in Hollywood led her to abuse drugs. "Humans need a cohesive narrative for who they are," she said. "And we’re as sick as our secrets. So naming our secrets — that’s a part of healing."
Eliza Dushku has moved behind the camera
Although Eliza Dushku hasn’t been gracing screens as she once was, she’s fully embraced the producer role. After serving as an associate producer for the 2008 horror film, The Alphabet Killer, and producing 27 episodes of Dollhouse, Dushku branched out with her brother, Nate Dushku, to start producing content that’s close to her heart.
Their first project was the 2015 film, Dear Albania, a one-hour documentary where the two siblings of Albanian descent traveled to 15 locations to show the beauty of their homeland and to rediscover their ancestry. "We wanted to show the beauty, and I think we did," the Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum told The Boston Globe.
Their second venture was the feature film, Mapplethorpe, a biopic about the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who succumbed to AIDS at the age of 42. The 2018 film, starring Matt Smith of The Crown and Doctor Who fame, was a labor of love for the producing pair. "It’s been about a 15-year journey. My brother — I sort of tripped and fell into the business through him — had gone to NYU and studied acting, and we were starting to think about producing projects together," Dushku told Boston magazine. "While he was in New York, he met a screenwriter named Bruce Goodrich who handed him the original script for Mapplethorpe, and we were just moved by what an important figure and artist he was and is today."
We haven’t seen the last of Eliza Dushku
Eliza Dushku has shifted her priorities since the height of her fame in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but she is now finding fulfillment in life by tackling issues and finding creative pursuits that speak to her. "We’ve been involved with supporting different programs in Boston related to addiction and the opioid crisis," she told People in 2019 at the premiere of Mapplethorpe. "My focus right now is geared towards some of the things I wasn’t really able to focus on when I was full time on a TV show in L.A."
But if you’re itching to see Dushku on the screen again, don’t worry. She’s here to assure you that she hasn’t retired. "I haven’t quit acting. I haven’t quit Hollywood, but this is just another aspect of my life that is really, really important and exciting to me," she explained.
During an interview with Time, Dushku explained that after her experience while working on Bull that she needed to recover. "I need the distance to recalibrate and start a family," she said. "But I don’t want people to think coming forward means ending your career. I could be acting. I could be in L.A. I just need to be here right now." We can’t wait to see what Eliza Dushku has in store for us next.