Katee Sackhoff had a respectable but unremarkable career on television before being cast as Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. Incensed at what they perceived as an unpardonable sin for reimagining the character as a girl, the Internet promptly freaked out. Then they saw how much Sackhoff kicked ass in the role, and the complaints dropped to a pathetic whimper. She’s since moved on to additional TV roles – a prominent part in 24, a starring role in Longmire – as well as co-starring with Vin Diesel in the upcoming Riddick. During the press day for the film, she opened up about the experience of shooting with Diesel, and about being a feminist sci-fi icon.
Question: Do you secretly dream of doing a Jane Austen period piece?
Katee Sackhoff: Yeah, I wander around my home in corsets all the time. [Laughter.] Seriously, I kind of do. I’m definitely a lot girlier than the roles I’m most known for. At the same time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong in this business with being typecast. I really don’t. I am lucky and blessed to have the job that I have. I’m looking for longevity in my career and I’ll transition into different roles as they come. I also believe that, if doors don’t open, you make new doors, so I’ve also start producing a lot of things as well. So maybe I’ll wear a corset at some point and do an English accent.
Q: How much of a challenge was this role, physically? Did you ever get hurt?
KS: It’s a very rare moment in this business when someone actually hurts you. Usually it’s an actor accidentally punching the stunt double, which happens quite a bit. In this movie, I was lucky enough to never really get roughed up by any of the guys. The moment I realized how small I actually was was when David Bautista picked me off the ground and I still wasn’t even at his pec yet. He was massive!
These guys knew I was a girl. They really treated me like their little sister. Especially Matt Nable. He and I really developed this friendship. I think he gave the boys a talking to on the first day. I think he gave his fatherly speech; he’s got three kids at home. And after that we were all like brothers and sisters.
Q: The movie reminded me of earlier science fiction movies, and some of the greater female science fiction stars of the 1980s. Did you draw inspiration from any of those earlier figures in your career?
KS: I grew up watching science fiction with my dad. It was like our little secret. He would show me movies that I should not have been watching. I saw Predator when I was six. I knew from a young age that it wasn’t real, but I just loved it. We watched so much Star Trek; it was coming out of my ears by the time I was ten. I grew up idolizing these men. I love Arnold Schwarzenegger. I love Sly Stallone. I love Bruce Willis. These guys who embodied everything that action was in the 80s and 90s. So I told my dad that I wanted to be one of these guys, and I think he thought “Oh Lord.” Then he said, “I think we should watch Alien; don’t tell your mother.” I was probably, like, eight. I saw that and realized in that moment, “I don’t have to be one of those guys. I can be Sigourney Weaver!” And then Linda Hamilton came along and then Xena on a weekly basis and then Sarah Michelle Gellar. They were few and far between, but they were there. These strong women kept coming.
I was always inspired by Sigourney. She’s had such diversity in her career, it’s really amazing.
Q: How is Vin Diesel to work with?
KS: He’s amazing. He makes you feel like he’s known you for his entire life. He has this responsibility to this series of movies, and he makes you feel it. Riddick has owned a piece of his brain for a long, long time. David Twohy told me that he wanted me to be ready on Day One… which meant I needed to look like I could beat up every one of these guys. Every one of them, even Dave Bautista. He’s like 6-foot-6. And every time they cast another guy, the guys just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
So I told Vin I wanted to put some weight on. Some real muscle and also some fat, 10-15 pounds. The opposite of what women in this business say. Vin said, “That’s great, come to Montreal like that. Just know that you’re going to own every inch of this character. You’re going to know her better than anybody. So if that’s what you want to do, do it… but really do it.” So got in shape and my arms were huge by the time we got there. And he said “Jesus Christ, you did it!”
He gives you a lot of that freedom: the freedom to make the character your own. David too. In the script, Dahl wasn’t this character. She wasn’t Boss Johns #2 in the script. Matt and I made that up on set. And then one day we were shooting a gun on set, and I thought, “Well maybe she’s the sniper.” David said, “If you want to be the sniper, she can be the sniper, but then you are married to that gun.” And that meant a lot of things. She should be able to grab ammo without looking. She should be able to use that gun and do whatever she needed to do without taking her eye off of the target. It took a week of solid work just to figure out how to do all of that in one short little scene. To do all that while keeping my eyes down the scope. In the process, I realized that I was left-eye dominant, which means that I should be shooting with my left hand. We couldn’t do that on the film, but I went out afterwards and tested it. I’m ten times more accurate with my left eye, even though I’m right handed. It’s weird and yet it’s exhilarating at the same time. I loved that. I loved working with Vin and David, and the way they get things done.