Judging by her countless on-screen appearances, Katee Sackhoff is, by all accounts, a certified badass. She is also one of the most delightful people I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing. From her star-making turn as the cigar-chomping, Cylon-crushing Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in SyFy’s 2004 Battlestar Galactica revival to Longmire‘s Detective Vic Moretti to her hardened mercenary Dahl in 2013’s Riddick, Sackhoff is one of the best in the business for balancing magnetic screen presence with the sense that she’s about to punch you right in the face. Recently, I had the chance to speak with her over the phone around the DVD/Blu-ray release of Riddick, and we talked about everything from the grueling shooting conditions to BSG‘s legacy to why she couldn’t believe she landed the role of “Starbuck” in the first place, and much more.
N: So you were definitely a fan favorite in Riddick, especially if our comment section is to be believed. You’re definitely a lot of fun, especially your interactions with — the guy’s name escapes me at the moment — the guy with the moustache, the jerk bounty hunter.
KS: Oh, gosh — with Jordi Mollà — with Santana.
N: Yes, with Jordi. Yes — Santana. Thank you. Sorry. Long day.
KS: Yeah, yeah, yeah! I had a lot of fun.
N: Good, good! So the filming process — it was a good time, but I heard it was a trying filming process.
KS: It was exhausting. I mean, anything good is, usually. You know, you’re doing long hours, there’s lots of elements. Even though we’re shooting on a stage, you’ve got stuff, and then you’ve got dirt, and you’ve got water, so now you’ve got mud, and now you’ve got this, and now you’re cold, and then it’s minus 40 outside and it’s freezing. You know, you’re working long hours, you’re exhausted, so it is tiring, but it was fantastic. Every second of it. I loved hanging out with Matt Nable, and spending time with Vin, and really getting to know the guys. There wasn’t one person on the movie that I could say one bad thing about. Everybody was just amazing, and there to work, and we had a good time.
N: Well, that’s awesome! What attracted you to the role initially? How did you get involved?
KS: Well, he starred in Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick, so for me, when I got a phone call that there was a role–one role [chuckles]–in the new Riddick, I kind of was like, “What the hell do I have to do? What do we have to do? What should I do? Should I send a gift basket to someone? Who needs cheese? What do we do here?” I think I would have done pretty much anything. It’s like, “Oh my god, this is crazy! There’s one role!” And ultimately I was in the right place at the right time.
N: Awesome. So the secret is luck and a little bit of camembert?
KS: And a lot of vodka, usually, or maybe some good red wine usually helps. [laughs]
N: Secrets revealed.
KS: Yes. You can’t send the camembert without alcohol, then they’ll just think…
N: Yeah, you don’t want to just send a cheese plate. That’s a little presumptuous.
KS: No, of course not! Of course not!
N: So I know this was Vin Diesel and David Twohy’s third film together. Being on set with them, was it like they had a short hand together, because this is the third time they’re revisiting the Riddick universe?
KS: Yeah, I mean, for sure. There’s definitely — when you hang around anyone that’s known someone for 15, 20 years–15 years, whatever — I don’t even know what it was. Pitch Black was, what? 10, 15 years ago.
N: I think so, yeah.
KS: I think it was right when — I think it was, like, ’99? So, I mean, they are going to have a special way of talking to each other. I mean, I have a special way of talking with Tricia Helfer, and people think we’re insane, because we’ve known each other for so long. So yeah, there’s definitely that. And then you throw in the next step–you’re creative and you’re an artist, and it’s even crazier. So you really kind of have to pay attention, because they’re going to move really fast. David Twohy said when I got the job, one of the reasons I got the job was because he said, “You know, I knew when we hired you, Katee, that we weren’t going to have to slow down to teach you anything.” So, you know, thank you Battlestar Galactica and Bionic Woman for all of the training ahead of time because he didn’t need to teach me how to punch somebody in the face. I just did it.
N: A good skill to have. Do you have a favorite moment or memory from being on set or the filming process?
KS: Oh, I’ve got every moment with Jordi Mollà as my favorite moment! Every moment on-camera and off-camera, because half the time he didn’t know what he was saying, and so he would say it with an interesting inflection, and it would be even funnier. At one point he asked if Matt Damon was in the movie, because everybody was talking about mud-based demons.
KS: And he turned to me and Matt Nable and goes, “I’m so sorry, Matt, but is Matt Damon in the movie?” We were like, “Who?” He said, “Matt Damon. Everyone keeps talking about Matt Damon.” We were, like, “No, Matt Damon’s not in the movie.” [laughter]
N: That’s incredible.
KS: It was pretty funny. Every moment with him made me love him so much, and he was — on those late nights, at 5 o’clock in the morning, the person that you turn to to make you laugh your ass off, because he always did, even if he didn’t mean to.
N: Nice. That’s important, especially when you’re all there for so long–you need to be able to keep morale high. It’s nice to have someone like that.
KS: Truly, yeah. And I don’t think people realize — granted, yeah, I would never complain about my job, because I love it to death — but, you know, when you’re an actor, you’re away from your family 90% of the time. And so it really helps when you have people around that make you feel safe, and that’s a really tall order for people, because it has to happen really quickly. So when I found that with Matt Nagle, and he and I became very good friends, very quickly. You know, he’s going to be one of my best friends till the day I die.
N: Awesome. Well, speaking of best friends, you also mentioned Tricia Helfer. Obviously, this is going to come up. We’re approaching the 10th anniversary of when Battlestar first debuted — Battlestar Galactica, the new series.
N: It finished in 2009, but for a lot of people who hopped on in 2004, what’s it like being 10 years out from when it all first started?
KS: It’s so weird. I mean, I watch it now, and I really learned that 21 is baby faced. It was crazy! It was — such a weird experience. I was in a position where I took Battlestar, it came down to, like, NCIS or Battlestar Galactica. I picked Galactica, and I think my manager wanted to kill me. They didn’t understand why I was picking Battlestar Galactica. And it’s ’cause I wanted to shoot a gun! That’s the only reason I took it–because I wanted to shoot a gun, and for the first time in my life, I wanted someone to think I was tough. I auditioned–people don’t even know this, but I auditioned for Starbuck in stiletto heels with skinny jeans on and a tube top. Like, I was so not her — and people are like, “How did she get this job? She’s 10 years younger than what they wanted. It doesn’t make any sense. The girl has stilettos on. What happened?” And again — right place at the right time. So, I just kind of lucked out. And it’s weird. It’s weird to think it was 10 years ago, because it doesn’t feel like it. You know, it still feels like it was just yesterday.
N: Yeah, and I think especially — I’ve had a bunch of friends, one guy on my Facebook feed is watching the series right now, especially with stuff like Netflix, it allows people to rediscover this all the time. So I feel like it’s the kind of thing that just keeps finding this new wave of fans, which is really cool.
KS: Right, yeah. It’s great that people are just now watching the show. It’s a whole different kind of group of fans, and people will come up to me, and they’ll be, like, nine years old, and go, “Starbuck’s my favorite!” And I’m like, “You weren’t born!” It’s crazy!
So it’s a really cool thing — it’s a really cool thing. It’s every actor’s dream to be involved in something that kind of stands the test of time, and it truly is one of those jobs, and I’m forever grateful to David Eick’s wife, at the time, for getting me the job.
N: Well, we are grateful that you got the role. You’ve done quite a bit of sort of genre fare over the years. The kind of stuff that takes you to Comic-Con. What is it about these sort of genre pieces that excite you? Do you feel drawn to them, or is it more of a project-by-project basis?
KS: Well, yeah, it’s always going to be project-by-project, but inherently, if I’ve got five scripts sitting on my desk, and four of them are “regular” type scripts and one of them is science fiction, I will always pick the science fiction one. It’s my cross to bear. I’m obsessed with science fiction movies. I love them to death. My father raised me on them. To me, I understand them a whole lot better than I do other types of movies. And I find it that, I think that one of the reasons I got into this business was to create worlds and escapes for people, and I love escaping from my own life for 90 minutes, and I find that the easiest way to do that is through fantasy.
N: Yeah, exactly. That sense of escapism, just being able to absorb yourself in this other world is really phenomenal. I’m not sure if you’ve seen — I’m sure you’ve seen, or had someone pass along the Portlandia “Battlestar Galactica” sketch, but I think that sort of summarizes that feeling very nicely.
KS: I did, and I was so upset that they didn’t ask me to do it, because I’m actually from Portland!
N: Oh, no!
KS: I got really upset, and I made some comment on Twitter, and then my manager called and they go,”Actually, sweetheart, they did, but you just had your tonsils removed, so we didn’t want to tell you, because we knew you’d be upset.” So Fred [Armisen] was sending me all these gifts and stuff. I still wear my Portlandia sweatshirt with so much pride.
N: Oh, wow.
KS: I was like, “How did they not ask me to do this? This is crazy!”
N: “Can’t I just ADR it later?”
KS: I know, I know.
N: Well, we’ll just have to wait for the sequel episode. I’m sure it’s coming eventually.
KS: [laughter] Eventually.
N: I just have one more question for you. What would be inside your ideal burrito?
KS: Holy shit, I love burritos! Burritos are amazing. They’re like a sandwich if you forget the bread. I love burritos. They’re the best thing ever. Are we speaking, like, total favorite, or am I making a dessert burrito, because that exists too?
N: This is your ideal — someone is like, “You have three wishes, as long as they are burrito related.”
KS: OK. I would have — there is a place, are tacos allowed?
N: I suppose.
KS: Let’s just say it’s tacos are allowed. I would go to this place in San José del Cabo, for tacos al pastor. They have this shaved meat — they shave the meat, they put some pineapple on it, and you get it with hot sauce. You cannot stop at, like, four. Every time my fiancé and I go there, we get to, like, eight, and we’re like, “How did we eat 8 tacos? That’s not OK!” That’s number one, and number two, “How did I eat as many as you did, and you’re so much bigger than me? This is not OK!” It’s the best thing ever. The tacos al pastor — I really mean — I don’t know what’s in it, but they could… I don’t even know. I don’t know what it is. It’s amazing!
N: So many mysteries.
KS: That’s what would be on my burrito — that taco.
N: Some mysteries are better left unsolved. That sounds delicious. Pineapple is what’s swaying it for me, because I was already on board with meat and hot sauce…
KS: It’s fantastic!
N: Yeah. That sounds amazing.
KS: And the hot sauce is so hot, that, like… it’s hot, it’s hot. You feel it two days later. It’s hot.
N: Yeah, but it’s worth it for that 8 times the goodness.
KS: It’s really good. We usually go twice when we’re there, because it’s so good. I love it! [chuckles]
N: Do you break it up four and four, or do you just put away 16 tacos in one trip?
KS: What we usually do — there’s a lot of people. Over Christmas, we’ll go with two different groups of people, because we’re there for three weeks. So we’ll go with the first group so they can experience tacos al pastor. Then we’ll go with the second group, which usually has a few vegetarians in it, and we’ll tell them to suck it up, because it’s amazing!
N: [chuckles] That’s the kind of attitude I like to hear. That’s awesome!
KS: Right? You can be a vegetarian, as long as it’s a sliding scale. As long as you don’t care that I eat meat.
N: Yeah, you’ve got to make certain exceptions for flavor!
KS: It’s true. It’s very, very true. I mean, there’s a couple times a year where I have this thing that I have called hemochromatosis, which is, like, a blood disorder where you have too much iron in your system. So three times a year I have to go completely vegan, just to take my iron levels down, and it is the most horrible thing ever, and I dream of tacos al pastor.
N: Oh no! They don’t have a soyrizo equivalent?
KS: Oh my gosh, they do, and I bet you Milo Ventimiglia knows all about it, and he would force feed me. That man made me eat fake salmon once!
N: Oh, man!
KS: I am from the Pacific Northwest! There is no fake salmon in this body.
N: Yeah, they’ll revoke your card.
KS: Right. Yeah, my Northwest card was stolen away from Milo Ventimiglia’s salmon.
N: I hope it was worth it, Milo. I hope it was worth it.
KS: [laughter] Exactly. Take that, Milo! You ruined my life.
N: [chuckles] That’s our pull quote right there. Awesome.
KS: “Milo, you ruined my life?” [laughter]
KS: Exactly. That’s heading every article.
N: That should be the takeaway from this whole piece.