As a successful working actress for two decades, Katee Sackhoff has played just about everything. From a tough deputy on Longmire to a twisted bionic terror on Bionic Woman and even a nemesis to Jack Bauer on 24, Sackhoff sold it all. But she's still most recognized for her work in genre and horror because of her confident character work in films like Oculus, Riddick and her career-launching role as Captain Kara "Starbuck" Thrace in Ron D. Moore's reboot of Battlestar Galactica.
Sackhoff's dipping back into horror this month with the IFC film Don't Knock Twice, in which she plays a mother trying to reconnect with her teenage daughter (Lucy Boynton), whom she abandoned years ago due to drug addiction. The daughter thinks she's being plagued by a witch, and Sackhoff's character is sucked into a hellish nightmare trying to save her.
While promoting the film, Katee was game to talk about what's guided her career to this point and assess some of her more distinctive genre roles.
DON'T KNOCK TWICE
You've done a fair amount of horror films in your career, starting with Halloween Resurrection (2002). What makes one worth doing?
KATEE SACKHOFF: Don't Knock Twice was interesting because they sent the script and then the director, Caradog James, and I spoke and he touched on the things that I worry about when I do genre pieces. And that is that it's just a genre piece, which is not a great thing, because it becomes stereotypical. It's why I've never done sci-fi since Battlestar. It's a really high bar, and I don't want to tarnish that record of hitting it out of the park the first time. Granted, I did Riddick, but I consider that fantasy.
But with genre projects, I read them and try to find the relationships. I identified with this woman, maybe not for the circumstances of where she found herself at the bottom with drug addiction and losing her child, but I identified with her picking herself back up and learning from her mistakes, trying to atone. From there I wanted to make sure the relationship was solid. It's hard because it's not a relationship that is normal mother/daughter. This is not a woman who grew up with this child. She had her until she was about four and then lost her, so there is no relationship. She's trying to prove herself worthy to even get in the front door again to try to work on it. I think it's why she's willing to go to such lengths to get her back, and to believe her, when she starts to talk about all these crazy things. She knows that she has to, because it's her child and the only way to show she supports and loves her is to be there for, whatever comes next.
You've made very interesting career choices playing a lot of strong women, which isn't easy in this business.
It's not easy. I think part of it is obviously there is so much luck that comes into this business so there is a large amount you can't control. When I first moved to L.A., it was just work. I didn't turn anything down because I had this idea that work begets work. Especially when you don't have a resume; just keep working. It's how I ended up in Halloween Resurrection, which is the first genre movie that I did because one of my girlfriends turned it down. And I took it. She doesn't work any more so it's one of those things where you don't want to be the person who turns everything down because they will stop asking you to work.
When did you allow yourself to be more discerning?
When I realized that I had some more choice to it, I started doing projects I knew my dad would like to watch. The reason I did that was because my dad gave me my love of film, and sci-fi and action films and westerns. When I was a little girl we watched as many movies as we could together, and granted, I always threw in the Care Bears too. At any moment in our house it was the Care Bear stare, and then five seconds later we're watching Predator. So I started picking jobs based on what he liked to watch because I thought he had great taste in film. And that's how I ended up picking Battlestar Galactica. I fought for that role as hard as I could. I turned down another job for a series that's actually still on the air right now. It was one of those things where everyone on my team wanted me to do that but I went against them because I knew Battlestar was going to be interesting, even if it had just been a miniseries.
What about the Battlestar Galactica reboot initially grabbed you?
I really enjoy going to work and trying to make people on paper who are difficult or challenging more relatable. My thing with Starbuck was to make her as relatable as possible.
Was Kara Thrace always a character that was drafted as complicated as she played out over the course of the series or did that evolve?
I think she happened as the show evolved. I think they always intended Starbuck to be one thing. When they cast me, it slowly changed who she was. She was always meant to be ten years older and a lot more stable in who she was as a soldier. And then they cast a 21-year old and they had to rethink who she was. I was growing up when I did that show, not as much literally growing up because I had been in the business since I was a teenager, but I was becoming a woman. I don't think they could help but add some of that angst and searching and vulnerability into her because that's where I was in my life.
Was there a moment that you really found yourself connecting with Kara and understanding her?
It happened early in Season 1, episode 4, when she went in to tell Adama that she felt responsible for her fiancée's death. In that moment, I found her vulnerability, her Achilles heel, and who she was at her core. The rest of the series built on that.
Do you ever watch episodes nowadays?
It's interesting because I've never watched the series from front to back. I watched every episode as soon as it was finished, before the special effects were put in, just to see where her thru-line was, and where she was as a person, and where the show was. But my boyfriend [Karl Urban] is obsessed with it. Whenever it's on TV, he watches it. While he was filming Thor: Ragnarok, it was playing on TV in Australia and he was watching it in his trailer. I walked in one day and was like 'Why am I on TV?' I looked like a baby!
Battlestar Galactica is still cited as a sci-fi classic that is deeply resonant for today. Why would you say that is?
To me, what's relevant about Battlestar is that, sadly, humanity does make the same mistakes over and over again. It's who we are as a species which is quite sad. But the thing that is so beautiful about the show, and then also humanity, is that everyone has hope. If we didn't have hope, I don't know as Americans that we would turn on the TV any more. You have to have hope. It's very evident when you meet someone who doesn't have it and they seem very lost and tortured. Life can be hard, but also beautiful and incredibly blessed. I don't for a day take my life for granted. What Battlestar had to say was that in such depths of despair there is hope and people can relate. President Roslin was dying of cancer and smoking pot! People got that and knew a person like that. There was someone that every single person could relate to in that show, and I think it's why it still resonates. But mostly because this has all happened before and will happen again.
How did you get into doing voice work for animated series?
As an actor you are always looking for different ways to expand your craft. It came to me by luck, by Battlestar and my friend Seth Green, who I love to death. He called us in [for Robot Chicken] when they were doing the Battlestar Galactica episode to play myself. I really hit it off with him and his partner, Matt. They asked if I would be interested in doing other roles. I think I played two or three that day but two ended up sticking. One was Ms. Butterworth, who is a sexual predator, and Bitch Puddin'. They ended up having lives of their own and from that came other opportunities for voice work. Then I got into The Clone Wars [as Bo-Katan]. I'm lucky enough that when the powers that be over at Star Wars were wondering who the voice of the first female Mandalorian warrior, they said, "Katee Sackhoff!"
Were there any voice jobs you really pursued?
Some video game roles for sure. I wanted to do Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
CHARTING NEW ROLES
Is there a part that you've been waiting to come across your desk that just hasn't yet?
Yes, my next film is called Origin Unknown and it's straight sci-fi. I've been waiting for a director like Hasraf 'HaZ' Dullul, who is out of London, and a smart sci-fi film for so long. The first time I read the script I had to call him and say, 'I don't know if I'm just really stupid, or if this is that good because I can't figure it out.' It's a really smart film and I'm overjoyed to do it. I leave in three weeks [to film] and I'm terrified. Whenever you are terrified, you are going in the right direction.
Are you also still developing a TV series called Rain? Where's that at?
Rain is being pitched next week. For me, I've always had a very active imagination so it was just a matter of getting to the point in my career where somebody would trust me enough to do something with it. It was getting myself to a point where my name got me through the door and people listened from there. Now I've got four or five projects in different stages. Rain is one of the ones that is ready to go. Another project is called This Is How it Happened, based on a book by author Jo Barrett.
So bringing it back to your dad, does he have a favorite project that you've done?
At this point, my dad loved Longmire and Riddick. He really loved Riddick. I called him to ask permission to take the job because I had to show my boobs. I said, 'Dad, there's a three to five second push in on my breasts from the side.' He said, "You are 32 years old and you have been working 20 years in this business. I don't think anyone is going to think you got your career because you showed your boobs in a sci-fi movie. Take the job." I was like, 'Thanks, Dad!' But I think he really just wanted to meet Vin Diesel. (Laughs)
Don't Knock Twice opened in theaters last week and is available on VOD and HD Digital.