Nursing a head cold and recovering from late nights of production on her TV show Longmire, Katee Sackhoff arrived at the Geek photo studio directly from the airport, feeling exhausted and a little beat-up.
She’d spent the previous day filming a punishing fight scene on the Albuquerque set of the hit A&E Western series – seemingly light-years away from her career-making role of Kara “Starbuck” Thrace on the acclaimed Syfy series Battlestar Galactica.
Subsequent to her stint in Galactica, Sackhoff also orbited the geek galaxy in a number of roles, including playing the villain in the 2007 Bionic Woman re-boot as well as providing voices for characters on Robot Chicken, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Futurama. In fact, Sackhoff is so revered in the fan realm that she played herself on The Big Bang Theory, a rare honor also bestowed upon such fellow geek luminaries as Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton and Stephen Hawking.
We thought it might be fun to have Sackhoff put her own spin on a few other classic characters, including Captain James Tiberius Kirk, psycho rebel Tyler Durden and, of course, the ever-metamorphosing Doctor.
She’s our personal first choice to become the new Doctor Who star, as Sackhoff is hardly anyone’s companion but rather a kick-ass protagonist who balances brains and beauty to become the perfect geek goddess. Even Sigourney Weaver had to strip down to her underwear in Alien to secure her place in sci-fi history as the tough-as-nails action heroine of the 1970s, but with Sackhoff, it was her tough-yet-compassionate performance in the Galactica reinvention – rather than merely exploiting her sexuality – that solidified her place as a female role model and beloved geek icon.
“Oh, my God, these are great!” Sackhoff giggles, totally re-energized as she steps into our dressing room and sees the selection of costumes she’ll be wearing. “I love the idea of getting lost in these. Every actor starts out playing make-believe when they are a kid, and one of my favorite things is to dress up and be completely unrecognizable,” she says. “I really try to, with what I’m given, to be a bit of a chameleon with the roles that I have. When I saw the curly Doctor Who wig in the dressing room, I was like, ‘Let’s do this!’ If you’re gonna go, go big!”
As she dons the Doctor’s memorable garb, using a series of photos of Tom Baker as the fourth Time Lord for reference, she asks, “Do you guys have those sideburns?” Caught off guard, our resident Who expert immediately replies, “Why, yes. Yes we do!”
And when Sackhoff emerged from the dressing room decked out as a Baker-era Doctor, she was virtually unrecognizable underneath the hat, wig, sideburns and scarf. There was the palpable smell of Jelly Babies in the air as she stepped on stage surrounded by an authentic TARDIS control panel, a classic Dalek ready to exterminate her at any moment and a rampaging Zygon.
Sackhoff hasn’t always been an object of adulation. When she moved to Los Angeles from Portland, Ore., when she was 19 to pursue an acting career, the former competitive swimmer and skater put that same passion and commitment she had for sports into her new goal. When asked if a genre career is something she intended to achieve, she replies, “Honestly, when I moved to California, I was so young, and had I known then what I know now, I would have been more scared. Truthfully, I always knew that I could do it, but I didn’t know that people would let me do what I do now. So every job after my first job is like icing on the cake. Once I got that first job [a Lifetime movie with Kirsten Dunst], I was like, ‘Let’s have some fun now.’ I approach my career as a fan of movies and TV. I take roles that I would want to watch. If I wouldn’t want to see it, I wouldn’t want to be in it. So if you see me in a movie [or TV show], it’s because I liked the script. Maybe being a fan of action and science fiction movies has pushed me in that direction.”
Having forged a career playing some of action and sci-fi’s toughest female characters has meant staying in shape for all those running and fighting scenes. “My trainer in Santa Fe kicks my ass and I’m constantly trying to up my [skill in] fight choreography because they are starting to cast actual fighters now in the kinds of movies I do,” perhaps referring to stars such as former MMA champ Gina Carano. “The roles are going to fighters, so if they know how to act, I have to know how to fight. It forces you to increase your knowledge.”
Sackhoff promises the types of roles fans have come to embrace from the actress are still in her future. “I think Longmire has been an adjustment for them. I’ve been typically drawn to horror, science fiction and action projects. So to the fans who watch Longmire and say, ‘What happened to our Starbuck?’ She’ll be back. Well, she won’t be back, but that kick-ass, tough, take-no-prisoners woman who doesn’t listen to a man and doesn’t get told what to do will be back.”
In fact, the rough-and-tumble Sackhoff is already back in Riddick, the latest installment in the Pitch Black-spawned sci-fi franchise. When asked about her experience on the “threequel,” she enthuses, “I’m a huge fan of Vin Diesel, the Riddick series and [writer-director] David Twohy, and the passion that they both have for the series. It was a dream come true. I can’t wait to see that film as an audience member.”
As Diesel’s devotion to the genre exceeds even her own, Sackhoff felt she had a true partner with which she could take on the challenging working conditions of the film’s Toronto set and ambitious action sequences. “I love Vin and I can’t wait to work with him again,” she says. “He’s a genuinely nice guy, and when he shows up for work on set, he’s a total professional.”
But the physical trials of making an action film like Riddick — working for weeks in freezing cold and soggy mud — can take its toll, so staying in touch with reality is essential. “On days when I felt like shit, I tried to remind myself that this is a dream,” Sackhoff says. “It’s what I wanted, and it’s a blessing to have the opportunity to get to do something I love on a daily basis, so I would never want to take that for granted.”
Be sure to check out the full interview in this month’s issue of GEEK Magazine, on newsstands now!
Let Katee know what you think of her Geek photo shoot via Twitter @kateesackhoff
Photography by Deverill Weekes
Styling and costume by Caitlin Winn
Makeup by Coleen Campbell-Olwell for Exclusive Artists
Hair by Stephen Lewis for Exclusive Artists
Dalek, Zygon and TARDIS props courtesy of Paul Salamoff
Doctor costume courtesy of Bob Mitsch
Zygon performed by Bob Mitsch
Produced for Geek by David E. Williams
Special thanks to Katee Sackhoff, Brett Ruttenberg and Lani Tiberghien/BWR