Katee Sackhoff plays a Nordic mercenary and deadly sniper who’s not to be crossed in David Twohy’s sci-fi thriller “Riddick,” the latest chapter of the captivating saga that began with the hit sci-fi movie “Pitch Black” and the epic “The Chronicles of Riddick.” Dahl (Sackhoff) is second in command to Boss Johns (Matt Nable), the head of a well-armed and highly trained group of mercenary soldiers whose hunt for the infamous Riddick (Vin Diesel) is personal. Opening September 6th, the movie also features Jordi Molla, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Gerard Funk and Karl Urban.
At a recent press conference in Los Angeles, Sackhoff talked about playing a sci-fi badass, why she doesn’t worry about being typecast, how she bulked up for the role, what it was like being the only woman on set, how Diesel gave her the freedom to create her own character, why growing up watching sci-fi films with her dad and seeing strong female action actors like Sigourney Weaver inspired her to seek out those kind of roles, why she thinks audiences love Diesel as the Riddick character, how the sexual ambiguity of her character served as a defense mechanism, and the physical challenges of playing a sniper.
Q: We love seeing you in these science fiction roles as badass characters, but do you secretly dream of doing a Jane Austen period piece some day?
Katee Sackhoff: I do, I do. I wander around in corsets in my house all the time, for sure. I’m a lot girlier than the roles that I play. I mean, I think that I am. I joke with Tricia Helfer (her “Battlestar Galactica” co-star) all the time that she’s my muscle. Yeah, I do, but I also don’t believe that there’s anything wrong in this business with being typecast. I really don’t. I think that I am lucky and blessed to have the job that I have. I’m trying to create longevity. If that means that I transition and do different things at different points in my life, then that’s fine. I also believe that if doors don’t open, make new doors. So I also have started producing quite a bit of things as well. Maybe I will wear a corset at some point and do an English accent.
Q: At Comic Con, you were part of a panel of women of action and you said there was a moment on an action set where a guy hurt you because he didn’t realize you were a girl. Was there a moment like that when you were dealing with Jordi or Vin? Did they have to remind themselves that they had to take it easy on Katee?
Sackhoff: It’s a very, very rare moment when another actor hurts you. I mean, that’s not normal. If anything, it’s the actor accidentally punching the stunt double which happens quite a bit. In this movie, I was lucky enough that I really didn’t get roughed up by any of the guys. The moment where I realized how little I actually was, was when Dave Bautista picked me off the ground and I still wasn’t even at his pec yet. I was like, “Oh my God, this man is massive.” These guys knew that I was a girl. That’s one of the blessings of being the only girl on set. The guys really treated me like their little sister, especially Matt Nable. Matt and I developed a very tight friendship, and I think he gave all the boys a talking to on day one and was like, “Listen. This girl is here by herself. Nobody hit on her. Nobody be mean. Nobody hurt her.” He gave his fatherly speech to the boys. He’s got three kids at home. After that day, we were all like brother and sister so it was great.
Q: You now have a front row seat to watching Vin as Riddick and I was just curious if you have any insight into why audiences love him as this character?
Sackhoff: There’s a darkness to Riddick that allows people to want him to do bad things, because you know Riddick is going to do bad things. That’s just the way it is. But, at his core, who he is and what he’s fighting for is something that everyone can identify with. He’s truly the last of his kind in a sense, and he’s just trying to get home and stay true to who he is, and people just keep coming after him. So, audiences like him to do bad things, but also, what it is, is that David Twohy has done such a phenomenal job at creating a world that we don’t really see a lot. There are pieces of the original “Total Recall” in there. There are so many different tonal references almost throughout “Pitch Black” to “The Chronicles of Riddick” to this one as well. It really does take you on this journey and you follow Riddick through his journey of trying to accomplish something. You know what he’s trying to accomplish and you know that there are people after him. It’s just a fun ride because you know what you’re going to get when you go in, but what David Twohy is able to give you surprises you every time. There’s a reassurance in that you know what you’re going to get. People know what David’s done the entire time. So I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by this movie. I love what he’s done. I believe he’s taken almost three separate movies and seamlessly joined them together. So, you have pieces of “Pitch Black,” you have pieces of “The Chronicles of Riddick,” and then new things that you haven’t seen before for “Riddick.” And they all make sense. It makes sense to you as a viewer if you’ve followed it the entire time, and there’s this calmness as a viewer in that and that you can just relax and enjoy it.
Q: The movie reminds me in some ways of “Alien.” I was wondering if you were inspired by other female action heroes like Sigourney Weaver and if you think you will inspire young girls when they see your performance?
Sackhoff: (laughs) I grew up watching science fiction with my dad and it was kind of our little secret. It was our bonding time as father and daughter. He would show me movies that I should not have been watching. I think I saw “Predator” when I was six. So I knew from a very young age that it wasn’t real, but I just loved it. We watched so much “Star Trek” that it was coming out of my ears by the time I was ten. So I grew up idolizing these men, like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I loved Sly (Stallone). I loved Bruce Willis. These guys embodied everything that action was in the 80s and 90s. And then, I told my dad I wanted to be like one of these guys, and my dad was like, “Oh Lord, I think we should watch ‘Alien’ but don’t tell your mother.” I was probably eight and saw that and realized in that moment, “Wow, I don’t have to be a dude. I can just be Sigourney Weaver. This is amazing.” And then, Linda Hamilton came along, and then “Xena” (Lucy Lawless) on a weekly basis on my TV in my home, and Sarah Michelle Gellar (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). They just kept coming. They were few and far between, but these strong women kept coming and they’ve just increased as the years have gone on. So yeah, I was always inspired by Sigourney. She’s been able to have such beautiful diversity in her career and that’s a really impressive thing.
Would you be interested in playing Wonder Woman?
Sackhoff: As far as “Wonder Woman,” I auditioned for “Wonder Woman.” David Kelley didn’t like the idea, so thank God, because now I’m in “Longmire.” It happens. I loved “Wonder Woman” growing up. Any tough woman that I could be, I wanted to be. I loved comic books. I loved Miss Marvel. I talk about Harley Quinn all the time because I think playing villains is so much more fun than playing the good guy because who wouldn’t want to go to work and just be crazy? It’s kinda fun. So “Wonder Woman” I don’t know. I think that ship sailed.
Q: How was it working with Vin Diesel?
Sackhoff: Vin’s amazing. From the moment I met Vin, he has the ability to make you feel like he’s known you for his entire life and you’ve known him forever. There is this responsibility that you feel he has to this series of movies and that he lets you know that he feels. You show up on day one and they want you to be prepared. David Twohy told me in the very beginning that the main thing he wanted me to focus on was that he wanted me to look like I could beat up these guys, every single one of them, even Dave. Dave is like 6’6”. He’s huge. I was like, “Okay, alright, let’s think about this.” And every time they cast another guy, the guys just kept getting bigger and bigger. And I was like, “Oh my God! I’m only 5’5”. This is not going to be pretty.” So I told Vin that I wanted to put weight on. I said, “I know this is the opposite of what women in this business say, but I’d really like to put on 10 or 15 lbs. of muscle, and then also some fat and just hold onto this mass because I’m going to look so small next to these guys.” And Vin was like, “Do whatever you want to do. You own this character. By the time you get to Montreal, you will know her better than anybody. So, if that’s what you want to do, do it. But if you’re going to do it, do it.” I remember getting there and getting to the hotel, and he saw my arms and he was like, “Jesus Christ, Katee! You did it! They’re massive.” My arms were huge. He gives you a trust and a responsibility. He was our boss as well. He gives you the freedom to create your own character and be who you want to be and who you think this character should be. I made a lot of this stuff up. In the script, she wasn’t Boss John’s number two. Matt Nable and I sat down and made that up. And then, all of a sudden, she was shooting the gun one time and I was like, “Okay, so maybe she’s the sniper?” David Twohy was like, “If you want her to be the sniper, she can be the sniper, but then you’re married to that gun. The entire movie, you’re married to it.” And I was like, “Okay.” So I loved working with Vin and David. They’re really fun to work with. Vin has a passion about everything that he does. He’s been married to this project for so long. I’m sure that it’s owned a piece of property in his brain for just the longest time. You could sit and listen to him talk about it forever because he’s just so passionate about it, and he brings that to set every day so he’s fun to work with.
Q: You’re the only woman in this. When we first see you being hit on, your response is, “I don’t fuck guys.” Did you have to pretend that your character had no sexual side so that she wouldn’t be vulnerable? And then, by the end of the movie, how is she able to open up to that aspect of herself?
Sackhoff: There is a vulnerability that any woman has in a situation where you’re surrounded by men in an enclosed space. You learn through time different defense mechanisms, and it could be for protection, for emotional, physical, everything. One of the things that Dahl has learned, whether it’s true or not, she may not fuck guys. It was never a subject we talked about. It was her response to the entire thing that David Twohy and I talked about. She just didn’t want the grief. It’s not worth it. I’m not closed to the idea that she could be telling the truth. I don’t think that it was something we gave too much thought to. I liked the idea that she was open to anything sexually. I like that about her. It was an aspect that made her a bit more fierce in my mind. What opens it up with Riddick is that there’s this moment where he talks about her nipples, and it’s right before Santana is going to execute him, and she realizes in that moment that Riddick could have killed her, had every opportunity to do it, and didn’t do it. So, there’s more to this person than she knows or anyone knows, and maybe we do need to kill him, but not yet. There’s more here. And it’s this kinship that she feels towards him because she’s misunderstood a lot. She’s just open to the idea of him, and once she opens herself up to the idea of him, there’s this animalistic sexuality that comes out in her at the very end where she realizes she’s saving this person because that’s the right thing to do. But she’s also a little curious, and if he really does want to go balls deep, which I’d never actually heard that term, I was like what does that even mean? And the guys were like, “Oh Katee!” And then, we had a lunch about all the different terms and what you can do and what it’s called, and Jordi Molla, Holy Hell! I stood up one day at lunch and said, “I am a girl! Stop talking about this and that.” “Oh, what is that? What do you do? Oh God!” It’s lovely lunch conversation. But there’s something about Riddick that brings out a side to her that opens her up sexually where she probably has been closed down for a while as a defense mechanism. And so, that’s fun.
Q: Can you talk about how you changed your physicality for this? Was there a sequence or a scene that you found the most challenging physically? And also, you’ve worked with guns before, but this is a different kind of gun. Did you spend time training so you looked like you knew what you were doing with it?
Sackhoff: I did, because DT said you’re going to be married to this if that’s the choice that you’re going to make. Basically, he said to me, “You’re going to learn how to use this better than anybody here.” And so, he and I had that conversation, and I realized that she should be able to grab ammo. She should be able to use that gun and do anything to that gun she needed to do and never take her eye off her target. It took a week for me to be able to take the gun apart, put the gun back together, get the ammunition and load, all the while keeping my eyes down the scope, which was something I’d never had to do before. In the process, I realized I was left eye dominant, so I realized I should actually shoot with my left hand which we didn’t do. For the movie, it was just too much, but I have since learned to shoot on the left side just to see if it was true, because I was so curious just sitting there with the guys with an actual sniper teaching me how to do this, and then him telling me that I’m left eye dominant which meant nothing to me. I had actually gone out to see if he was right, and I’m ten times more accurate when I switch to my left hand, which is weird because I’m right handed. It was just a very interesting thing. So I learned that. The hardest thing for me was because of that damned sniper rifle, I had to then carry the case which weighed about 50 lbs. and was long. It was probably almost as long as the table and we had 50 lbs. with a handle. DT was like, “Okay. You wanted it. You’re carrying it.” And I had to carry it for an entire day and just hold it. You couldn’t hold it next to your body because it would hit your knees, so I had to hold it out and my arm was so sore the next day. I was actually hurting down my rib cage because it was so heavy. So that was one of the things where I was like, “Dammit! Sniper rifle!” But it looks cool. Sometimes you have to be uncomfortable.