Katee Sackhoff hasn’t always been the gun-toting badass who makes the nerd boys swoon.
Back in 2004, she was probably most famous for not being Dirk Benedict. In the Syfy Network’s remake of Battlestar Galactica—based on a cheesy science fiction series from 1978 that, even if we’re being generous, was never more than a poor man’s Star Wars—Sackhoff played a character named Kara ‘‘Starbuck’’ Thrace, a chain-smoking, hard-living pilot loosely based on another character named Starbuck, played by Benedict in the original Battlestar and who, unlike the updated Starbuck, had feathered hair and a penis. Fans were outraged—including Benedict himself, who wrote an angry missive about how feminism was ruining Hollywood. But then people actually watched the show, and wouldn’t you know it, Sackhoff was pretty damn good. What’s not to love about an attractive blonde who cold-cocks aliens, has crazy recreational sex, and is comfortable using weapons larger than her torso?
Battlestar went on to become a cult phenomenon, garnering awards and blogger adulation during its four seasons between 2004 and 2008. Almost exactly a year after the show ended, Sackhoff returns to television with a supporting role on Fox’s 24—which returns for its eighth season this Sunday, January 17th—as data analyst Dana Walsh. This time, the outrage is in Sackhoff’s favor. Fans across the globe agree: A data analyst? Hiring the ball-busting actress to play a character who sits in front of a computer is like asking Ron Jeremy to play a character who wears pants. Where are the guns, the grit, the “this-will-hurt-you-more-than-it-hurts-me” sexuality? During a 24 panel at last summer’s ComicCon, Sackhoff addressed the elephant in the room, explaining that she agreed to play the desk-bound character only after telling the writers that “at some point I need a gun, preferably two.” The crowd, not surprisingly, went nuts.
During our interview, Sackhoff expressed concern that this story would be titled “Katee Sackhoff Calls Dirk Benedict Douchey McDoucherson.” So let’s get one thing clear right up front: She does not think Dirk Benedict is a douche. She does, however, think the sun is powered by Hitler on a hamster wheel in Hell (it’s a long story) and that the unofficial title of her yet-unwritten autobiography will be My Ass Is On Fire (another long story). She also felt entirely comfortable using the word “vagina” no less than a dozen times during our conversation, and that’s gotta be some kind of record.
Eric Spitznagel: 24 has some of the best unintentionally funny dialogue on television. If there’s just one reason to watch the show, it’s because Kiefer Sutherland might start screaming, “I will kill you, and you will stay dead this time!” Do you have a favorite line from the upcoming season, something that made you think, “Jesus, I can’t believe that just came out of my mouth?”
Katee Sackhoff: There are so many of them. I got good at saying cheesy lines on Battlestar and making them sound (in a breathy, dramatic voice) really intense. There was an episode on Battlestar where I actually had to say, “Out of the box is where I live.” In all seriousness. To this day, my ex-boyfriend still teases me about it. He constantly asks me, “How are you living today? Are you out of the box? Are you to the left of it? In the corner?” So I’ve gotten very good at this shit by now. If I had to say a line like, “I will kill you, and you will stay dead this time,” I’d probably win an Emmy for it.
What’s the trick to saying dialogue that you know is terrible?
You just do it. Sometimes if you think about it too much, it won’t come out. The first time I said a line on Battlestar that I thought was kinda silly— Mary McDonnell asks me where we are and I say something like “All along the watchtower”— McDonnell looked at me and said, “Wow, you actually did it. That was fantastic.” I think it ended up getting cut because we only had one viable take where I had a straight face. The rest of the time I was like (with clenched teeth) “Somewhere all along the watchtower.” But that’s the great thing about doing TV, especially shows like Battlestar and 24. You’re in these heightened dramatic moments that have nothing to do with reality.
Is it a relief to finally play a character that isn’t always looking to break out in fisticuffs?
Absolutely. It’s a joy for me to be done with Battlestar and Bionic Woman, because for the first time in my life I didn’t have to look like I could beat up a man. At 24 they were like, “You sit at a desk, you’re okay.” Not that I could let myself go. I just kicked up the cardio and kicked down the weights. I think every character I play has a physicality to them, so I have to stay in some sort of shape. I’ll never be a size two. And I don’t want to be a size two. I’m going to make a size six look really fucking good. That’s as much as I can hope for.
Just for old time’s sake, were you ever tempted to use Battlestar’s signature pseudo-curse, fracking, at some point during 24?
(Laughs.) Can you imagine? If I was just screamed “frack it” at Jack and then stormed off? That would’ve been amazing.
Maybe you should come up with a new swear word, specifically for 24.
Totally! Like dinglehopper.
That’s a dingleberry mixed with Dennis Hopper.
I’ve never heard that.
I just made it up. (Laughs.) Actually, no, I stole it from The Little Mermaid. But they meant it in a different way than I do.
Here’s a suggestion: how about “Dick Cheney?”
As a curse word?
Yeah. Instead of “fuck” just say “Oh, Dick Cheney!”
(Laughs.) That’s really, really good. I like that.
I will personally pay you $100 if you find a way to use “Dick Cheney” as an expletive on 24.
That’s a tempting offer. Wait, didn’t he just have a heart attack?
You’re thinking of Rush Limbaugh.
Yeah, yeah, him. I don’t know if we should be joking about him. If somebody has a heart attack and survives it, I don’t think you’re allowed to talk shit about them for at least a month.
Seriously? Why not?
Well, they’re weak, and what if they have another heart attack and die? How guilty would you feel? If Rush was to drop dead, the guilt you’d feel for the rest of your life would give you an ulcer.
Are we talking generally, or specifically about Rush Limbaugh?
(Laughs.) O.K., point taken.
Because even if Rush is losing feeling in his left arm at this very moment, I don’t feel in any way guilty.
Don’t make me say something I’m going to have to apologize for later.
Then let’s abruptly change the subject. They made an action figure based on your character in Battlestar Galactica.
They did! I don’t think they make it anymore, but it was a huge seller. (Laughs.)
Do you have a few boxes of the doll stashed in your attic?
My mom does, yeah.
Do you ever take it out and play with yourself?
(Laughs.) And play with myself?
That sounded much dirtier than I intended.
O.K., fine, that’s entirely what I intended.
You know what I like about my doll? She has interchangeable hands. She has a hand for a cigar, and a hand with cards in it, and a hand for her gun, and a hand for holding a liquor bottle. She’s very well-rounded.
She makes G.I. Joe look like a sissy.
She kinda does. She’s all about drinking, smoking, gambling, and shooting people.
You’ve got a tattoo on your right forearm that reads “bona fiscalia.” What exactly does that mean?
It can mean so many different things. It can mean good property. It can mean good money, or good year, or even public property. It’s taken on a life of its own at this point. But it meant something very profound when I got it.
How old were you?
21. (We both burst into laughter.) I know, I know, that explains so much, doesn’t it?
Everything seems profound when you’re 21. Were you at least drunk?
I probably was, I don’t remember. I was shooting Halloween: Resurrection in Canada, and I literally showed up on the set one morning and I had a tattoo. They were like, “Katee, we have to do reshoots for a scene, and you didn’t have that tattoo yesterday.” So they covered up a freshly-done tattoo with makeup. And it was paaaainful. It’s interesting the things you learn when you’re 21. I learned never to get tattoos in the middle of shooting a movie. Because if you’re not Angelina Jolie or Megan Fox, they will fire you.
Did you at least fact-check your tattoo? Some people get tattoos when they’re drunk and they find out later, “Aw crap, I got tramp-stamped with the Chinese symbol for whore.”
(Laughs.) No, actually, I went to the library, and I got a book on Latin and looked it up. I looked in three different Latin books, and all three books had a different meaning. But every single one of those meanings was cool with me.
I now have a disturbingly vivid image of you shitcanned in a library.
Right? At seven in the morning. With four days left of shooting and just not caring.
You sound like a really fun person to get drunk with.
I’m pretty fun, yeah. I’m a two-glass-a-night kinda girl. But I’m not one of those girls who goes crazy and gets caught by US Weekly showing her vagina as she’s getting out of a limo. That will never be me. I just don’t have it in me. I mean, I have a vagina in me. (Laughs.) But I have a father who I respect way too much to act like a jackass. And he’s still alive. Maybe someday when my parents pass away and I’m 45—or maybe 50, if my parents live that long—I can start acting like an idiot. At 50, I’ll start showing my vagina.
That’s a bold statement. You know this is all on the record, right? We’re gonna hold you to this.
Oh, I’ll do it! Wait, didn’t Sharon Stone do it already? I think she posed naked in some French magazine when she turned 50.
Yeah, but she was doing crotch shots back when she was in her 30s. It’s not like she waited for middle age.
We can all hope to look that good when we’re 50. My goal is to have Demi Moore’s body when I’m 50. I want to get better with age, like a fine wine.
And then date some 20-something kid who tweets about you?
Yep, that’s the plan. My boyfriend right now is 44, so I’ll live with him for awhile and when I turn 45, he’ll be 60 and I’ll go, “Listen, sweetie, I’m thinking about hitting up the 25-year-old boys. How does that sound?”
As long as you give him some advance warning.
Exactly. I’ll just tell him, “This has been the plan since day one. We agreed on this. It’s been 20 years, we had a good run.” I’ll start dating the young boys, and if my parents are dead at that point, my vagina will be out for everyone to see.
Because that’s the only thing holding you back right now?
You know what’s scary? I’m such a good Catholic, that really is the reason. That and the fear of God. I think God’s wrath and purgatory are the only things keeping me on the straight and narrow. I like the idea of purgatory. It’s like a cosmic do-over. You could live a horrible life, and right before you’re about to die, you just say, “I’m sorry, God!” And He’s like, “O.K., cool, I’ll put you in purgatory for a few years while I figure out what to do with you. You can hang out with Angelina Jolie and Megan Fox.”
It’s like the drunk tank of the afterlife.
It is, yes! But I gotta tell you, I’d rather be in the drunk tank than showing my ID at the pearly gates. I’d rather be on the bus to hell than sitting on that cloud, playing the harp.
You don’t want to be one of those people in heaven thinking, “I wish I showed my vagina more.”
Right? Don’t you think so? My tombstone will not say, “She wishes she’d shown her vagina more.” It will say “Her life started at 50.”
I don’t think you’re going to find many tombstones that lead with vagina regret.
I guarantee you there’s one person somewhere in the entire world who’s tombstone says, “I wish I’d shown my vagina more.” But being a good Catholic, I probably wouldn’t use the word vagina. I’d call it a na-na.
Back in 2001, you worked with Peter O’Toole on the CBS drama The Education of Max Bickford, and he gave you two rules as an aspiring actress: “Never shit where you eat and never fuck a fan.” Have you followed his advice?
Well, let me think. I’ve never fucked a fan. I mean, that I know of anyway. I have occasionally shat where I ate, but that’s just normal when you’re an actor, you know?
It is? Wow, there is so much I don’t know about your profession.
I think when you work eighteen hours a day, and you work with the same people five, six days a week, it’s bound to happen. Don’t judge me! (Laughs.) It’s so funny that Peter gave me those words of wisdom, because four years later I got the exact same advice from Richard Hatch. Almost word for word.
You mean the actor who played Apollo in the original Battlestar Galactica, right? Not the guy from Survivor?
(Laughs.) Yeah, I’m talking about the one who went to jail for tax evasion. Wait, no, no, the other one.
The Richard Hatch who wasn’t naked on television?
Well, I don’t know. I’m sure if you looked, Richard Hatch has been naked on television somewhere.
And if not him, then at least Dirk Benedict.
Oh yeah, sure. I’m positive Dirk’s been naked somewhere.
Did he ever apologize for trashing you?
No, but I’m totally fine with it. I like the guy. And it is what it is, y’know? I can’t say he’s a bad guy. He was going to hook me up with his son at some point.
Isn’t that something Peter O’Toole warned you about?
(Laughs.) Yeah, exactly. Don’t date the son of somebody who called you a hack. It’s a good rule of thumb.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com)