by Christina Radish / July 23, 2019
From creator/showrunner Aaron Martin (Killjoys), the 10-episode sci-fi drama series Another Life (available to stream at Netflix on July 25th) follows Niko Breckinridge (Katee Sackhoff), an astronaut who ventures out into space in search of alien intelligence, but quickly realizes that she and her crew are facing unimaginable dangers that could keep them from ever returning home. And if they can manage to survive the external threat that they’re facing, they will also have to survive the building tension among the crew on the ship.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Katee Sackhoff (who is also a producer on the series) talked about how involved she got with every aspect of the series, having an idea of what the first three seasons would look like, the fast-paced shoot, how no character is safe, what she likes about playing Niko Breckinridge, when she knows that she’s found the character that she’s playing, the physicality of the role, working in such a confined space, the daunting task of showing the aliens on a sci-fi show, the similarities and differences from Battlestar Galactica, getting to be a part of the Star Wars universe by voicing a character for Star Wars: Clone Wars, returning for The Flash, and starting a YouTube channel.
Collider: This is a very intense show to watch. Was it an intense show to shoot?
KATEE SACKHOFF: It was a fear of mine, when we were filming, that it was so fast-paced that people wouldn’t have a chance to breathe when they were watching it. So, that was intentionally done, but it far exceeded my expectations, in the pacing. It’s a race car that never lets up.
When this project came your way, what was the pitch for the show and the character? What sold you on doing it?
SACKHOFF: Being a producer on the show gave me a really interesting perspective on it, in the sense that nothing was created when I came in. We had the outline of what the show was gonna be, but I was in the writers’ room and I got to really put what I feel is my fingerprint on the show, which is something that I was really looking forward to. In the trajectory of my career, it was the next thing that I really wanted to participate in. It scared me, in the sense that this was a very young crew, which means that it was gonna be a very young cast. I grew up in the business, and I’ve always been the youngest person on set. Going from being the youngest person on set to being the oldest person on set was interesting for me. So, I knew pretty much everything that was going to happen, from the very beginning. It was just the execution, done by Aaron Martin and the rest of the writing staff, that was just phenomenal.
Were there a lot of conversations about where this show could go, how the show could continue and where the story could go next with, with more seasons?
SACKHOFF: Yeah, absolutely. Being in the pitch meeting with Netflix was one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done. Every one of the experiences that I’ve had on this show, as a producer is, has been one of the coolest experiences of my career, and I feel so blessed, but to have been in that pitch room, with Aaron and Noreen Halpern, with Halfire Entertainment, to pitch Netflix was very cool. So, we know where the show potentially will go for the first three seasons. As an actor, that was new for me. To really be a part of those conversations and to have an opinion was really cool.
It’s one thing to know where things are going for the season, but it’s another to actually be in it. What was it like to actually play out where things lead, by the end of this season, and what was your reaction to how all of this plays out?
SACKHOFF: You’re so correct, it’s one thing to know how things are going to go, on paper, but it’s a completely different thing, as an actor, to actually be taking them there. That, for me, was really interesting. I had a lot of struggles with this character, throughout, because there are moments where, morally, you realize that, at her core, she is a soldier. That’s part of why she was sent to lead this mission. She is unwavering in her ability to do what she was told to do, and stay on mission. What’s so great about Niko is that the mission aligns with her heart, which is to protect her family, back home. She’ll do anything to stay on mission and protect your family including sacrifice some crew members. Nobody is safe on this show. That’s one of the things that Aaron, Noreen and I really wanted to hammer home, from the very beginning. Just because you think a crew member is gonna be there the whole time, that’s absolutely probably not the case. Just when you fall in love with them, they’re probably gonna die.
I really appreciated how we see that, from Episode 1, right off the bat.
SACKHOFF: Yeah, nobody is safe. When we were in the writers’ room and coming up with ideas, the soma tubes were so important to me. As an actor and as a producer on the show, I just thought, what a phenomenal story piece and opportunity to have endless amounts of people that can come go. It just opens up your story more. It’s no longer a crew of 10. It’s potentially a crew of 10 times six. Even Niko is replaceable, that’s what I love about it. There are more captains in soma sleep. If something happens to Niko, someone takes her place.
When you play a character like this, you really kind of have to be all in, from day one. What did you like about Niko and about playing her, from day one, and what did you kind of grow to appreciate about her, the longer you played her?
SACKHOFF: I know that I have found a character, as an actor ,when I start to dream as them. I kept saying to Aaron Martin, “I haven’t found her yet. I haven’t found her. I don’t understand why she does the things that she does. I just don’t get her.” I was panicked because, not only am I the lead of the show, but I’m also a producer on the show, and I didn’t know who my character was yet, on day one of filming, I was like, “This isn’t good. This is really bad.” And I found her two days before we started filming. I started dreaming of her and I realized, at that moment, that everything was gonna be okay. But there were things about her that I didn’t get. I didn’t understand why a mother would leave her child. I didn’t get that. I had to reconcile, as a woman who’s not a mother, that sometimes the best way to save your child is to leave them. That didn’t make sense to me, so I wrestled with that a lot. I had to have that make sense to me. I had to put myself in the shoes of a mother, where you hear those stories of a mother who has to choose between a child, or they have to choose between their husband and their child, and they’re put in these situations where they’ve got to make these incredibly difficult decisions, and they do it. That is who Niko is, and that was a hard thing for me to figure out.
When you’ve done a TV series like Battlestar Galactica, that people remember and still talk about it, do you have to give it some extra thought before doing another TV series where you’re in space and on a ship because you know that people will inevitably compare the two?
SACKHOFF: There is a reason that I waited 10 or 12 years, or whatever it’s been, to go back into space. There’s a reason I did a Western first. Nobody could compare it. Whether it had anything to do with my part in it or not, Battlestar Galactica hit it out of the park. It is still, to this day, getting new fans and a new appreciation for it. People are watching it for a second time with their children, who weren’t even born when we were filming. Battlestar Galactica will live on forever, which is the biggest blessing. I never dreamed, when I started acting at 14, that was gonna be the thing that gave me the career that it gave me. But it’s also a curse, in the sense that people will inevitably always compare every character that I play to Starbuck, which is fine by me. I, personally, don’t care. It’s something that I’ve had to come to terms with, as an actor, and I appreciate it so much now. It forces me to find differences in people that, on paper, could be very similar. To me, Starbuck was a wild card. She was military. She was a soldier, through and through. She didn’t excel to the highest of education ‘cause she went into the military very young. Niko is the opposite of that. Niko is educated and very well read, she’s worldly, she’s calm and collected and calculated, and she’s very analytical. Starbuck was 100% emotional, which is also what made her so great. What makes Niko so great is that she’s all of the things that Starbuck wasn’t. They’re very different, but there will be comparisons. There’s a character on the ship that is 100% Starbuck, and that’s Cas. She has these phenomenal scenes, and Elizabeth Ludlow is just phenomenal in the role. She’s got these moments that are very hero-centric moments, which is who Starbuck was. So, there’s a little bit of sort of passing the torch, if you will.
How did the physicality of this project different for you? Were there particular challenges specific to this show, as far as the physicality of it all?
SACKHOFF: This is the craziest thing that I’ve ever done. From day one, because I was in on the creation of this I knew what the storyline was and I knew what I wanted Niko to look like, physically. Niko is much leaner than anyone I’ve ever played before. Part of the reason I wanted that was because they wake up from soma, and I wanted her to look like she has been asleep for three months. It’s not that they’re malnourished, but they’re nourished just enough to maintain the muscles, the proteins, the organs and the brain function that they have. So, I wanted her to look like she had woken up fasting almost, and my body doesn’t sit there. My body sits 10 pounds heavier than when I play Niko. Starbuck was 10 pounds heavier than Niko. That was a physical challenge for me. I was working out, very, very hard, for three months before we even got there. I cut out alcohol for five months, and I cut out anything that tasted good. Not really, but I went on a paleo diet, so everything was very clean, with no processed sugar, no gluten, no alcohol, and none of that fun stuff, because I had to maintain what I thought she would like, which is the opposite of me. She’s also very capable. Starbuck had these scenes where she fought, but she was very much a bruiser. She was a boxer. She knew how to punch you, and that was probably all she knew how to do. Niko is trained in many different facets of fighting, so that was something that I had to learn very quickly. We moved very fast on this show, so we didn’t get a ton of time for stunt rehearsals. I was learning huge fight sequences, the day before or sometimes an hour before, which was really hard. That was a challenge, as well. So, I’m hoping we get picked up for a second season, but that also means that four days ago, I cut out alcohol. I’m back on the Niko diet, which is not fun. And then, Elizabeth came in, and what 10 years does to you is that she had a six pack in a month. I worked my butt off for that six pack, for three months, and then she came in and was like, “Oh, we’re having six packs? Okay, great. Let me just do that.”
This show feels so confined because you’re essentially in narrow hallways. What were the sets like to walk onto and work on? Did it feel confined when you were shooting, or is that just a trick of the camera?
SACKHOFF: Oh, no, it’s confined. This is one of the hardest sets I’ve ever shot on, and that was not only for the cast, but for the crew. Our sound department couldn’t boom anything ‘cause there were reflective surfaces everywhere. Our camera guys couldn’t fit in rooms with steady cams on. It was crazy. There were scenes when we were shooting in our quarters, and it’s literally a four by five box, and you’ve got yourself, another actor, the AI who’s popping in and out, so needs an exit because he’s gotta be there and then not be there, the sound guy, the camera guy, and another camera guy. Before you know it, you’ve literally got no room to move. For our entire season, everything was very choreographed because the spaces are so small. Anytime we’re running down a hallway, there’s a dolly, and our dolly cart had maybe a foot on either side, if they were lucky, and they were sprinting backwards, running with us down hallways. We had camera guys get knocked over with cameras on top of them, and they would run into walls and get their legs right over by the dolly. It was such a tight space, so you really, really feel that. It’s purposeful. The only place where there’s actual space to move around is the mess hall and the bridge. That’s it. Every place else is tiny. I’m barely 5’6?, and there are places where I had to duck under. We had a couple of tall guys on our set that had to duck to get under things.
One of the things that I really like about Episode 4 is that, because Niko is somebody who feels so controlled and so measured in how she responds and reacts to things, when she’s stuck in that sleep state, we get to see her dream sequences, which really gives an interesting insight into her. What was it like to get to really explore some of those moments, instead of just having a conversation with another character or a flashback?
SACKHOFF: That’s one of the things that I love so much about science fiction. You have the ability to bounce around like we do. Episode 4 is basically a dream, the entire time, but it’s a violent dream because you’re not completely asleep. You’re in a drug-induced, machine-induced coma. It was really great for me because that’s when I found the character. Because we had 90% of our scripts finished, by the time we started filming, for the most part, I read that episode, over and over and over again. That’s where I found Niko. That’s who she is, at her core. Whether or not it’s 100% accurate or not, there are definitely things in there that are more horror-related because her dreams are taking over and she doesn’t have control of that aspect of her dream, but they’re also all metaphors for something that happened in her life. That helped me figure out who she was, and it helped us understand her better, as a captain. It helped us see a vulnerability in her and understand why she is the way that she is. You also potentially don’t like her, a little bit, because of the decisions that she’s made.
You also get real insight into her past and what happened with her last crew, and how that affects who she is now, which she likely wouldn’t have just opened up about.
SACKHOFF: It’s common knowledge, what happened on the Pilgrim, but I don’t think people know what happened on the Pilgrim. The only person who knows a hundred percent of what happened on the Pilgrim is Niko, and probably her husband, Erik, and maybe Cas. But there are episodes coming up where you realize that even Cas didn’t know the full story. I really loved that. I loved that we understand her a bit better. It helps the audience understand why, at times, she is potentially so ruthless in her decisions.
This show is technically about aliens, but you almost have to remind yourself of that because the characters and the character dynamics are so interesting.
SACKHOFF: Yeah. It’s a very daunting and scary task, when you decide to actually show the aliens on a science fiction show. It’s something that Aaron and Noreen and the people at Netflix really wanted, but it’s a scary thing. It’s like, “Okay, how do you do this in a different way, on a limited budget?” Our show does not have the budget of Altered Carbon, in no way, shape or form, so how do we exceed people’s expectations and give them something that they haven’t seen before, that’s very cool and very tonally right for this show, on a limited budget. I’ve seen them, and they exceeded my expectations. I was like, “Oh, my god, that’s so cool!” It got me, and I’m a really tough judge.
What was it like for you to learn that Star Wars: Clone Wars would be returning and that you’d get to be a part of that show?
SACKHOFF: I love the Star Wars universe. It’s one of the coolest things that I’ve ever been able to be a part of. I was so excited. To be able to play Bo-Katan is just awesome. I’m the first female Mandalorian warrior. It’s my Star Wars version of Starbuck. Now, I’m just hoping that there’s some room for her, over in the live-action version of this world because that would just be insane. There are some fans out there that seem to want that, and then there are fans out there that don’t seem to not want that. Ultimately, it’s up to [Jon] Favreau and Dave [Filoni]. Dave would have to decide that, as well. That would be really cool. My dad raised me on science fiction, and I absolutely love Star Wars. Empire Strikes Back is still one of my favorite movies of all-time, so I would love nothing more, but just to be involved in Clone Wars is so phenomenal. I took it, initially, for many reasons, but one of the things on that checklist was that I’d never really done anything that my nephews could watch. I don’t even think they knew that I was an actress until they were in college. But Star Wars was the first time that I watched a movie that took me into another universe, completely. I remember watching that when I was probably five, six or seven, and it was one of the coolest moments, ever. I wanted an Ewok. I think everybody wanted an Ewok, but that was my goal in life. I was like, “I want one of those teddy bear things.”
Are you working on anything now, while you’re waiting to find out about a possible second season?
SACKHOFF: Yeah. One of the things that I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed is interaction with the fans. I have a career because of a loyal fan base that has appreciated the work that I’ve done, but also continues to follow me, from job to job. I interact quite a bit, on social media, with them, ad I asked them, almost a year ago now, what they wanted from me, and the answer was very, very clear. So, I sat down and figured out how I could best facilitate that for them, and also be in control of it. The best way for me to do that was to start a YouTube channel, so that is something that I’ve been doing now, for the last three months. I’ve been working my butt off, getting episodes finished, so that we can get ahead of them, if you will. It’s launching on August 6th, so I’m really excited about that. It’s a whole new realm for me, letting people into my life, a little bit. The goal of this was to take people on the journey with me, to continue to find joy, excitement, motivation and fun, and being healthy and staying active, and all of the things that people already seem to associate with me, but I’m just taking them with me on the journey. It’s been quite fun, so far. So, that’s what I’ve been doing while I’ve been waiting to hear about a second season. And I’m going back to The Flash, supposedly, at some point this year. With producing the show, I’ve been in every single one of the sound mixes and every single one of the edits. I wanted to learn as much as I could, as a producer on this, and really earn that hat because it’s something that I took incredibly seriously. I love this character, and I love the cast and the crew, and I want to do everything in my power to see it come back, for many years.
The Flash seems like a fun little family that you can go play with, here and there, because they have such a variety of interesting characters on that show.
SACKHOFF: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I’ve made lifelong friends over there, and I can’t wait to go back. I love working with Danielle [Panabaker]. All of my scenes seem to be with her. I’m sure that until Amunet dies, she’ll always find a way back there.
Another Life is available to stream at Netflix on July 25th.