To go along with the release of 2036 Origin Unknown (A link to my recent review can be found here (https://vergemagazine.co.uk/verge-reviews-2036-origin-unknown/) I had the pleasure of interviewing the lovely Katee Sackhoff about this upcoming movie.
Just in case you don’t know her. Katee Sackhoff is best known for her role as hotshot pilot Starbuck in the critically acclaimed Syfy Channel series “Battlestar Galactica”, for which she earned a Saturn Award in 2006 for Best Actress on Television, as well as a significant cult following. Katee has also appeared in films such as Don’t Knock Twice and Riddick alongside Vin Diesel. She has also appeared in recent TV shows such as The Flash and A&E’s original drama series “Longmire”.
The synopsis of 2036 Origin Unknown reads as follows: ‘’When a scientist receives an “Origin Unknown” signal from Mars, she must investigate from mission control 150 million miles away on Earth. Mackenzie ‘Mack’ Wilson, played by Katee Sackhoff, struggles to keep her career as an old- school mission controller in a future where artificial intelligence has made even the smartest human redundant.’’
Verge: So first off I want to congratulate you on your film, I watched it twice today prior to this interview. My head hurt afterwards but in a good way.
Katee: Thank you so much, I appreciate that! I feel like you do have the watch it twice, the first time just to watch it and the second time to see if you missed anything.
V: Yeah, I watched it the first time and was like wow that was a lot. Then I had to watch it again just to kind of process it all.
K: For sure, I actually think it gets better the more you watch it. Better might be the wrong word, you sort of start to notice the nuances more.
V: So I wanna know what hooked you in the first time round with this film?
K: The first time reading it, I just thought that it was so intelligent. It was so interestingly written, in the sense that the script gave nothing away. I actually had to read it, two or three times to actually understand what was going on.
Then watching it. The first time I watched it, I was struck by how familiar the relationship between human and AI felt and how emotional it was.
V: When I first watched it I was wondering how it was going to feel with you interacting with this AI. But it didn’t feel weird, if that makes sense? It just felt normal.
K: It felt like it wasn’t an AI. It felt like just two coworkers sitting in a room, going through the same motions that are characters were going through. Which is what I wanted it to feel like.
V: So I was thinking to myself, with all your Sci-Fi genius/knowledge and experiences, it must help you make it more believable. You are use to acting the fantasy of it all.
K: It does, when I show up on set I am usually hard pressed. It is very rare to meet a person who has spent as many hours on set as have in science-fiction worlds. It is sort of what I have done for 20 years. So I do have an understanding of how to accomplish certain things and camera angles, characters or if something has been done before. I definitely do understand the genre more than most people.
V: I think that is very clear in the film, you don’t make it look odd. You make it seem like just a normal thing.
K: That is what good science-fiction does in my opinion. It questions where humanity is at right now. I think that is sort of what is going on in 2036, these are the questions we have right now. There are so many jobs already in the world that are obsolete because of technology and machines. I do sort of believe that there are people who are worried, that human beings could be overtaken by technology. My phone already understands me. They learn us, they learn our speech pattern, they learn our typing patterns to better assist us. The fact that an iPhone can learn us already, I mean what is going to be able to do in ten years?
V: I totally agree! Sometimes, I type a nonsense word and my phone changes it to exactly what I was trying to say.
K: I don’t even type anymore, I just use my voice. It literally started out because I was giving myself carpal tunnel syndrome because I text so bad. My iPhone understands me so well, why would I type?
V: So what was it like behind the scenes? How did you film these scenes with Arti the AI?
K: It was all imagination. They hired a person to stand out and do the dialogue by the director with a microphone. Other than that, I was in the room by myself the entire time. Imagining where Arti was. The director might say, halfway through I think Arti might move so just look where you want him to move. So in my head, I would be like okay halfway through he comes down a little bit or he moves to the left. So I would start moving my head and they would put Arti in afterwards. I sort of gave a blueprint to the director of where to put Arti.
V: So was that very challenging for you, another reason for drawing you into this project? Were you wondering how they were going to do Arti?
K: Because I’ve done so much Sci-Fi and I’ve worked with children and animals, I’m so used to being by myself. I say all the time, I could act with a tennis ball at this point. At this point, I’ve done so much of my work with nothing there. It is just another skill as an actor, you have to suspend or use your imagination more so than you would with a normal scene.
V: I think we should put that to the test now. Have you star in a film with just tennis balls and hope that you would perform as well as you say.
K: It would actually be really fun! I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else. I wouldn’t have to worry about actors showing up late, or having their lines memorised I could do just do my own thing.
V: I’d love to try to pitch that idea to people. Yeah, I want to do a movie with Katee and just some tennis balls.
K: Yep, the whole movie. That would be really fun.
V: So the director mentions being a big fan of yours and that you put your soul and passion into the role. He mentions that you did months of prep for it as well, so could you tell us more about that preparation for this role?
K: I did and I am so glad I did. With indie film, you move really fast and you do not have a lot of time for mistakes. For the most part of the moving like 80% of it, I am the only actor, I knew that I needed to be prepared. The script was written like a one-act play, there was not a lot of scene breaks and it was like a story about people in a room. So I got the script and for a month before production, I hired someone to come to my house every day to read for 2-3 hours and we just started at the beginning and memorised the whole thing in a month.
I am so glad I did because when I got there to London there was an issue with my work visa so they shift me to Dublin. I literally couldn’t work. I just had to sit there, I was at the mercy of the passport office in Dublin. I remember begging them like there is nothing that you can do. So the producer sent me to Dublin with his brother as like a chaperone to make sure I come back. All he and I did was sort of wander around and I would talk to the director every day and we would talk about the character. Then we would go watch rugby and drink Guinness because what else are you going to do. It was like okay we didn’t get the passport today, hopefully, it comes tomorrow.
We were losing time every day and for an Indie film, there is only so much money. It is not like they can go, oh we will start 3 days later. They had the set for a specific amount of time and we ended up doing the whole movie in 7-9 days.
V: That is ridiculously short!
K: Yeah, it was crazy! The day I got my passport we were so excited, we sprinted to the airport, jumped on a flight and I think I got to set at like 3. They threw me through the works and I was on set and the first take was 26 pages. We just went for it because we had to make up time. So we just went for it. The poor camera guys were like Jesus Christ thank god it was on a dolly and not there shoulder. It was at that moment, I was so thankful I had done the work because had I not we wouldn’t have made it.
V: So definitely a wild experience but in a way, it paid off for you.
K: It was so wild, If we had known we were going to be in Dublin for five days we would have gone and done stuff. But we didn’t know so we were just tied to Dublin it was quite funny actually. I’d go for a run, then we would go for a shop, go for lunch and I mean what do you do when you can’t leave like a one-mile radius. You could get your passport and any moment and when you do, you gotta leave.
V: It is a great story to have with this film, I am sure you will never forget it now.
K: You know what, I became such good friends with the producer’s brother. I mean we were attached at the hip for like five days, when we came back everyone was joking that he was my boyfriend. We knew so much about each other because what else are you going to do other than talk to someone for five days.
V: Amazing! So how does it feel as well knowing you are regarded as a strong female character in Sci-Fi? Especially in today’s society when there is a push for more stronger female leads and representation.
K: Listen, what is happening right now with women finally having a more prominent voice in the workplace is long overdue. But for me, it is very different. I grew up with a mother who is very strong and a father who applauded that. So I was raised to just think I could do anything I wanted to do. When I moved to California, I landed on my feet very quickly. I was incredibly blessed and I worked my ass off.
So I have never in my career had a shortage of strong women. So to listen to other people talk about it, is eye-opening for me. As for me, they have always been there. Growing up there weren’t as many. There were a handful of women I idolised as a kid, you know Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lucy Lawless. These women were who I wanted to be and emulate. They were the only ones there. Women that sort of weren’t objected in Sci-Fi. I’m really excited to be pushing more of those doors open.
Let’s be honest though, Science-Fiction has always had strong women in it. Sci-Fi and Horror always had strong and interesting female roles in them. The hero of Halloween is Jamie Lee Curtis, these genes for some reason it was more excepted for women to be strong. I think it was because more palatable for people who did not want to see it in regular things or did not think it was possible. We are learning now that women are just as capable as men. Which we have known all along.
Well, there you have it! What an ending statement from the wonderful Katee Sackhoff!
She was a pleasure to talk too and I hope this leads some of you to go check out her role in 2036 Origin Unknown.
Trailer Here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kccFXcqWLvU
2036 Origin Unknown will be available on iTunes, other platforms and DVD from 13th August.