When most people think of Katee Sackhoff, one word comes to mind: Starbuck. But she’s actually had a surprisingly diverse career, playing not just action heroes like Battlestar Galactica’s badass pilot (or her current gig as an astronaut on Netflix’s Another Life), but also some intensely hilarious characters on shows like Robot Chicken and The Flash.
With Adult Swim stalwart Robot Chicken about to air its 200th episode, we got a chance to talk to Sackhoff about her signature character on that show — raunchy shit-starter Bitch Pudding — as well as other performances she’s become known for over the years. She’s been keeping busy in lockdown while she waits for production to start up again on Another Life’s second season, though she’ll only hint that “I got a couple more surprises coming soon.”
Katee Sackhoff: The first episode of Robot Chicken I ever did, I played Starbuck. So I came in to play myself, basically, and in that recording session I was asked by the guys to pick a couple other characters to take a stab at because they want to obviously get their money’s worth out of your booth session. They just have you keep recording different characters until your time is up. And Bitch Pudding was just one of them.
Gizmodo: How did that character take shape?
Sackhoff: I remember Seth [Green] telling me who she was. It was basically like, she’s Strawberry Shortcake but really, really bad. [Laughs.] And I was like, “OK, I can do that!”
Gizmodo: Is there a mindset that you have to get into before you play her, or does she just sort of come to the surface naturally?
Sackhoff: Bitch Pudding doesn’t actually come out in full force until I’m halfway through my recording session. So there are times where I will finish and go, like, “We should go back and record the first few lines,” because it takes me a while to get into that character. She’s so far removed from any bit of who I am. There’s nothing that I can really tap into to play her, I just have to sort of find her again. There’s a lot of moving around, and in my recording sessions there’s tons of physicality. I move my body, I jump around. It’s quite interesting.
Gizmodo: Were you surprised when she became one of the show’s breakout characters?
Sackhoff: Oh, absolutely. You never know, in a show filled with so many great, over-the-top, fun characters — you never really know which ones are going to hit with the audience. I’ve played a few others that I thought were gonna make it, and they just didn’t. You never know why one of them works. She just does, and I think that people love the fact Bitch Pudding has offended people so much already that I don’t think that there’s anything left that she could say that would offend people to the extent that they would cancel her. She is just crazy! And I think everybody is so socially conscious and she’s the opposite. No boundaries whatsoever.
Gizmodo: Robot Chicken has been on the air since 2005 and is celebrating its 200th episode. What do you think it is about the show that’s allowed it to continue for so long?
Sackhoff: I think they have a loyal audience, number one. I think they have been given the opportunity by the network to push boundaries, and stay, ironically, topical in a lot of things that are going on in the world. I think that sometimes when the shit hits the fan, you need to be able to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. I think Robot Chicken gives that to people, and that’s why it’s stayed on the air as long as it has.
Gizmodo: Switching gears, let’s talk about your role as Amunet Black on The Flash. How much fun did you have playing such an oversized villain, and what inspired your portrayal of her, including her accent?
Sackhoff: Hands-down, it’s the most fun job I’ve ever had in my career. When the role first came around, I had a serious talk with the showrunner at the time. I was like, “Listen, I don’t want to just come in there and play Katee. That’s not fun for me.” We were really trying to squeeze it into some time that I had available, but I was also very busy in my private life. So it was sort of, “What can we do to make this character so desirable that it works for what I want to do?” I had literally just put myself on tape for the producers of a movie and I had to do a British accent. But like, a real British accent. [Laughs.] I had so much fun doing it that I thought to myself, “You know, it would be really fun to be able to do that. I don’t know where I’m ever gonna be able to do that again.”
We see a lot of British people play Americans, but we never really see Americans go the other direction. They do, occasionally, but not a lot. And there’s also — so many American actors know that when a British person is doing an American accent, you can still tell they’re British, because they pick an accent that’s so generic. And so [laughs], this is sort of me making fun of that, that like I had no idea what the accent was. She’s not from anyplace specific. The accent’s not supposed to be real. It’s supposed to be so over the top and campy that you know she’s coming even if you don’t see her face, and that’s who I wanted her to be.
That was how I sort of pitched it to them: I want her voice to be so recognisable that even if you hate her, you know it’s her. There was no one like that on The Flash, and so they really just let me run with it. It was so much fun. Someone was like, “So why did you want to play an accent that has no actual region?” Like, you can’t really place it. And I said, “Because she’s from Clearwater, Florida. She’s not British! She’s crazy!”
That’s the whole point; it’s not supposed to be a real accent. It’s her pretending to be British because she was made a supervillain, and she went, “Hmm, who do I want to be today? You know what, I’ll be British! That sounds fun! That’s pretty arch! Let’s do that.” They really let me lean into that, and I love it when people say they hate the accent. I think it’s hysterical because they’re supposed to. They’re supposed to love it or hate it. It doesn’t matter, because she is a good time and I think that’s all she was ever supposed to be.
Gizmodo: Bitch Pudding aside, we’re used to seeing you in more heroic roles, so it must have been refreshing to get to tackle a villain like that.
Sackhoff: I think so. I do like to play reluctant heroes. I don’t think that playing the hero is really fun, because I like for people to have a bit more substance and texture to them. And I think that villains are always just more fun to play. They don’t have to fit into a box of what people think a hero is. They’re allowed to play more.
Gizmodo: What are your thoughts on the new Battlestar Galactica that Sam Esmail is making for Peacock?
Sackhoff: I mean… god love ‘em, go for it! It’s funny, it was 15 years ago for me, so if you put it into context, we picked up the old Battlestar when it had been off for 20 years. You know, everything old is new again, and I think they should take a stab at it. I do think that they should probably, if they’re gonna use the same characters, just as a rule of thumb they should change the characters that were changed into females back to male, and maybe change a couple different ones, and get some other female [characters] that way.
One of the things that they did so great with our Battlestar was by changing Starbuck and Boomer to women, you immediately got rid of any comparisons that you could make between the two characters because they were quite obviously different characters. One is male, one is female. I think that the only way that they’re going to be able to endear themselves to an audience if they pull Starbuck back up again, is to potentially take her back to being a male. It’s the easiest way to do it. And then you remove the direct comparison and it allows you to sort of give the audience the ability to watch it with clear eyes.
Gizmodo: I’ve also enjoyed seeing you in horror movies over the years. Do you consciously aim to shift between genres or is it more about the character first and foremost?
Sackhoff: For a long time, I would remiss to not say, what drew me to characters was being hired. You know, let’s be honest. [Laughs.] That’s huge when you’re starting out in this business, and even now to a certain extent. Actors are not actors if they’re not working. And so I think in the beginning of my career, and in the beginning of any career, sometimes you have to — as long as it doesn’t make you compromise your moral integrity — you take the characters that are given to you because it allows you to work, and that’s the only way that you’re gonna get another job is if you keep working.
So that’s how I got into the genre of horror to begin with, in Halloween: Resurrection, and again subsequently with Oculus. I just love playing characters that I haven’t been able to play before. With Oculus, Mike Flanagan created such an incredible script and that is what drew me to that — I loved the script and I thought it was brilliant and it translated for the audience as well. So I would continue to do any genre that allowed me to play, you know?
Gizmodo: Many people might not realise how active you are on YouTube. Has it been fun interacting with your fans in that format?
Sackhoff: The other day someone asked me why I did it. People were asking me very specific questions on social media that I couldn’t answer because it’s such a contained platform. How could you possibly tell someone anything in 140 characters? I mean, granted, I think it’s more now, but it’s so hard. I get DMs from people constantly and I respond to quite a bit of them. But the overwhelming response from fans was they wanted to know, because I’m associated with these strong women, they wanted to know what I do to stay in shape. What I eat. My mental health. Anything that I’m doing that lends itself to a whole wellness type of life. Those are the questions people were asking me.
And [YouTube] just sort of seems like the best platform for that, because I control it. I get to edit it, and I get to own it, and I get to have that direct connection with the fans. I’ve had so much fun doing it. I think sometimes that people just need to be reminded that everyone is going through very similar situations in life at their core. What I mean by that is everybody struggles. Everybody hurts. Everybody has bad days. And sometimes we just need validation in that we’re not alone in the way that we feel, and it helps people connect. I think that YouTube has been really great for that. Plus, my fiancé’s the one who shoots it, we do it all together, and so it really is just me sitting with a camera doing it myself. It’s very much just us.
Robot Chicken’s self-described “super, extra-special, one of a kind, 200th episode spectacular” season finale airs July 27 on Adult Swim in the U.S.