Katee Sackhoff discusses beating up the cast of ‘Riddick’

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Most people who are familiar with Katee Sackhoff’s work associate her with kicking ass. Whether you know her as a deputy sheriff from Longmire, the voice of a tough Mandalorian warrior from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, or as a hotshot pilot-turned-spoiler alert on Battlestar Galactica, Sackhoff’s developed an identity as an actor that plays characters you don’t want to mess with. Yet even she will readily admit that none of these characters could go toe-to-toe with Dahl, the mercenary tasked with hunting an interstellar killer in Riddick.

Sackhoff's Dahl is the toughest of the hunters pursuing Riddick
Sackhoff’s Dahl is the toughest of the hunters pursuing Riddick

“Normally I might give these tough characters that I play layers and a lot of femininity,” Sackhoff tells Digital Trends. “Give them pieces that allow a female audience to relate to them. This character didn’t have any of that. She was just an incredibly strong character. My fear was that she was going to be unlikable. So ultimately, you just trust [the people you’re working with] and you go as hard as you can.”

Dahl is a force of nature in Riddick, and Sackhoff is a perfect fit for the role. She imbues the character with the attitude of a square-jawed soldier. Even surrounded by an almost exclusively – and physically imposing – male cast, she’s the most dangerous presence on the screen after Vin Diesel’s shiny-eyed killer-with-a-code, Richard B. Riddick. By a wide margin. A lot of that has to do with Sackhoff’s knack for delivering on strong female roles, but there was also a physical aspect to her prep work for Riddick.

“I put a lot of weight on for this movie. I put a lot of muscle on,” Sackhoff says. “People keep asking me and saying, ‘Well you look like the exact same weight that you did in Battlestar.’ Actually, I’m 15 pounds heavier. The pure bulk of my body had to go up. It was really difficult to hold on to that; I was eating a lot of food. I made that decision with my trainer and with DT,” – the nickname given to director/co-writer David Twohy – “because DT said, ‘You need to convincingly look like you could kill any one of these men.'”

Director David Twhoy and the mostly male supporting cast of 'Riddick.'
Director David Twhoy and the mostly male supporting cast of ‘Riddick.’

“When they started casting these guys and I started looking at how big they were? I realized that this was not going to be easy. I am 100 pounds lighter than some of these guys. So I set out with my trainer to just put on massive amounts of bulk. That physicality was hard for me, but I knew it needed to be done for the role and for the way that I wanted people to see Dahl.”

“That’s one of the things that Vin was very confident and very adamant about: the cast needs to come prepared with their backstory in place”

There were physical challenges for Sackhoff on the set as well. Many of Riddick‘s most set piece-driven moments of combat pit the movie’s humans against computer-generated aliens, but in-fighting between the two competing merc squads hunting Riddick required a deft bit of fight choreography. For Sackhoff, one face that she brutalizes again and again belongs to actor Jordi Mollà. As the leader of an antagonistic band of mercenaries that Dahl’s crew is at odds with, he’s the target of her violent outbursts more than once.

“All the punches I threw were very real and very dangerous because they were straight-on punches right into Jordi Mollà’s face,” Sackhoff tells us. “Those aren’t easy punches because you can’t throw the punch. You have to trust that that actor is going to hit their mark and you have to trust yourself. They would pause the film and go back and watch the hit that I just did. If you could see any light between my fist and his face, they made me do it again.”

riddick-jordi-molla-katee-sackhoff-david-bautista

“I went to Vin and said ‘I’m worried I’m going to hurt him.’ [Mollà] was the one guy in the movie that was my size. If connect with him, I’m going to hurt him really bad. And [Vin] was like, ‘Well don’t connect with him.’ There’s a lot of that that was hard. There was a level of expertise I had to bring to [Dahl] that I then had to have.”

“That physicality was hard for me, but I knew it needed to be done for the role and for the way that I wanted people to see Dahl.”

Sackhoff was afforded the opportunity to bring Dahl to life as she saw fit. The short production time on Riddick meant there was a fast-paced energy on set. Actors were expected to show up and “make their own choices,” as Twohy told Sackhoff and the rest of the cast. He was on hand to help mold and shape scenes around certain ideas and themes, but there was an emphasis on giving the cast enough freedom to craft their own characters within the framework they were given.

“That’s one of the things that Vin was very confident and very adamant about: the cast needs to come prepared with their backstory in place,” Sackhoff says. “They need to know what they’re doing and they need to know their character better than anybody else. That’s just a responsibility that was given to us that I enjoy. It’s one of the things we did on Battlestar, it’s one of the things I love about being an actor, but it’s difficult when you do procedural stuff where they take that away. That’s the kind of responsibility, when given to me, that I flourish in.”

RiddickTwohy shared Diesel’s faith in Sackhoff. He knew going in when she was hired that performing with big guns and delivering on combat cues was not a new experience. Sackhoff could step in and sell Dahl as an experienced merc with only minimal prompting. He also knew that he was getting a seasoned actor, someone he could trust to create a convincing character that would amount to more than a one-note badass lady space marine.

“That’s an incredible compliment. But it’s also a bit daunting,” Sackhoff says of the faith the film’s creators placed in her. “I was responsible for showing up and looking a certain way, I was responsible for being, largely, the only estrogen in the movie. To make her strong and sexy and fill that quota was hard, I was worried about it. This is, by far, the strongest, most [masculine] character I’ve ever played. I saw [Riddick] the other day and something came out that I didn’t realize was there. She’s incredibly sexy. That wasn’t on purpose, but I’m glad it happened.”

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