Since the close of Battlestar Galactica, Katee Sackhoff has been one of the most active of the cult classic’s illustrious alumni. She had a long run on 24, of course, but she’s also had significant multi-episode roles in CSI and Robot Chicken, as well as her central role in the A&E series Longmire. But her latest project is one she feels a different kind of passion for, and not just because she’s a producer. Sexy Evil Genius (out today on DVD, VOD, and digital download) was written by Scott Lew, the development-executive-turned-screenwriter who is waging a brave battle with ALS. Sackhoff spoke with Paste recently about bringing Lew’s words to life.
Paste: Tell me about coming to this project. Did you know Seth through Robot Chicken, I’m assuming or… how did you get turned on the film?
Sackhoff: Well, the project was actually brought to my attention about three years ago by the producer, David Higgins, when I was taking a meeting about another project. He said ‘would you want to do this?’ and I said ‘Absolutely, one hundred percent.’ I loved the script, and I loved the story of Scott Lew. Every single piece that would make you fall in love with a project was there. So I came on board, and we were set to the task of producing it at that point and trying to get these roles cast. And I brought up the idea of Seth and said, let me call up Seth and see if he’d be interested in doing it. I’ve known him from Robot Chicken for a number of years. He read the script and had the same reaction I had, so he came on board. So he then called Michelle and then Harold and Billy pulled it in. So everyone just kind of came on board. They read the script and were really inspired by Scott’s story as well.
Paste: Had you been looking for an entree into producing or was it more that it just seemed right for this specific project?
Sackhoff: I think as a woman in this business, you’re always looking for ways to create longevity. And so producing… I’ve never wanted to direct and I’ve never wanted to write. Producing sort of seemed like the obvious choice and direction for me to go, and when this project came up, it worked its way out to come on as a producer, and since then I’ve acquired a few more titles. It’s just that I enjoy producing. I love the creative side of producing. I love problem solving. It inspires me in a different way than acting does.
Paste: Did you find that being a producer on the film, when it came time for your acting on the film, was it harder to get out of producer mind set and get into acting mind set or did you set down your parameters like “during production I’m not going to be a producer anymore.” How did you do that?
Sackhoff: It was difficult to some extent. But for the most part it wasn’t. As an actor, I think you always have a love of a project. You always feel this creative ownership of a project. But I don’t think you really have that. You don’t really have the risk. But as a producer, you tend to, in your brain, talk to yourself as a producer would even though you’re the actor too. Like, when you start to get tired, the producer hat clicks on: ‘You’ve only got to do this -you’ve only got to suck it up for this much longer-no complaining.’ Whereas when you’re an actor, you’ll be like ‘I’m tired,’ but as a producer you’re like, ‘You can’t complain because then everyone else will complain, and you’ve got to set an example.’ And I think that’s the main thing that I really wanted to remind myself of the entire time. That, as a producer, you are kind of-you have to wear two hats b,ut you have to represent the film and set the tone. And I really wanted to have a positive attitude. It was an incredibly difficult shoot. We had a lot to do in a very little time. So I knew that a positive attitude from a producer was vitally important to get things done. So, in that sense it was difficult because there were days when I was like, I’m really tired. And I just had to keep reminding myself, you have two jobs here.
Paste: So if you started to slack off, Seth was going to slack off.
Sackhoff: Well, I’ve never seen Seth slack off a day in my life. And if anything, he’s actually helpful in keeping me on the positive side of things. It was definitely Seth. You know, Seth is a one of a kind and he’s an incredibly good friend. To have him there was pretty amazing.
Paste: No doubt. And you know, you really built a cast of some pretty great talent. But I’m assuming you didn’t have twenty million dollars to make this film. Did you call in a lot of favors or was it more like, ‘Look at this script, look how amazing it is, now you’re willing to do it for nothing?’
Sackhoff: I think it was a little bit of both, to be honest. There were definitely some favors pulled in. I think less for the cast and more for the crew. But I think as the cast, and as the crew, everyone had the opportunity to read the script and hear about Scott and his story, once people did, nobody turned it down. We were really lucky in the fact that we had an incredibly amazing product and then we had this touching story to go along with it. It really helped inspire everybody. Everybody had a feeling going in that you are responsible. There was a very weighty responsibility to give voice to a man who is incredibly smart and incredibly talented who doesn’t have a voice anymore. We took it upon ourselves as actors, from the very beginning, to make sure that we were word for word, because if the word was on the page, he meant to write it. And it took a long time to write it. So, we can show respect in saying the word. So there was a very big responsibility that came with the actors of this movie to do Scott Lew justice.
Paste: That’s really interesting too because I interview a lot of actors and a lot of directors and there’s a lot of talk-which I believe in-about how great it was to be able to improv and how they didn’t have to hold the words precious and all that kind of thing. But then there are projects like this one where it is actually very important to hold the words precious, and I think it really says a lot for you as a producer and you guys as actors that you sort of recognized that. It’s almost, in a weird way, countercultural in the current filmmaking world.
Sackhoff: A hundred percent. And I have to tell you, it’s not easy. Especially in the way that my generation has taken acting. We change everything. We have a tremendous sense of entitlement. You go in to a lot of projects where there is this incredible sense of entitlement to do whatever you want. And there are a lot of places where that is welcomed and actually applauded.
With Battlestar Galactica, we were able to ad lib and to make the characters and words our own. To come off of that and to go to 24, where you don’t have that license, because if you take that license, you’ve changed the entire tone or direction of where the show is going. And that’s above your pay grade. So it is very interesting choosing when to do that. On Longmire we do our best to stay directly on the words as well. And a writer and a director and a producer usually let you know how they feel about it. A lot of writers-they feel that it is an act of respect to say all the words one way, and then a lot of them don’t care. So you just have to feel it out. But with this project it was so important. It was just so important to make sure every word that he wanted said, was said.
See the trailer for Sexy Evil Genius below: