“The Mandalorian” has had “Star Wars” references and cameos galore, but arguably none more significant than the arrival of Katee Sackhoff and her “Clone Wars” character Bo-Katan Kryze in last week’s “The Heiress.”
Although fans had been aware that Sackhoff would be bringing Bo-Katan to live-action for some time, it was nonetheless an air-punching moment when Sackhoff removed her Beskar helmet to reveal the former ruler of Mandalore in all her red-headed glory.
Variety caught up with Sackhoff, who is currently in Vancouver shooting the second season of her Netflix sci-fi series “Another Life,” to discuss the pressure of getting Bo-Katan’s look right and dropping that bombshell Ahsoka Tano line which sent “Star Wars” fans into a frenzy.
How did it feel to play Bo-Katan in the flesh having voiced her for so long?
It was probably the hardest secret I’ve kept my entire life. Honestly it was quite surreal. When I got wind of “The Mandalorian” happening, I had always dreamed there might be a place for Bo-Katan there, but I never really thought it would happen. I truly thought this world was too big, and if she did exist they would probably recast her. So I’ve never been more touched that Dave [Filoni] and Jon [Favreau] thought I could do it.
When did find out you would be playing her?
I got word that a meeting was happening with Jon Favreau. I went to his office, sat down with him and listened to him talk about what a fan he was of the world and of Bo-Katan, and it took a while into the conversation to realize that he was talking about me. And then he very basically asked if this was something I would be interested in. I think I looked at him like he was crazy, I mean who would say no to that? It was one of those moments in my career where I was dumbstruck.
Bo-Katan is such a stoic character in “Clone Wars,” was she difficult to play physically?
It was a completely different experience for me. One of the things that worked in my favor this episode was Bryce Dallas Howard, who is such a phenomenal director and also an amazing actor. I couldn’t have done it without her, she truly helped me understand that just because I knew this character so well didn’t mean that I’d worked out how to play her yet. That was hard at the beginning. One of the funnest things for me was establishing her look. The look of her face was so important to me because there were details about her that as a fan of “Clone Wars” and “Rebels” I’ve been accustomed to seeing. Her freckles, her red hair, her green eyes, her eyebrows which point down in a slightly unnatural way, and the scar on her forehead. I wanted all of it to be there, and to their credit, Jon and Dave and Bryce let me sit down and really play with that. With the hair color, we know what she looks like in animation, but does that translate to live-action? Just because she has bright orange hair doesn’t mean that’s the natural look on a real person. We altered and darkened her hair a little bit, we made the eyebrows just a touch more subtle, but they’re still there. I really wanted to make sure the fans recognized her and that she wasn’t a jarring presence for them visually. I didn’t want them to pick her apart, I wanted them to just enjoy the story with her in it.
Talk me through the moment you donned that Beskar armor for the first time.
Dave was there the first time I had my whole costume on and I had tears in my eyes. I was so overwhelmed and so excited. I was a little in shock that this was my life. I have seen actors around me get opportunities and been so excited for them, and I’ve never really had a moment where I was blown away. When you very clearly have stepped up and into something that you think is greater than yourself is a very big moment for an actor.
Are we going to find out what happened to Bo-Katan in between “Star Wars Rebels” and “The Mandalorian?” Is that something that Dave and Jon filled in for you?
They know this world so well and there were these beautiful conversations I had with them about this world and where Bo-Katan has been and where she’s going. Only they really know; honestly I don’t. We’ll have to see what they decide. Just because something exists in the world in Dave’s mind and his imagination doesn’t mean it will come to fruition because he truly does live in this world where people are more than characters. Just because a backstory exists doesn’t mean it is for everyone else to know as well.
We know for certain she is after the darksaber, which is currently in the possession of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). Is that setting up a tussle between the two of you?
We’ll have to wait and see! There’s definitely more story about the darksaber coming up, but I would hate to ruin it for anyone.
Bo-Katan is really the first character the Mandalorian has met who knows about the Jedi and the history of Mandalore. She even gives him a quick lesson and shows him his way isn’t the only one. How did you play that massive knowledge gap?
That is one of the things Jon, Dave and I talked about ad nauseam: Who and what Bo-Katan knows. I wanted to have that knowledge in my eyes, I wanted the audience to see wheels turning when she sees the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda, I wanted the audience to feel like they were in on something. For anyone who hasn’t seen “Clone Wars” and “Rebels” I would highly recommend because there is so much backstory there. She has this firsthand knowledge from herself and her sister’s experiences about the Jedi and the planet he comes from. Whether the audience of “The Mandalorian” ever gets to see any of that is yet to unfold, but it’s such a fun backstory.
Near the end of the episode Bo-Katan drops a bombshell when she tells the Mandalorian to seek out Ahsoka Tano. Was there a discussion about just how significant that one line was going to be for “Star Wars” fans?
That line was a mouthful too! “The forest planet of Corvus,” which I found funny because my character in “Bionic Woman” had the last name was Corvus, so my tongue was already wrapped around the word. It’s always fun, but also a lot of responsibility when you have a line that you know will mean a lot for the fans and will really set their hearts racing. You want to do it justice and you want them to be inspired to go on that journey with you to find Ahsoka, that’s a big deal. I definitely felt the weight of those words for sure.
Switching focus to your other sci-fi series, how is production on season 2 of “Another Life” coming along?
We have about two-and-a-half weeks left, knock on wood. I’m really proud of this second season, we’ve really leaned into the things that the audience loved the first season. They love how fast-paced our show is, you can very easily binge it in an afternoon, every episode ends on a cliffhanger. People also loved the tongue-in-cheek, popcorn feel of our show. This is a sci-fi show in its truest form, it is fiction, we lean into the fun of it all. Not every show needs to be a metaphor for the human condition, the world we live in right now is dramatic enough, can we have a little escape for a while please? I think that’s what this show gives.
Are we expecting Niko and the crew of the Slavare to speed back to Earth to save the day this season?
That would be the intention, but fans of the show will know that best laid plans with this crew never seem to work out the way they want them to. It will become dramatically clear that no one is safe very early on. That is one of the things I love about the show, it really keeps you on your toes. It truly is the end of times and these people are putting themselves at risk, and their lives are put in jeopardy.
With Niko and now Bo-Katan you’re adding to your list of badass sci-fi characters, which of course also includes Captain Kara “Starbuck” Thrace on “Battlestar Galactica.” I’m sure you’ve heard that Sam Esmail is making another reboot of the show at Peacock, any chance you might be making a surprise appearance?
Oh gosh, I have not heard, I haven’t been contacted. It’s an interesting thing, I think there are some people from our world of “Battlestar,” our take on it who are a little disappointed, but then there were some people from the original who were disappointed when we did it. I got the role when I was 21 years old, it’s been 19 years since I was cast as Starbuck. My career has gone in so many different directions since then, I don’t know if I could even go back and play Starbuck at this point. There was a useful angst to her of a woman who was trying to find herself and her place in the world. I was going through that as well as woman in my early twenties. But as a fan of the mythology of “Battlestar Galactica” I’m excite to see what Sam can create. If there’s a role for me in it I would absolutely consider it with open arms because he’s so talented. I’m excited for the fans that that world is going to continue.