The A&E drama series Longmire, based on the Walt Longmire mystery novels by best-selling author Craig Johnson, is a contemporary crime thriller set in Big Sky country. Walt Longmire (Australian actor Robert Taylor) is the charismatic, dedicated and unflappable sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, who buries the pain of losing his wife behind a brave face and dry wit. With the help of Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), a female deputy new to the department, Longmire becomes reinvigorated about his job and committed to running for re-election, as he rebuilds his personal and professional life.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Katee Sackhoff talked about how this show came about and how it came down to either Longmire or the ABC fantasy series Once Upon A Time (she was up for Jennifer Morrison’s role), how she identifies with her character, and what she enjoys about working with this cast. She also talked about what appealed to her about doing the next Riddick film with Vin Diesel, her crazy audition process for the role, her feelings about the Battlestar Galactica finale, and her dream of playing a country singer who falls in love with a rodeo cowboy (for the film Paper Wings). Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Collider: How did Longmire come about for you? Had you been looking to do another TV show?
KATEE SACKHOFF: I hadn’t. I actually opted out of pilot season and said I wasn’t going to do it again, and that I was going to focus on film. My manager has been my manager since I was 17, and he says that he’s supposed to be smart for me when I can’t do it for myself. He would slide the good ones across my desk, and there were two that I loved. One was Once Upon A Time, and one was Longmire. I went in five times on Once Upon A Time. I took one meeting on Longmire, and I met Greer Shephard and I said, “I want this job because of that woman. I love this woman.” So, I walked away from Once Upon A Time and focused on Longmire. It was just those two jobs. Those were the only two pilots I loved that year.
I loved the idea that Wyoming is a world that’s a bubble for these people. I found that so interesting. Something about Battlestar, that I didn’t realize when I took the job, was this whole bubble aspect of closing people in and seeing what they do. This is the opposite of that. It’s about giving everybody wide open space and seeing what they do. I enjoy that idea of this show. I like the fact that there is nobody around. As people, right now, we’re so over-stimulated in this world that I don’t know what I’d do in Wyoming. I really don’t know what I’d do. I would probably have a heart attack because I’d be so lonely and I’d actually have to listen to myself think. That’s a terrifying prospect for myself, and I’m sure many other people, as well. We leave TVs on in our house. I listen to my record player, constantly, to just hear music. I’m really intrigued by this idea of solitude. I’m excited about that, especially because we get to live in it. It’s kind of cool.
Which character were you auditioning for, with Once Upon A Time?
SACKHOFF: It was Jennifer Morrison’s role. They really wanted her, though. I could tell, from the very beginning, that they really wanted her. She and I go up against each other quite a bit. We’re very similar. That was her job, and this was my job. Just the way that it turned out and the way that we’ve played the roles, it’s obvious. I’m happy with the way that things turned out.
What was it about this character, in particular, that you were able to identify with?
SACKHOFF: In the books, what you realize is that Victoria actually moves out to Wyoming with her husband. She is a very successful homicide detective in Philadelphia. Her whole family is there. She’s from a long line of police officers and detectives. She moves because she follows her husband someplace, and then he leaves because he’s working, and she’s there. I think a lot of women can relate to that moment where you’re like, “I gave you everything I have, and you’re gone. What do I do?” So, she said, “Okay, I’ve got to do something.” She goes down and, after a lot of wrangling, she says, “I’ll take the bottom. I’ll do whatever you want me to do.” And she finds this family that is very similar to her family. Not that it’s a family like her family in Philadelphia, but it’s this feeling of, “I’ve got your back. I’ll do anything for you. This is our core family.” She finds that with this group of people, and not her husband.
When you were cast, what were you told about your character’s journey this season?
SACKHOFF: I wasn’t told anything, which is what excited me about this. I had so many preconceived notions because I’ve read the book and I have all the books at home, but I’m excited to see where they change it. They’re going to have to change it, and I’m really excited to see where they go. Part of what I love about television is that my imagination gets to keep going. It doesn’t stop. I go ahead and take another TV show, and then, all of a sudden, I’ve got six movies and I’m like, “Oh, my god, I’m too tired now!” So, be careful what you wish for because you get it all at once. These movies are so fast. You’ve got to do so much work, so fast, and really figure these characters out and figure out what makes them tick, quickly. In television, it’s a long process. It’s a love affair with these characters, so it’s fun.
How has it been to work with Robert Taylor and develop the dynamic between your characters?
SACKHOFF: Part of the reason I took this job was because I wasn’t the lead. I’ve been the lead, and it’s not fun. It’s a lot of work. Robert was the one I saw the least, on the show, because he worked so much. The rest of us got along like pigs in shit. We were going to spa treatments, every day. I think Bailey [Chase] and I went to a spa. We just hung out, every day, and Robert worked his ass off. It was definitely my validation, in not wanting to be a lead in a series, and it also gave me an opportunity to really bond with the rest of the cast. With Robert, we bonded on set when we had the opportunity to talk to each other, and I absolutely adore him, along with every single person in this cast and every single person in our crew, and all the producers and writers. The similarity between Battlestar Galactica and this, is that. There’s not one bad egg. Every single person is a beautiful human being, and we’re lucky. That’s what gives you longevity. You have to love the people that you work with, and we do, so it’s really great.
Along with the opportunity to develop a character over a longer period of time on a TV show, do you also enjoy the opportunity of constantly working with different directors?
SACKHOFF: Of course! I think that’s what’s interesting about having my base in television. What it allows me to do now is that I go into movies and I can take anything you throw at me. If you want me to memorize 15 new pages, I can do that in 10 minutes. If you want me to work with a first-time director, I can do that. In television, you learn to fly by the seat of your pants and give your best, on take one. And so, when I work with people that don’t do that, it’s really frustrating for me. I’m like, “You should go do TV for awhile, sweetheart, because this is not going to work. You’re cute in your 20′s, so it might work now, but wait until you’re 30. They’re going to hire someone else.” It really teaches you to work your ass off.
What was the appeal of the next Riddick movie for you? Was there a specific draw for you?
SACKHOFF: The draw there is selfish. I grew up watching science fiction and action movies. I love it. I absolutely love it! I’m a huge fan of Vin [Diesel]. I’m a huge fan of the first two movies. I don’t even know how much I can say. They’re so buried in secrecy, over there at the David Twohy camp. But, selfishly, it’s what makes me tick. It’s what I enjoy doing. It’s fun. I’ve been all over the map with my films, in the last year, and the next three or four that I have planned, so I’m excited to go blow some shit up.
Was that a role that was offered to you, or did you have to audition for it?
SACKHOFF: I did audition for it. It’s actually a crazy story. I went in once, and then didn’t hear anything. When I went in for the first time, I just met with David. And then, the next time, they were like, “Okay, it’s down to you and four girls.” I was like, “All right.” And they were like, “Vin’s in town, so you’re gonna have to jump. When they say jump, you’ve gotta jump.” I was like, “Okay,” thinking that it could be 5 pm one night, or 8 pm one night. I got a phone call at 11 o’clock at night, from all the producers and the casting director, which thank god the casting director is a woman because I would have been like, “You want me to come where?” So, at midnight, I got out of bed, I took off my face mask and I drove to Vin’s house with my mother on the phone going, “If I don’t call you in an hour, this is the address I’m at.” And she was like, “Katee, nothing is going to happen.” I was like, “I know, but this is so weird!” And, I got the job because I showed up. I truly believe that. When I was driving home that night, at 2 o’clock in the morning, I called my mom and said, “I do believe I just got that job because I showed up.” As far as acting goes, you get to a certain point where I think everyone can do the job and it comes down to a level of commitment. I think sometimes all you have to do is show up.
When you know you’re going to be working with someone like Vin Diesel, do you work extra hard to be ready to kick some ass?
SACKHOFF: It’s funny, the last movie I did, I got severely hurt on. I hurt both my shoulders and my back, so much so that I couldn’t move for three months. When I say couldn’t move, that’s being over-dramatic, but I could do nothing but walk. I couldn’t push off with my shoulders because my shoulders were bad. It was very weird, and it hurt like hell. I went and had ozone injections into my spine, and all this crazy stuff done, because I was so worried I wasn’t going to be able to get physically ready for this movie. And then, I just started working out a month ago, and I’ve packed on nine pounds of muscle, which I hate. It’s like Starbuck (from Battlestar Galactica), all over again. It’s not where my body sits. My body sits in the 130′s, and then, when I start playing these characters, I pop up to the 140′s, and I’m like, “God, my pants don’t fit anymore!” I was putting on my pants this morning and I’m like, “They’re the same size and they fit, but my ass looks weird now.” It’s very different. But, that is intimidating. I do know Vin, and I do know how professional he is, and I do know how much of a work-horse he is. He’s so committed to making a phenomenal project. To show up less than perfect for he and David would be a million dollar mistake.
How do you balance your film and television work, and the training you have to do? Does it just get crazy?
SACKHOFF: It does! But, I signed up for this and it’s not going to last forever. This business is very finite. You can do anything for a month, so you just keep going. You surround yourself with amazing people that will hold your head when you cry ‘cause you get tired. That’s pretty much it. I don’t even have a one-day break until November. I do have my weekends, thank god, but it’s a lot. But, when it rains it pours, and you take the opportunities that you have and ride the wave ‘cause it will stop.
Have you intentionally looked to balance bigger action films with smaller and quieter projects?
SACKHOFF: It’s a blessing in disguise. I didn’t search out these opportunities, but it’s a blessing that it’s happened this way. Santa Fe is my vacation. I’m renting one of my dear friend’s manager’s house there, and it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s an opportunity for me to go through what Vic is going through, in that quiet, ‘cause I don’t think I’ve ever had that, in my life. I haven’t stopped working since I was 17. To have quiet is very interesting for me.
When you look back at how your career has played out, is it the direction that you wanted to go in, or is it surprising for you?
SACKHOFF: What’s funny is that every job after my first one is just icing. I always believed that I could do this, but I never dreamed that I would be given the opportunity. I wake up every day and pinch myself, but at the same time, I work my ass off. Did I plan every move? No. Has every move since taking Battlestar been planned? Yes. Every single one. I was given the opportunity, and now I can form it. I started working when I was 17, and I got Battlestar when I was 23. Battlestar was my fourth series. Before then, it was just, “Take anything that comes your way. As long as it doesn’t have nudity, take it.” I took work that my friends didn’t take. One of my best girlfriends turned down Halloween: Resurrection, but I took it because that’s what you do. You have to. When you don’t have the choice, you take every opportunity that comes your way because every job begets another job. So, up until Battlestar, everything was a necessity, and after Battlestar, everything was a choice. It’s been nice, and it’s fun to navigate. Where I am right now is definitely planned.
When you end a series like Battlestar Galactica, that so many people love, there’s no way that you can make everyone happy, but were you at least happy with how it ended?
SACKHOFF: Yeah, I love how it ended. I’ve always said this, and people think that it’s rude for saying it, but I do think that the writers wrote themselves into a corner. That’s not a negative thing. That’s not a bad thing. It happens. With Battlestar, there were so many characters on that show to try to wrap up, and it happened so fast, that for Starbuck to not answer what or who or why, left it ambiguous and beautiful, and it gave it that bit of question. It’s like The Sopranos. You leave them guessing. I was just happier, the way that it ended. I loved it! You also don’t want to go right, if everyone thinks you’re going to go right. You go left, on purpose. Sometimes you can’t explain why, and you can’t explain what left looks like, but you just do it.
Throughout your career, you’ve played a lot of really strong characters, who often get to kick some ass. Does that come from the kind of person you are, or is it more about living out a fantasy because you’re not that way yourself?
SACKHOFF: You know, I like to think that I’m a really strong, tough person, but I’m not. I’m a very, very needy person. I’m very insecure. I’m very impressionable. But, there is a side of me that is very put-together, very strong, very capable and very opinionated. It’s the two sides of myself that I get to play. I’ve been trying to find that balance, in my own life, and it’s fun to play characters that have the same things. It’s just a matter of which one is more dominant, I guess.
Do you have a dream role that you’d love to do, if given the opportunity?
SACKHOFF: There is a script called Paper Wings that’s with Will Smith’s company now. It’s had many different production companies and actors attached. It is my dream role. I’ve been trying to get it for eight years. I’m not a big enough star for them yet. Hopefully, after this year, I will be. It’s about a country singer that falls in love with a rodeo cowboy. It’s pretty awesome. It’s my dream role. People don’t realize that I started in musical theater. That’s where my roots are. They’re shocked and are like, “I’m sorry, you sing?!” Yes, honey, I sing! That would be awesome. Hopefully, it works.
Longmire will air on Sunday nights on A&E, starting June 3rd.