When the directors of Sci-Fi Channel's re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica" held an open casting call for the role of Lt. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, they were looking for a mid-30s actress with a tough military demeanor. But it was Katee Sackhoff, then in her early 20s, who won the part with her high heels and persistence.
"Everyone scoffed at the idea of Starbuck in high heels," Sackhoff said, looking back on the role, originally for a 2003 miniseries that became a series in January 2005. "That's who she was in my mind. That's me: No one is going to tell me to take my high heels off, and I carried that throughout her attitude. Maybe not the high heels, per se, but Starbuck's attitude was there from the very beginning with me."
Now, with the three-hour final episode of the critically acclaimed series starting at 10 tonight (and concluding March 20), Sackhoff has become one of the show's most popular characters. And with weekly revelations, the saga of besieged humanity and its struggles with sentient humanoid machines called Cylons has given the cast the daily duty of deflecting fan questions.
"After five years, it's gotten easy to pretend I don't hear them, but I've even got my doctor calling me, pretending he has to talk to me," said Sackhoff, who turns 29 in April. "Instead, he's going, 'So about last night's episode. . . .' "
Don't expect Sackhoff to give much away. Similar to Starbuck, the actress has her own tough, go-getter attitude, nurtured through her upbringing in Portland, Ore., where she spent her youth playing in the mud with her brother. She moved to Los Angeles right after high school graduation, and all those old days of playful combat prepared her for an intense shoot for the final episode, which she likened to "Apocalypse Now."
"There's a picture of me at 3:30 in the morning, asleep on set, with a machine gun under my head, and that is how the end of the series went," Sackhoff said. "Everyone was exhausted, and there's probably a lot of safety issues that should have been brought up. But, hey, it's all right when you're firing a machine gun at 3 o'clock in the morning. I mean, that's not dangerous at all."
The final episode is billed as a wrap-up that answers all the questions. But one fan of the show -- Sackhoff -- believes that "Battlestar" could have stretched out into at least one more season. And she predicts that the ending is going to leave some people yearning for more.
Then, there's the matter of the forbidden C-word: Cylon. Starbuck's destiny has been portrayed as a harbinger or key catalyst of some sort in the struggle between man and machine -- but is she a Cylon? Sackhoff has said repeatedly that Starbuck is not a Cylon, but she also says that the series finale might leave that matter open for some debate.
"I'm just going to go ahead and let them believe what they want, because there's nothing I could say that's going to convince anyone otherwise," Sackhoff said. "And, the funny thing is, I can honestly say that at the very end of it, people are still going to think it. There's always someone out there that thinks that she is."
Starbuck's evolved throughout the series, changing from someone willing to give her life because she didn't value it to someone who sees every day as a gift. And as for Starbuck's volatile relationship with husband Samuel Anders, played by Michael Trucco, Sackhoff said, "I think in the end she becomes a beautiful partner."
Though fans might find it difficult to say goodbye to Starbuck, Sackhoff said that leaving the relationships she's formed with the cast and crew on the show would be the hardest part for her.
"We didn't have one bad apple in the show, from the crew to the cast," Sackhoff said. "If we did, they disappeared quietly into the night, and nobody remembers them. They really, really paid attention to people's personalities, not when they were casting, but when we were working. I think that it shows."