Katee Sackhoff stars in the new drama "Longmire." (Mathieu Yong / A&E )
Katee Sackhoff is rough, tough and buff. At least, that's how millions ofsci-fi fans know the statuesque blond actress from"Battlestar Galactica," on which she played hotshot fighter pilot Lt. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace for four seasons.
Coming back to TV for the contemporary western crime drama "Longmire," Sackhoff will still flex her muscles, just in a slightly different way. Her character is a transplanted Philadelphia detective, Victoria Moretti, who's wrestling with her new life as a small-town deputy in Wyoming.
"She's a little Italian spitfire," Sackhoff said of "Vic" Moretti. "She's very strong, very capable physically and emotionally, but none of this makes sense to her. She's completely out of her element, so there's a different kind of fight going on."
Other departures from Starbuck include a little levity and more clothes.
The 10-episode series, launching June 3 on A&E, is based on the Walt Longmire mystery novels by bestselling author Craig Allen Johnson. Sackhoff stars with Australian tough-guy actor Robert Taylor as Longmire, Lou Diamond Phillips as his friend and confidant, Henry Standing Bear, and Bailey Chase as an ambitious young cop stepping on Longmire's turf.
Calling it the "first normal person I've ever played," Sackhoff said Moretti's fish-out-of-water situation is similar to her own.
A native of Portland, Ore., Sackhoff said she lives her life "at sea level," and shooting the show in dry and dusty New Mexico (which stands in for Wyoming) has been a challenge. In fact, even driving to the airport to come home to Los Angeles for the weekend recently proved tricky.
"I am literally in the middle of nowhere," Sackhoff said as she spoke to a reporter from behind the wheel, periodically checking her coordinates on her iPad. "We've been working in places that aren't even mapped."
Though she grew up watching classic westerns with her father, and has a rural sheriff somewhere in her family tree, Sackhoff didn't gravitate to the genre as naturally as she has to fantasy and science fiction. But, she said, "any time I get to wear a costume, that's exciting to me."
Gun and badge firmly in place, Sackhoff's deputy Moretti is both thorn in the side and empathetic colleague to Longmire, an old-school lawman reeling from the death of his beloved wife. The two solve crimes together and develop a chemistry that may or may not turn to romance, depending on how closely the series follows the books.
In addition to "Longmire," Sackhoff's fans can see her in an upcoming indie film, "Sexy Evil Genius," with Seth Green, William Baldwin and Michelle Trachtenberg, that recently was picked up for distribution by Lionsgate. There's also a documentary about a cross-country motorcycle ride she took with her charitable group, Acting Outlaws. The one-hour film, which features Sackhoff's close friend and fellow "BSG" alum Tricia Helfer, will be available online by early June.
What fans will probably not see, though, is the return of Starbuck. Not for Sackhoff anyway. There's a long-gestating feature film in the works at Universal, but Sackhoff said she heard that it will be based on the original "BSG" story from the 1970s in which Starbuck is a man.
Sounding wistful yet resigned, Sackhoff said the "BSG" cast and crew "gave it our all — we created something really beautiful." And it's a shame to not be able to continue with a feature film, she said, but "it is what it is."
Meantime, Sackhoff went full-action in the "Chronicles of Riddick" series with Vin Diesel. The third movie in the series, still unnamed, is set for a 2013 release. Bulked up with nearly 10 pounds of muscle she put on through intensive training, she said she's never worked so hard. And the self-professed "girly girl" is grateful to continue to play such physical roles while she can.
"There will come a day when they don't want me to chase the bad guys anymore because I might fall and hurt my hip. They'll kick me out for someone who's 25," said Sackhoff, who's a ripe old 32. "But for now, I'll keep going until they say, 'How about a nice rom-com?'"