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"You'll have to excuse me, I'm on the treadmill," Katee Sackhoff says, a little breathlessly.
The Battlestar Galactica actress is pushing herself to get into shape for her latest gig, playing a tempestuous police officer on Dick Wolf's upcoming cop drama, Lost and Found. After four seasons on Battlestar as the tough, physically intimidating Kara (Starbuck) Thrace, relentlessly fighting to save the human race from extinction, one might think Sackhoff would be used to intense workouts by now. But, the actress says, her new regime is far more intense than anything she did for the hit sci-fi series.
"I didn't want Starbuck to be completely ripped. This is a girl who drinks most of her calories, so she was in extremely good physical condition but I didn't want her to look like a skinny person," the 28-year-old explains.
"This new role that I'm doing, she's a police officer who's a little nutso, so the workouts . . . well, they got stepped up a little bit."
But regardless of the physical requirements of her new job, few things can match the emotional demands of Battlestar. Over the course of the show, Starbuck has experienced countless hardships including, but not limited to, being marooned on a deserted planet, being held captive by evil Cylon scientists intent on harvesting her ovaries, being held captive by an evil Cylon intent on starting a family with her, marrying the wrong man, dying, ostensibly coming back from the dead, leading the human race to a barren, useless Earth and discovering her own charred corpse in the wilderness. Bummer. Through it all, Sackhoff has played one of television's most complex, ever-evolving characters.
"We saw someone, in the beginning, who was willing to die for everyone around her because she didn't value her own life. At the end, we have a character who values existence so much that she's willing to die for other people," Sackhoff says.
"That's a huge change. It changes everything Starbuck does. It makes her compassionate and it makes her circumstances more tragic."
Unsurprisingly, Starbuck went through so much over Battlestar's four seasons that it began to bleed over into Sackhoff's life.
"Towards the end, it was difficult. I took it home with me. It's something I've been proud of myself to not do for so long, but I finally did and it was hard. I said to my boyfriend, 'Why am I so depressed all the time?' And he was like, 'Because you're playing this character 22 hours a day who's completely out of her mind,'" Sackhoff remembers.
"We were doing such long hours on the show and she was so much all over the place that it required more of my, I don't know, heart and soul -- more stamina -- to actually be able to do that."
Shooting the last few episodes of the show was especially tough on Sackhoff -- in addition to the long hours and emotionally gruelling scenes, she began feeling physically weaker; soon after filming wrapped, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
"Luckily for me, and the people that get it, it's a 99 per cent success rate if you catch it in time because it's a contained cancer. So you take out the thyroid and you're OK," she says.
"I didn't have to do the radiation, which was great."
Still, the diagnosis was enough to give Sackhoff pause.
"When you hear a doctor say to you that you have cancer, even if the words right after it are 'one of the most curable cancers,' you don't hear that. You're like, 'Oh, my God, I have cancer,'" she admits.
"It makes you re-evaluate what's important in life and I did a lot of soul-searching and, you know, things change when you're confronted with your own mortality, I think."
If anything, Sackhoff says, her brush with death made her even more satisfied of the work she's done on Battlestar Galactica. She's reached a place she couldn't have imagined when the show first premiered, when fans of the original 1970s series condemned the idea of a female Starbuck.
"At the start, I was young; I was stupid. I let the fact that people questioned whether or not a woman could play a man's role dictate how I was going to play her," Sackhoff recalls. "Now, I think, personally, I feel proud of the performances I gave on a weekly basis. I did what they hired me to do."
Sackhoff's performance was so successful, in fact, that aside from becoming a fan favourite, she is now frequently sought out to play other powerful women -- her new role on Lost and Found, for instance, as well as the morally ambiguous Sarah Corvus on NBC's now-cancelled Bionic Woman. However, Sackhoff denies being typecast.
"I would rather be typecast as an independent, strong woman than go to work with fake [breasts] up to my chin and pretend to be the slutty girl," she declares.
"There's always going to be naysayers out there who say I'm getting typecast, but every role is going to have a little piece of yourself in it and that's just who I am."
As filming of Battlestar Galactica's final episode wrapped, Sackhoff had given so much of herself to the role that she left as soon as her scenes were finished; she was so exhausted, she didn't have the energy to stick around for the final shots. It's a decision that both upsets and comforts her, as she wishes she had been present for Battlestar's final moments but is pleased with putting her all into Starbuck's storyline.
"We worked so hard and so long and it took everything I had. I had nothing left -- which, I guess, is a testament to what actors are willing to give to a show they care about," she muses.
"I gave it everything and then my last drop."