Red Stewart chats with Katee Sackhoff about 2036 Origin Unknown…
Katee Sackhoff is an American actress who has been working in the television and film industries since the late 90s. She is best known for her roles on Battlestar Galactica and Longmire. Her recent work was the independent science fiction film 2036 Origin Unknown, which had a limited release June 8, 2018.
Flickering Myth had the privilege to interview her, and I in turn had the honor to conduct it:
Ms. Sackhoff, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak with me. I’ve been a fan of your career for some time now, so this is an honor.
Oh gosh, thank you so much. I appreciate you taking the time to watch the movie and talk to me.
Not at all. So, at first glance it would be very easy to toss 2036 Origin Unknown aside as a [2001: A Space Odyssey] clone. There are a lot of similarities, from the existence of a monolith, to the strong AI presence, to even the title being a clear homage to it. But enough twists and differing story elements, particularly regarding family, are thrown in that it doesn’t end up that way. However, did you have any fears going into this project that people wouldn’t look past that preconceived surface?
Yeah, of course. That’s the trouble and the challenge with sci-fi is that there are only so many new ideas that we can all come up, so now it’s just a matter of taking existing plot processes. People want their science fiction to be based in reality, so science fiction is only limited in the sense that we are behind existing technology to a certain extent. And we try to work within the confines of that because we don’t want it to be so far-fetched that people go “well that’s just pure fiction and fantasy.”
And so, I do think that there will always be similarities to a lot of past projects, and you just hope, like with 2036, that audiences stay with the movie long enough to realize that it is different.
Now, obviously a lot of the press focus has been on A.R.T.I. and the AI component of 2036, because there is a lot of trepidation towards the development of AI these days, what with driverless cars taking over. I’ll only ask one quick question in this department: do you think sci-fi tends to over-focus on the negative potentials of AI? Cause it seems like a lot of films, whether it’s 2001, Terminator, iRobot, or Ex-Machina, do that, when there is in fact a lot of good that can come from AI.
I think that in science fiction we focus on what humanity’s fears are, and I think humanity is fearful that AI and machines are going to take over because, in a way, they already have. You and I can sit here and say “yes, technology has provided so many advancements that have made our lives better,” but the guy who lost his job because a machine now assembles the car that he used to help build probably doesn’t agree with you. So for him, he lives Ex-Machina. It’s just not the way we think about it.
That makes a lot of sense. I used to take a digital humanities course back in college and that was a question we pondered in class, whether we’ve become cyborgs in a way because of how integral technology is to our daily lives. But you mentioned a political aspect of the AI debate as well with technological unemployment, and one part of 2036 that I thought was overlooked was the geopolitical background. There’s the whole conflict with China in the film. Now currently we have the Outer Space Treaty which governs things, but that is prone to change as time goes on. Do you have any thoughts about that aspect of the film, where actions in space can lead to drastic consequences on Earth?
Yeah, I mean ego is only held back at this point by the lack of advancements in being able to fight wars in space [laughs]. I just watched a video the other day of people talking about some space program that Donald Trump was advocating for, and everyone sort of thought that it was like a real-life Guardians of the Galaxy. Nobody even knew what he was talking about or what it was. The Department of Defense didn’t think that it was necessary, however, I don’t know, maybe we do need to start protecting space. But that’s what’s so funny about it as well: are we going to start piecing off space the way we did with the oceans? [laughs]
I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that a man’s ego is going to keep us from being fearful of that. I like to think that humanity is a bit more responsible than that, but you never know. The other day, someone asked me “do you think there are aliens out there?” and I said “absolutely, I think there’s are aliens out there, and they haven’t reached out to talk to us because they’re like ‘why the hell would we want to talk to those people? They’re killing each other, they’re killing the world. Let’s wait until they’ve basically destroyed everything, and then we’ll just go down and live a peaceful existence without humans.'” So if I was an alien, and I was sitting up in space, I wouldn’t want to talk to us either.
[Laughs] That’s actually a theory that floats around in xenological circles, of whether we have met alien life but they have deliberately decided to avoid extending further contact. And yeah, the militarization aspect is sadly true. The fact is a lot of our modern technologies have been developed because of the military, whether it was the Internet from ARPANET or the international highway system from Cold War fears. And it really feels like every new discovery is tied into the defense industry in some way and I did like that, even though it wasn’t a major focus of 2036, it was touched upon.
Yeah, for sure.
One of the recurring scenes I also ended up appreciating were those video interactions you have with your sister, played by Julie Cox, because it ended up forming the thematic heart of the movie, which are questions about the ethical use of artificial intelligence. Did you both actually interact in real time, or were those scenes shot separately and you had to imagine she was there?
They were completely shot separately. I did all of my stuff separate from Julie. We met, and then the one day that she was there, we realized that it was just a phone call for her in the film. She couldn’t actually see me: my character was seeing her, but she wasn’t really watching me, she was just talking to me. So we decided that it made more sense for me not to be there, because then she could do it however she wanted to, sort of the way that I did. So we didn’t actually interact on set.
Oh, that’s surprising to hear because it really felt like a genuine sister relationship. Really speaks to your abilities as actresses.
I understand you shot 2036 relatively quickly, I believe principal photography was under 2 weeks?
Yeah, it was about 9 days.
Oh wow, so even less! For you as an actress, what was it like having a shorter production time? Did your experiences in television help prepare you for it?
Absolutely. One of the things that helps independent films is that, a lot of time, they’re hiring TV actors because their budget doesn’t allow them to potentially hire a movie star that they want. They can’t afford Julia Roberts [laughs], so usually they will hire TV actors because they do bring a following to the indie genre.
But what it does is it actually helps the process. Every time I’d go to the set of these big budget movies, I was amazed by how slow they moved; how they would do like one page a day. However, with Origin Unknown, we did 26 a day! But my training and the years that I’ve been on set in television have prepared me to move really fast.
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