You can count on one hand the number of times that this has happened: An actor originates a role in animation, then eventually goes on to play the character in a live-action context. So Katee Sackhoff knows just how special it was that after voicing the character of Bo-Katan Kryze in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, she was able to bring the character to life in The Mandalorian Chapter 11, “The Heiress.” “I would be lying if I said anything other than this is mind-blowing and a dream come true,” she told Collider in a phone interview.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Mandalorian, Season 2, Episode 3, “The Heiress.”]
In “The Heiress,” Bo-Katan needs a favor from the Mandalorian (believe it or not) — specifically, his help with a raid that she hopes will help her locate the Darksaber, the weapon that the character accepted when she became a leader of her people during her last appearance in Rebels, but is now in the possession of Mandalorian big bad Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito).
Here, Sackhoff talks about the challenges of playing Bo-Katan on screen, from maneuvering in the armor to getting her hair right, as well as what Baby Yoda is really like behind the scenes (and, yes, if he was wrong to eat the Frog Lady’s eggs). And while Sackhoff wasn’t able to answer the one question Rebels fans are dying to know — specifically, how did Bo-Katan get separated from her Darksaber — she was able to provide some new insight into why, exactly, the warrior was so determined to get it back.
What was that mental leap like? Because the actual experience, the acting for these two different kinds of performances must be so different?
KATEE SACKHOFF: Completely different. Yeah. I honestly thought that it would be easier than it was. I did no prep work for my backstory. I’ve been playing Bo-Katan for 10 years. But I just memorized my dialogue. I really didn’t think about it. And I got to work on my first day and I realized that it wasn’t going to be simple; that just because I knew Bo and just because I’ve played her doesn’t mean that I’ve actually moved as her. I didn’t know what her face would do and it was very terrifying because all of a sudden I’ve shown up and I’ve gone, “Oh my God, I’m prepared but I’m not prepared.” And luckily, it was with Bryce Dallas Howard and she gave me this beautiful metaphor of Pinocchio, and literally that’s how I felt. I felt like I had existed… that I had been a wooden boy for so long and then all of a sudden I was real and I didn’t know how to walk or talk or move or do anything.
And I was a little terrified. Bo doesn’t move the way that I do. She’s incredibly stoic. She’s so purposeful in her movements and that is not me. If you’ve met me, I move nonstop. I give old Italian mothers a run for their money with my hand movements. I definitely had to relearn [Bo-Katan] in a very different way and it took a beat for sure.
Of course. It’s fascinating to watch the episode considering Bo-Katan’s hair — Bo-Katan’s hair in Clone Wars never gets mussed up and then you … It almost looks like you have a tangle or two in the show when you’re in live-action.
SACKHOFF: Absolutely, right? The hair was such a conversation for Bo-Katan because that level of orange that she has in animation is not realistic. And we were really going for real live Bo-Katan. We wanted to make sure that she was familiar and that she wasn’t jarring and that people recognized her instantaneously but we also needed to make sure that she looked real and not cartoonish and so we had a lot of conversations about the tone of the hair and what it should look like and what the length should be.
I’m in the middle of shooting something else, so we couldn’t dye my own hair, so we had to wig me and we had to make sure that it worked right for her. And that was something that … So, that you bring up hair makes complete sense, because we talked about it ad nauseam for weeks before I stepped on set.
On top of all the other challenges you were facing, you were acting in a helmet. What is the experience like on set when you’re wearing a completely face-covering helmet and you’re also acting opposite actors in said helmets, as well?
SACKHOFF: Yeah. There’s a part of it that’s easier because for me, the crazy lady of here with the hands and the face that moves a lot, it’s covered and so I don’t have to worry so much about my face. It’s almost like being back in the sound booth again, so for me, being in the helmet is old Bo-Katan. It’s very easy for me. But the physicality is different. I have definitely flown across a room tripping over a stormtrooper. The armor works, by the way. There was a day where I went ass over tea kettle flying through the shot. It was absolutely hysterical. I tripped right over a stormtrooper but that armor protected me. I just got right back up, did it again.
It’s definitely got its own set of challenges but the vision is actually quite good in the helmet. You just can’t look down and so that’s the problem is that anyone laying on the ground, anything at your feet you don’t see because you have to physically look down and that would look really weird if Mandalorians were walking looking down all the time.
Especially when doing stunts. That feels like something that might be a bit of a challenge.
SACKHOFF: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, there are definitely moments where you run into people and things. It’s quite fun, actually.
Was there ever moments on set where you would be standing around with other people in costume and just not know if you were with your actual co-stars or with stunt doubles?
SACKHOFF: Yeah. There are definitely moments when they’ve brought in dummy stormtroopers instead of the stunt guys and you think it’s a real person for at least an hour and you’re like, “Oh, snap. That’s a dummy. Got it.” It’s funny. I think that Mercedes and I got really good at doing chest bumps. Yeah, we had some fun times. We had some fun times with armor.
Of course. Something I know that a lot of people want to know the answer to is “how did Bo-Katan lose the darksaber?” This is apparently the number one thing that you search for on Google, if you put in Bo-Katan.–
SACKHOFF: Wouldn’t that just be nice to know?
Yeah, if you could just tell me, that would be great.
But I do want your answer to this question, which is — what do you feel like is the significance of the Darksaber to her?
SACKHOFF: I think the significance of the Darksaber to Bo-Katan is very specific. This is her heritage. This is her pride. This physical representation of earning a position and being respected by your people means everything to ruling and leading Mandalore. It’s incredibly important to her.
Awesome. So I do have a couple of very important questions to ask you about Baby Yoda. Do you know Baby Yoda’s name? Is that something that’s common knowledge amongst The Mandalorian cast?
SACKHOFF: I just call him Baby.
Yeah. That’s what I hear.
SACKHOFF: He kind of responds to anything. You just call him Baby. “Hey, little thing.” He will respond to everything. Gizmo. He responds to Gizmo.
That’s actually pretty apt. In between takes, does he interact with the cast?
SACKHOFF: He interacted with me. One of my favorite things to do is to sit next to Baby and actually have conversations with him as if he is a real, live boy. And every once in a while, the controllers are still … they’ve got their headsets on and they can still hear me and they will react as Baby and we will have entire conversations with his little ears moving and his face moving.
There was a day where Baby and I sat next to each other for a good 10 minutes having a conversation because I was trying to get him to do an angry face. I wanted to see what Baby’s angry face looked like and he was having a real hard time because it’s not a familiar thing for Baby. He doesn’t really get angry as long as you keep him fed. So, he finally got his angry face and he looked just like a gremlin. He really did. It was like you do not give this child any food after midnight, don’t get water on him. He looked very angry and I was very happy. So, he can get angry, just so you know.
Along those lines — one of the most surprisingly controversial questions that have come up during the course of this season so far is, was Baby Yoda wrong to eat the frog lady’s eggs?
SACKHOFF: It is really controversial, isn’t it?
Yeah. Do you have an opinion on this very important topic?
SACKHOFF: She had so many of them [eggs]. I’m torn. I’m torn because he’s so darn cute as he eats them but at the same time, I am like, “Bad Baby. Bad. Those are not yours, Baby. Jeez.” And then when he was playing with the hatched one in the bowl, how many of us were like, “Don’t you dare, Baby! Don’t eat him! Don’t do it!” It was so funny. So cute.
It raises so many interesting questions about parenting. I’m like, “Baby Yoda just doesn’t know any better.” Or does he? Who knows?
SACKHOFF: It’s true. I don’t know. When I was a little kid I had a tea set and I ate many worms after I cut them in half with my plastic fork and plastic knives and I ate them. And my mother let me do it. God bless that woman. It was a perfect metaphor for who I was as a child. I was in the dirt playing with a tea set eating worms. Welcome to Katee’s childhood.
I don’t know. We do our best with children and at the end of the day, they’re going to be sitting in the yard eating worms on plastic plates.
That is definitely true. To wrap up, there’s this fascinating element to the inclusion of Bo-Katan in Mandalorian — I think I read an interview with you saying you hope that people go back and watch Clone Wars and Rebels so that they can find out more about the character. From your perspective, how do you feel about the fact that we’re creating these interlocking narratives across different platforms that, in some senses, almost require loyal fans to do that level of additional viewing?
SACKHOFF: Yeah. I think that this world craves that. I think that they really want that seamlessness to it. They want to understand the timelines and the worlds and make sure that things fit. And I think that it is such a responsibility for the people creating it but at the same time as a viewer, how much fun, right? How much fun to be able to go back and watch Clone Wars and Rebels and then subsequently Clone Wars again and see where it fits in with the movies? And then you’ve got so many hours of enjoyment. My God, that’s so much fun!
The first time I realized that I could back and watch Clone Wars and fit it into movies I was like, “Oh my God! This makes complete sense now!” And I highly recommend that people do it. I highly recommend that they do it because it actually deepens your enjoyment when you’re watching it because you have such a deeper understanding of the world and the characters — and potentially where it’s going.
New episodes of The Mandalorian premiere Fridays on Disney+.