The story of how Kendra Shaw goes from raw rookie to battle hardened razor is set against the story of how the Battlestar Pegasus survived – from the first Cylon attack to its rendezvousing with the Galactica. In preparation for the airing of the Sci Fi Channel event, Battlestar Galactica: Razor [Saturday, Nov. 24, 9 p.m.], I had the opportunity to take part in conference calls with Jamie [Lee Adama] Bamber [posted on November 14th] and Stephanie Jacobsen, who plays the titular character, Kendra Shaw.
What are some of the things you liked about this character? And that includes traits that maybe you don’t like personally but you enjoyed playing?
Fundamentally, I would just say her complexity. I mean, what she was for me was I guess just almost sterile. And I think as an actor when parts of your journey is always actor things, playing emotion and revealing human emotion to sort of go against all of those instincts, pull them right back and cover them up was an enormous challenge for me and it was actually very, very fulfilling.
How familiar were you with the show before you were cast?
I’m from Sydney, Australia. We get Battlestar Galactica there. I don’t know how up to date it is. I was familiar with the concept, with the characters, all the very – all the foundations basically but in terms of storylines and things like that I wasn’t particularly up to date. I mean it was definitely something that I recognized as being a fantastic show and I was over the moon when I got the job.
I’m just wondering from your perspective how strange was it to come into a show that had been going on for so long and have this group embrace you? And was it kind of helpful in a way playing this kind of alienated character that you were kind of an outsider stepping into this new world?
Okay. I have to say that I didn’t feel like an outsider stepping in at all. Everyone was just wonderful. So I didn’t have that to draw from. I mean, everyone was helpful, accommodating, welcoming, very open, very generous with me in every (which) way. So I didn’t have that sort of (disdained) solitary experience working on Battlestar as my character did. But it was I guess coming in as someone who was completely new to the environment and new to everyone who was already established there was akin to the character. So I guess that there was that correlation.
It’s sometimes hard for a new character to be introduced into an established show just and hard challenge for an actor to do that.
Sort of because the idea of like dropping someone new in who we haven’t met before.
It can be daunting.
You know, I mean it can sort of seem like wait a minute, why are we seeing you instead of an established character. So was that at all on your mind when you started portraying the role and how did you – how in your mind did you figure she factored into the show at large?
I think that the introduction of Kendra was – it was really I guess an act of boldness and an act of ingenuity because obviously to kind of throw someone into the mix who’s never even been alluded to, let alone seen, you know, so many years into an established series is a very, very courageous thing to do. But what I think it did was enabled this entirely new untainted alternative perspective of situations, people and events that were – that had already been told of. So I think that in a sense that sort of risk and that sort of oddness to it… was to a large extent the point of doing Razor. Do you see what I mean?
That was what it was about.
Yes, I mean I actually thought it was pulled off very well and I’ll quickly – do you ever think that they could possibly be more for you? I mean, we didn’t see everything that goes on aboard Pegasus. I mean, is it possible we’ll see you again at some point?
Look, I mean – you know, stranger things have happened but as – I mean, nothing as yet.
I was going to say I really enjoyed your addition to the universe. I’d be sorry to see that was the last.
Well, look, I mean I – I’m definitely – you know, I would definitely love to keep exploring that type of character. So I mean, you know, finger crossed maybe I’ll get cast as another slightly disturbed marine.
The promo material and the show sort of shows your character as a protégé to Admiral Cain, so I was wondering what it was like working – what it was like the experience of working so closely with Michelle Forbes?
She’s almost like a force of nature in a way. She’s really – if she was just – just her focus and her intensity I have to say that working with her was one of the – she made this one of the easiest jobs I’ve ever done in a sense.Because responding to what she provides on set as a fellow actor is absolutely effortless. It’s like she does almost everything. You just have to listen to her and watch her. Yes, she’s incredible. I recommended working with her to anyone.
I wanted to ask you know your character obviously exists in these two different timelines throughout the whole thing. I know obviously they shoot out of sequence. Did you shoot a lot of the Pegasus – the early stuff with Cain at the same time or are you going back and forth and kind of filming these two timelines at the same time?
We were shooting whatever was on the schedule on the day. So it was back and forth – no, I mean, look they were very kind and gracious with that. I know that it – see it kind of – really I guess it was just about the clarity of the story in my head and in Felix Alcala’s head. And when – I guess because we had sort of a very firm, finite grip on that, the shooting sequence wasn’t too much of a drama.
I guess what I’m getting at is because your character, you know, she’s – is dark to begin with but some huge stuff happens that really changes her to the time she meets up with the Galactica crew. So did you kind of keep straight in your head, you know, what had happened? Or what hadn’t happened for her? While you were shooting those different sequences?
Right. So your question is what, I’m sorry?
Just that, you know, was it a little disjointed to think about, you know, your character, you know, sort of what happened, where she was emotionally before that huge sequence when they kind of board the other ship and where she is afterwards?
Sure, look, it was but the vast majority of stories will be shot at least slightly out of sequence so I mean as an actor that’s just something that you have to deal with.
There are scenes in this episode that are pretty dark even by Battlestar Galactica standards. So how did you approach playing some of those scenes? And probably scenes that will go down as being if not some of the most dark but the most dark in the series?
Okay, well I think that you just approach them without comment. I mean, I think that it’s more just about doing what is done in the scene and then maybe reflecting on or analyzing it later. That’s what I do anyways because otherwise I guess you do sort of risk falling into that trap of fretting over how people are going to perceive you vicariously through your character or what your character is doing. So I think that you just have to add – as an actor you just have to commit to whatever it is and get it done and then sort of worry about it afterwards.
And I mean I think that – you know, I don’t – I think that all of – I think that every scene that kind of happens in Razor amounts to a very clear and I guess quiet a profound philosophy in a sense. So, you know, I don’t have any qualms about it.
Did you have any problems after a particular difficult shooting scenes to shake it off and become a normal person again?
I had some problems after flying for 21 hours and rolling off a plane onto a set and then standing for 14 hours in those military boots. I had some problems with my joints but apart from that I was fine.
I wanted to find out and sort of get your take on how did you see your character’s relationship sort of develop in Razor with both the Cain and also Katee Sackhoff’s character of Starbuck?
Okay, now for me and this was just – this was just my take and this was just something that I induced Kendra with. Cain replaced her mother. So, yes that was that – I think that her – see – okay, her relationships with Cain and Kara from my perspective were very similar in the sense that she didn’t necessarily like either of them but she respected them both for some similar and some different reasons.
And I think that given Kendra’s nature or her lack of one maybe, I think that in her world or in her being respect was the closest thing to affection that she was capable of.
Hey, are you a tough girl? Like the character you play in this or are you more a girly girl just pretending to be a tough girl?
I’m definitely not a girly girl. I’m not Kendra. Don’t think that, but I’m definitely not a girly girl. No. I don’t know I mean I guess I’m – it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? To talk about yourself? Because I mean, how I am – like how you are or what you are I guess is different to each individual person who knows you. But I’m definitely not a girly girl. You definitely won’t see me running around in, you know, pink floral dresses and ribbons in my hair. No.
Have you ever had a mentor in your life, in your career in the manner that Admiral Cain mentors Major Shaw minus the killing of course?
I actually sadly have not. I sadly have not.
So where you’ve gotten in life and in career is pretty much largely your own doing?
Yes, basically just been a series of flukes. No. Well, see I think that with the career that I’ve chosen it can be a little bit self limiting to elect one role model so to speak because everybody travels a different path in this profession. So I think the most constructive thing to do is to just kind of go with your own instincts and make your own choices.
I won’t spoil the ending for viewers and readers before the show airs but death is rarely absolute in science fiction. That being the case do you think that Major Shaw is really, most sincerely dead?
Major Shaw – look, I really don’t know. I really could not even hope to answer that at this point. I have no idea. She’s definitely not dead to me.
Fair enough. It just occurs to me that, you know, characters die in all sorts of – and you see them die, you see them get buried and they come back in science fiction.
Well, I don’t know that – I don’t actually know what sort of happens to her. I mean, to me her outcome was ambiguous.
How did you come to be cast in the role? Did they find you in Australia?
Yes, they did actually. They – yes, they picked me out in Australia. What happened was I did a series of auditions during pilot season and when the role on Battlestar came up, I put an audition down on tape and sent it over. And I then I flew to Vancouver I think two or three days later.
And were you able, before you started filming, to watch the original Pegasus, Admiral Cain episodes? I actually wasn’t. I didn’t have anywhere near enough time to engage in such professional luxuries. I mean, I had sort of as I was saying to someone before – I had the gist of it. So I knew sort of who everyone was and I knew what had happened so I think that was kind of enough to start off with and then I obviously began to garner more information when I was there. So, yes, it all came together. I’m actually not sure – I’m not sure how far behind Battlestar is in Australia. We were trying to pinpoint it and we couldn’t. So, yes, that was another thing.
Someone touched upon the Kendra/Kara relationship. I was just curious how was it playing those scenes with Katee Sackhoff and playing the rivalry and tension between the two of you?
Katee Sackhoff is incredible. I think – I mean she – I’m – it’s going sound – okay, I said similar things about Michelle Forbes but they’re not similar at all, they’re completely different. Completely different actresses to work with but Katee Sackhoff is possibly the easiest person I’ve ever worked with. She’s completely no maintenance, nothing’s a problem. I think I threw like a needle in her eye in one scene and she didn’t even blink. Yes, she’s fantastic. She’s great.
When you shoot a series, the development of a character kind of becomes a symbiosis between the writer, director and the actor. But for a single event like Razor, there’s not a lot of time for that to happen. What did you learn about yourself during the process of playing Kendra and how did that inform your performance as the filming progressed?
What did I learn about myself? And how did that inform my performance as the filming progressed?
Okay, well I guess to answer that question indirectly, the character was – there was a lot of clarity in – just in the writing so as soon as I sort of got the script, who Kendra was and what she was about, where she had been and where she was going were all quite clear to me. So – and I guess because she was such a rich, unique person, it wasn’t (kind) – it wasn’t as if she was sort of, you know, an ambivalent person or, you know, a (dipident) person who could be interpreted in a dozen different ways.
So it wasn’t – I mean, for me, the choices about how to play her were pretty much were pretty obvious. And I think that despite the fact that it was – her story is encapsulated within this double episode, I think that because I guess we were spending so much time with her we were still able to sort of nurture a collaborative approach to her development.
I wanted to find out maybe if you could tell us a little bit about your first professional acting role in front of the camera? And what that was like for you?
Okay, my first sort of long term role was on a soap opera in Sydney. And it was hilarious actually because I showed up with zero awareness of a lot of things. I was basically a technical neophyte. I roughed up (on set) and I was (mocking) everybody and I was never on my mark and I was rarely on camera. So I did, you know, assumedly a little bit of good acting on the sidelines there. And what ended up developing was this dynamic by which my on screen love interest would loop his fingers through the belt hole of my pants and he’d sort of guide me around the set. And that went on for about three months. So yes that was me in front of a camera for the first time.
And then the other project I wanted to ask you about and I hope I have my information correctly, maybe you could tell us a little bit about your general experiences working on the Life on Mars pilot and what that was like for you?
I actually don’t know that I can talk about my general experiences about that at this point. I’m sorry.
Did you always want to be an actress while you were growing up or did you have other professions in mind?
I had a couple – I mean there were a couple of ideas that sort of occurred to me. When I was 10, I wanted to be a professional equestrian because I was very much into horse riding. Then I wanted to be a veterinarian because I wanted to be a doctor but I didn’t want to have to work for the really high marks.
But then what happened was I guess while I was at University, I kind of got involved a little bit with a theater group there and I ended up – I just ended up being an actor to be honest with you. It was just kind of interesting. It just – yes, it kind of – you know, one thing led to another and the next thing I knew I was an actor.
Some of the non-U. S. actors on the show have accents that they drop, like Jamie Bamber for example. Did the producers tell you from the start that they wanted you to keep your accent?
No, I auditioned in an American accent. The decision to have Kendra be, I guess, Australian sort of happened on my first day on set.
So it was just – first day on the set they said, you can do that, let’s go ahead and…
Well, they kind of went talk for us and I spoke to them. And they said, no that’s it. So that was what we went with.
Because it was a precedent really with the Lucy Lawless character who speaks the accent.
Did they give you any back story – like maybe they’re from the same colony or something?
No. I believe that Lucy Lawless is a New Zealander so there would be just a hint of difference to our accent to someone who was listening carefully.
What do you think of science fiction as a genre in general? Are you a fan?
Yes, huge – huge fan.
Well, what are some of your favorites?
Well, I will basically I’ll – I’ll basically give anything that’s sci fi a go. I think though that what – I think though that the challenge for science fiction is sort of treading that fine line between fantasy and reality with a certain amount of grace I guess and a certain amount of sophistication so that there aren’t any scenes and there isn’t any contact – any content that’s going to be insulting to anyone’s intelligence. I mean sometimes you see some sci fi and it’s just like, no… No, I don’t think so, no. But with a show like Battlestar Galactica, yes, it’s just something different. Like it is raw and it is real and it is believable and I think that that’s a large part of why the show has been such a huge success.
When you’re not working what are some of the things that you do to make yourself happy?
I basically just work.
Well, I mean – I’ve just moved to Los Angeles so I’m still kind of – you know, I’m still kind of settling in here so I might jump in my car and go for a drive, you know, explore the hills or explore the coast just – there’s plenty to do. It’s a very big city.
So asking a little bit about your time in Australia… what is – what are some of the differences between doing television down there versus here? Are there some? And obviously maybe budget is one?
But are their working schedules different, too?
I think – to be honest with you I think that all the dissimilarities stem from budget. Because I mean, when you think about it – when you’ve got a bigger budget, you have more time, you have more resources. People tend to – I guess people tend to be able to afford a little more confidence I think with certain ideas because there isn’t such a heavy earnest to get it done. So I think that – I mean obviously look there’s always going to be aspects that are the same, you know, with any set, you know. But I think that there’s just an overall feeling that is slightly different. And I think though maybe that because there is more money, more time, more blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, I think that people who are involved creatively are sort of able to feel a little bit more proud, I guess, or a little bit more passionate or connected to what they’re doing, which for an actor is a great thing to be part of.
It’s also interesting I mean a lot of Australian actors come out of the shows like Home and Away like that and get a launching pad to then do American series and movies? I mean is there – what accounts for that? I mean do people – are people really watching Home and Away constantly in Hollywood to find people? Or how is the connection happening?
I really can’t answer from an extraneous perspective. I don’t know how those shows are perceived by people out here. But what I do know is that young actors who come off those shows are immune to doing very long hours. They’re sometimes seasoned professionals by the age of, you know, 18 or 19. And they have just basically a very comprehensive grasp of what it is to be a working actor, of the pressures that are involved, the work load that’s involved and they have a technical experience as well. And I would imagine that a part of it at least is the fact that all of those factors make them an asset on a set.
From your own experience, I know you’ve said you recently moved to L.A. Is there a – do – is there a reason why you did that aside from wanting different projects? Do you sort of feel like the TV industry in Australia is limited after a certain point?
I think that – okay, I don’t think there’s not more – obviously the industry in Australia is a much smaller industry. I think there’s amazing stuff there; has always been amazing stuff made in Australia – always, always, always. There’s just not a great deal of it. Unfortunately. And for me it was really just a matter A, wanting to be able to play a slightly more diverse range of characters, and B, just wanting to work more. I guess. I mean in – and I’m speaking for myself here personally, acting sort of – it felt like it was more of part-time thing in Australia. I kind of thought no, I want to be doing this more like, you know, nine or ten months a year as opposed to three.
I was just curious, you know, because you weren’t too familiar with the show when you did read the full script for Razor, did the – both the darkness of it and the depth of it surprise you?
No, okay, I was familiar with it per se. I knew what Battlestar Galactica was about. I knew what style of show it was and I had a fairly good idea of its parameters. So I wasn’t – I didn’t kind of read it and flip out. So no, it wasn’t anything like that at all. What I was not familiar with was what was currently happening in the show.
Obviously you were made XO and then have a leadership role for much of the story. Did you enjoy playing that dynamic and getting to, you know, bark orders in different scenes?
Sure, it was great fun. Who doesn’t enjoy that? No, it was good. It was nice playing both. It was nice being able to take a character through that process of – well, I mean just for me as well it was I got to do so much within the one job. I got to be a, you know – the green somewhat naïve rookie who was just taking orders to being, you know, the hard, hard edged commanding officer, who was as you say, barking orders. So it was – yes, I had a ball. I had an absolute ball with that character.
I’d like you to put yourself back in character for a moment and think about how Kendra would assess Admiral Cain, Lee Adama and Kara Thrace and what do you think she would – how do you think she would describe them?
How would Kendra have described Admiral Cain, Lee Adama and Kara Thrace? She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t have verbally described. Like I’m – like she – she was – she is far too internal a person. She’s far too introverted.As I said to someone earlier, she respected both Cain and Kara. And I also said that from my perception of Kendra, respect was the closest thing that she knew to affection or liking someone. And she came to respect Lee as well eventually.
But internally – how would she assess them? Would that be at all…
She would have thought about – she would have just – I think that she saw – okay. I think that she saw Cain as being an objective. Cain’s way of being was her objective.
And she then saw – I think that – I think personally that what she saw in Kara was that same objective but mingled with a little bit of humanity, which I think ultimately had a very specific impact on Kendra.
You’ve mentioned the relationship the character had with Starbuck and Cain, but another dynamic that’s kind of important is how she trusted Gina in the episode and then she realizes her betrayal. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit.
Sure. I think that this was – again this isn’t necessarily, you know, gospel or fact but from my perception I think that because she was sort of capable of that kind of a connection – I mean Kendra was kind of a little set apart to begin with. I think she was a little bit aloof. But I think that she quite – I think that she kind of liked Gina. I think that she respected – Gina’s the – the Gina character was – she had skills that, you know, Kendra didn’t possess and virtually no one else possessed. And so I think again she had a certain level of respect for her and she felt a kind of camaraderie with her I think. I mean I didn’t – Kendra was not a particularly emotional character. Not outwardly so anyway and I guess that in a sense her relationship with people by some standards could be deemed shallow. There wasn’t the intensity of admiration that she felt for Cain but I think that there was definitely a certain respect for what Gina did earlier on anyway.
Battlestar Galactica: Razor will air on Saturday, November 24th at 9 p.m. Watch for our new review on Wednesday.