Katee Sackhoff on Breaking Away From Sci-Fi for the Cozy Joys of Hallmark (Exclusive)

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Katee Sackhoff has built a storied career playing fierce women, like Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica and Bo-Katan Kryze on The Mandalorian, in the sci-fi and action worlds. But now, she's dipping her toe into uncharted territory: starring in and executive producing her first Hallmark Christmas movie. Sackhoff's love of the feel-good, family-friendly holiday films runs deep, dating all the way back to her childhood. And while longtime fans of hers may be pleasantly surprised by her preference (and near obsession) for the cheery comforts Hallmark brings, she hopes Christmas Sail, which premieres this Sunday on Hallmark Channel, opens a new door of possibilities in her career.

"It's not even a little secret. Everybody I ever met, I would always tell them I'm obsessed with Hallmark Christmas movies," Sackhoff told ET during a recent phone interview. The coziness that often envelopes Hallmark movies, let alone the network's signature holiday originals, is a stark contrast to the roles Sackhoff is primarily known for -- a fact the actress acknowledges. "The DP I've worked with since Battlestar Galactica, she at one point came up to me and goes, 'Katee, we're all in shock. We've never seen you smile so much! We've never seen this on camera. It's like, you're just playing yourself. I don't think the audience is prepared for this!'"

"I have loved Hallmark movies as far back as you can remember. My mom, dad and I, at Christmastime -- my brother every once in a while -- we would watch these Christmas movies all the time, and I think that Hallmark has always been very important in our family," she explained later. "We grew up without a TV and when we finally got a TV, my parents were very specific about what we could and couldn't watch. Hallmark was always something that we absolutely could watch. I became obsessed with the Christmas movies... It's been a staple in our house for a very, very long time."

Though Sackhoff had been asked several times before to star in Hallmark films, the stories or the timing of it often didn't align. So she took it upon herself to create the ideal entry into the world with husband Robin Gadsby, who wrote Christmas Sail. "He was like, 'Why don't you do a Hallmark Christmas movie?' And I was like, 'Why don't you write it for me?' He was like, 'OK, well, this will be different,' since he normally writes horror and sci-fi," she recounted. "We went in and we pitched Hallmark a handful of ideas and they really loved Christmas Sail."

Christmas Sail, which co-stars fellow genre vets Patrick Sabongui and Terry O'Quinn (watch ET's exclusive clip above), kicks off when Liz (Sackhoff) returns home to take care of her estranged father (O'Quinn). She is determined to give her daughter a perfect Christmas and reconnects with her best friend (Sabongui). In signature Hallmark style, lessons are learned, emotions are felt and love is rediscovered.

Christmas Sail
Kailey Schwerman/Crown Media

"Christmas Sail, at its core, is a story about love and loss and reconnection. It's a story about a woman named Liz Darling, who lost her mother, and she and her father grew apart because they chose to grieve differently. They didn't feel that each one held a spot for the way that they were choosing to grieve in their life," Sackhoff previewed. "Liz moved away and started a family of her own. Our story picks up where we find out that her father needs help. He's injured, or so she thinks, and she goes home for the holidays to help him out. Through the process, she not only reconnects with him, but she reconnects with her childhood best friend who she also grew apart from."

"This is a story about miscommunication. This is a story about speaking your truth and speaking from the heart and making sure that the people around you know how you feel -- in the relationship with Dennis, her father, and Liz; in the relationship with Luke, her childhood best friend, and Liz. Both of these relationships have suffered because things were left unsaid," she noted. "That is what it's about at its core, and then coming together at the holidays. The holiday time is such a beautiful time for so many people, but we can all relate with things that have gone unsaid with our families. There's no better time than Christmastime to reconnect and to make sure that people know that you love them."

The 41-year-old actress acknowledged that viewers who may have fallen in love with her through past works like Battlestar Galactica, 24 or her current Netflix series, Another Life, will see the "real" Sackhoff. "This is a new side of me for audiences. If people follow me on Instagram, they're not going to be shocked by this," she said, adding, "This is who I am at my core." That was a similar route she took when it came to finding the right actors to play the core characters.

"What was really important to Robin and I was rounding this cast out with people that you wouldn't expect," she said. "It started with Terry. Terry and I both are, when you think about us, known for sci-fi. We're known for playing these tough characters and so that made complete sense to me. He was first on my list. He was at the very, very, very top. I've been a huge fan of his for so many years. Terry also is such a warm, genuinely kind person. That really translates onscreen."

Christmas Sail
Kailey Schwerman/Crown Media

"I had never met Patrick before. We have a lot of friends in common, and that made sense," Sackhoff added. "We can take it even a step further to say that little Ms. Emma Oliver, who's going to steal this entire movie. When we were creating and writing this script, we were watching Snowpiercer because my other daughter from another horror movie, Annalise Basso, is on Snowpiercer. When I saw Emma Oliver on camera, her performance blew me away because she's so young. And to be able to do what she does is amazing. I looked at Robin and I said, 'We have to have her.' I got everyone I wanted for this movie."

Could Christmas Sail be just the start of a long relationship with Hallmark? If Sackhoff had it her way, it'd be an obvious yes. "I was talking to [co-star] Lossen Chambers on set. She was our Hallmark veteran. We were talking about just this exact thing and she said, 'What do you want?' And I said, 'This is all I've ever wanted in my entire career is to do Hallmark Christmas movies all the time,'" she shared, adding that it helps her "feel a bit of normalcy in my life." "This may shock people, but I think this is exactly what I've always wanted. It's like, I'm going to do my sci-fi over here and continue to do that during the year. Once you're part of that [Hallmark] family, they're not getting rid of me. They can try, but I got so much Christmas spirit. I don't think Hallmark's going to get rid of me that easily."

If she had her pick of who to work with next in the Hallmark family, it'd be network staples like Candace Cameron Bure, Victor Webster and Lacey Chabert. "I'm such a big fan of Hallmark. There's no one over there that does Hallmark movies that you couldn't bring up and I wouldn't go, 'Oh my god, I love them and I can't wait to work with them!'" (And Hallmark, take note, Sackhoff has her eye on an autumn movie next: "I want to do a 'Fall Harvest' movie too.")

"There is a wholesome, pure happiness and love that comes out of these movies that you cannot help but feel moved and warm and happy about family and your friends when you're watching them. That's what's so great about them," Sackhoff said. "Not everything needs to be dark and gritty and scary to watch. I crave these movies. I was talking to Jon Favreau about them the other day, and I was telling him all the elements that we were wanting to get into our movie and we bonded over it. Because he said it was all the same things he wanted Elf to be. I think that when you create something that's warm and has heart and family at its core, people love to watch it."

Christmas Sail premieres Sunday, Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Hallmark Channel. For more on Sackhoff, watch below.

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