"I love cable ...
... but I've done it. Now there's another thing I need to conquer."
Katee Sackhoff is savoring a glass of wine with a friend after spending the day at a photo shoot, and the waitstaff is trying to take her order. "I'm like, 'Put the kibosh on the food! Don't bring it out yet!' " she says.
Ready or not, her main course has just arrived: Sackhoff, 29, joins the hit Fox drama "24" this season as Dana Walsh, CTU's head computer analyst. Her move to network TV is a calculated effort to make herself more recognizable and marketable.
After playing Kara "Starbuck" Thrace for four seasons on Syfy's "Battlestar Galactica," which had a dedicated, albeit small, fan base, she's ready for a much bigger spotlight. And she's proving that she's a big-name draw. Sackhoff's guest appearance on CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" in November helped give that sitcom its highest-ever ratings -- 14.2 million viewers. "I love cable, and most of the shows I watch are on cable," she says. "But I've done it. I have my Peabody on the shelf. Now there's another thing I need to conquer."
She also decided to conquer motorcycles. After riding on the back of boyfriends' bikes, she and "BSG" co-star Tricia Helfer learned how to ride themselves. "I was tired of having to date men who ride motorcycles so I could ride one," she says. "It was on my list of requirements for men: Tall, dark and handsome? Check. Rides a motorcycle? Check. I said, 'I'm tired of sitting on the back where you could make a sandwich while you're riding.' " Now, the actresses both own motorcycles and go riding together. (Sackhoff's boyfriend of four years, movie producer Scott Niemeyer, bought her a 2008 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy for her birthday last year.)
It's easy to think of Sackhoff as tough because she's best known for tough-chick roles. But when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer -- which, fortunately, has high survival rates -- soon after filming the final episodes of "BSG," she was terrified. "Anytime someone says to you, 'You have cancer,' you immediately say, 'Why me?' I had an 'easy' cancer, but it doesn't make the emotional stress any less," she says. Niemeyer, her parents and friends helped her get through the ordeal. "I cried a lot. I ate a lot. I drank a lot. Everything worked out perfectly for me, but it never took away for one second the understanding that it might not have."
She recently had a one-year check-up, which showed no signs of cancer, but not all of her scars have healed. "It was the scariest thing I've ever been through," she says. "I'm still in therapy trying to get over it."
Beating cancer has given her a new perspective on life, so the thought of turning 30 in April doesn't bother her at all. "I had cancer -- nothing scares me," she says. "I always thought, 'Any year that I get older and I'm the same weight I was the year before, I've managed to be successful at something.' Turning 30 is a milestone. It's nothing to be scared of."