Yahoo! TV Q&A: Kathleen Robertson talks about 'Seal Team Six' and not getting it wrong

Sarah D. Bunting
Yahoo! TV
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Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden US Traffic Code: 9877

The night of the raid on Osama Bin Laden's heavily compound.

Kathleen Robertson stars in the upcoming National Geographic Channel film "Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden" as Vivian Hollins, a CIA analyst who describes herself as "obsessed" with Osama bin Laden. Robertson's also appeared in projects as varied as Starz's "Boss," with Kelsey Grammer, "Psycho Beach Party," and "Beverly Hills, 90210." Robertson writes and produces as well as acting -- and Yahoo! TV spoke to her earlier this week about all three, plus controversial footage, ratings, and the importance of research.

Let's just get the question that you're sick of out of the way. It seems like everyone on the production has been asked to defend the timing of the "Seal Team Six" premiere, with it so close to the election. Did that come as a surprise to you, that this was considered an issue?
There's a couple of talking points which are a little surprising, one being footage of the actual president in the movie … I don't really know how you make a movie about this, about the raid on Osama bin Laden, without the president being a part of that conversation.

…The president was always part of this film, would have to be, given the subject matter, and it's literally a few shots in the movie, that I think are actually incredibly effective. You know, the night that it happened, the president was speaking at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and you know, the footage is of him giving that speech, knowing what he knew was going on, and it's actually I think really powerful, and very moving.

And then the other thing, which is the timing -- the only people that can answer that is the network. They clearly chose to air this movie at a time it would be the most topical, because they're interested in having ratings, and they want as many people to watch this movie as possible. I think the criticism of somebody saying, "If it's not political then why don't you air the movie two days after the election," to me is absurd, because why would they not want as many people watching this movie as possible - that's their intention and that's their goal.

[Related: Watch an exclusive scene from "Seal Team Six"]

We finished filming in February; it takes time to cut a movie, and edit it, and re-edit it, and do ADR [i.e., looping] -- I was always told from the very beginning that the movie would be released around this time, so it's something to talk about for people, but yeah, it's a little weird. And it's always funny to me when they ask actors these questions, because we of course have absolutely no say in when our projects come out, or how they're edited, or any of those things.

But it's interesting that this is, like, the talking point.
Yeah, definitely.

That never would have occurred to me, and then I'm looking at the headlines about you guys being asked about that. That's probably not what you prepped for when you were doing press.
It's always kind of that way; there's always something that ends up being the thing that people want to talk about around a certain movie or a certain television show, so: it's okay! A lot of people watch it; that's all that matters.

Did you feel more pressure than usual to "do justice to" the story here, since it did actually happen and it was such a watershed event historically?
I think you do, and I think that -- I've worked on several films that were based on true-life events, and you do feel a different level of responsibility, and especially with a film like this, I felt that there's a delicacy, a sort of sensitivity that you have to have, about the way that it's executed and the way that these human beings are being portrayed. My character in the film is not directly based on the actual woman who was involved because at the time [we didn't have] that information, so this character I play is sort of a composite of her. The information we had at the time was what we used.

But with a movie like this in particular, you just have to hope that all of the families and all of the people who lost loved ones in 9/11 -- this event obviously for them is larger than you or I maybe can relate to, and you just hope that -- not necessarily that the film brings closure, but obviously the event brought some sort of closure. We would hope, anyway. So, you just hope that nobody's offended, and people feel that the SEALs and the intent of the CIA are portrayed in a way that feels accurate and that feels real, and that was always the intention, from the very beginning.

[Related: NatGeo CEO: "Seal Team Six" is its own defense]

John Stockwell, who directed the movie -- the conversations that I had with him from the very first time we met were, you have to make sure that you feel that you have enough knowledge and enough in-depth connection to what really happened and who this person is, so that you feel that when you walk into that world, that you're comfortable in it, that you're able to articulate everything in a way that feels realistic. You feel a sensitivity to it, that you want to make sure that you don't get it wrong. So that was always in the back of my mind.

I also noticed in the press materials that a lot of the actors had pretty extensive contact with experts, former SEALs and so on, in order to feel more authoritative in the roles. Is that something that you also got to do, in terms of what we were just talking about?
Yeah, we absolutely -- you can't make a movie about this without doing extensive research, and when we were hired, John and the writer [Kendall Lampkin] had done months and months and months of research, to make sure everything was accurate. And there were several bin Laden historians, and there were ex-CIA and ex-SEALs, and all that kind of information is crucial, and you have to just really immerse yourself in every component of the world, so that you cannot only execute the material but also be able to improvise, which we did a lot of. John, really that was something that was important to him: "I want to be able to improvise with you, and have you, in your scenes with Eddie [Kaye Thomas, who plays a fellow analyst], in your scenes with William [Fichtner, their boss], to be able to have genuine true conversations about what your point of view is about this, without it being exactly just what's on the page," which -- you have to make sure you know what you're talking about, or it doesn't work. So, yeah, a lot of research. Which is fun; it's sort of the fun part of what I do, I love that part of it. It's really interesting.

You also have co-written "Three Days in Havana" -- did that shoot before "Seal Team Six," or after?
That movie is being edited right now; we filmed it in Cuba. Then I also have a series that I wrote called "Your Time Is Up," which is something that I'm working on right now, and I have a third script that I sold which is a pilot as well. I love writing, and I hope to be able to -- when I actually booked the job, when I found out that I got the offer to do "Boss," it was at a moment where I kind of…didn't want to act anymore, I kind of felt like, "I just want to write." It's just so creatively fulfilling to me, and I've been acting for so many years that I sort of felt like writing was where I wanted to put all my focus, and then of course, that's the way life works, you take your energy off of something that you've been focused on for so long, then everything sort of comes to you. I got a call saying, "Gus Van Sant's doing a television series and they want you to do this," and I said, "Yeaaaahhh, I think I'm gonna probably do that."

Has getting more into behind-the-camera, like writing and producing stuff -- do you think that gave you useful or better insight into the challenges of coordinating a project like "Seal Team Six"? It sounds like John Stockwell really had 15 hands full, just with locations and stuff like that -- do you think that that gives you better insight, having been more on the writing side of late, into how these projects come together?
It's more the role of a producer, which, you know, I produced a show on IFC called "The Business," it's a series that we did for two seasons, and -- yeah, the experience of being a producer, it's very close to the role that I play in this film. It's about having a laser-beam focus, and knowing exactly what you want, and just going straight for it and never letting anything sway you, and she, Vivian, is very much -- that's her function in the movie. She has a very clear, very singular focus, and you know, she succeeds in the end, so it's a nice career journey for her.

"Seal Team Six" has its premiere Sunday, November 4 at 8 PM on the National Geographic Channel.