Hidden beneath a motorcycle helmet, you’d never know the long-legged rider in front of you, known to frequent popular jaunts like SoCal’s Angeles Crest and Mulholland Highway, is the same person whose face has graced Cosmo and Maxim. But motorcycling can offer a form of anonymity, a chance to be just another person who enjoys the adrenaline rush of commandeering a motorcycle, the freedom it embodies, the clarity it brings.
Without the helmet, though, Tricia Helfer is immediately recognizable as Cylon Number Six from the hit TV series “Battlestar Galactica” or possibly from her more recent role as Molly Parker in “Killer Women.” Soon people will know her as Viondra Denniger from the new SyFy mini-series “Ascension,” set to air December 15-17. When we recently caught up with the Canadian model-turned-actress, she was just as eager to talk about her role as a motorcyclist who’s coordinating her first benefit ride along with friend and fellow actress Katee Sackhoff as she was her career. The PATH Home Charity Ride the duo are organizing takes place this weekend, November 2, with proceeds benefitting PATH’s mission to end homelessness in Southern California.
Helfer began riding motorcycles about eight years ago. Growing up on a farm in rural Donalda, Alberta, Helfer said she grew up with ATVs and four-wheelers, not dirt bikes. But landing the role of Number Six indirectly led to her becoming a rider and enthusiast.
“When I started filming “Battlestar Galactica” in Vancouver, I was away a lot. And my husband (Johnathan Marshall) started riding because he had a lot of free time, and his friends rode. So he got his license and got a bike and started riding and after a couple of times on the back of the bike I realized I really don’t like being on the back of the bike and was just going to get my own license. At the same time co-star Katee Sackhoff, who was on “Battlestar” with me, her boyfriend rode so she decided she was going to get her license as well. We planned on taking the course together but it just didn’t work out because we were both filming and seemed to be on opposite schedules. So I took the test first and got my license and she quickly followed suit and we’ve been riding since,” said Helfer.
Before she even completed the LA Safety Course, Helfer had bought her first Harley, a Dyna Low Rider, basically “because it was pretty.” But she quickly learned a hard lesson. Living in the canyons above LA, the roads to her house were small, steep and curvy. Even her driveway was at a steep pitch and admittedly “was a bit hairy for a new rider.” But her big lesson on buying a motorcycle based on curb appeal would come soon after.
“There was one trip up to Angeles Crest and I just got scared. What had happened was I actually had popped air out of the front tire because I hit a big stone going down. There were some ice and snow clumps and I thought it was just a big ice clump but it knocked enough air out of the tire so there was that super-squishy feeling, but I didn’t know enough, I was brand-new and didn’t know enough about the feel of bikes. So we literally stopped at Glendale Harley on the way down and I’m like “I’m getting a smaller bike, I’m getting a smaller bike.” So I traded in the Dyna and got a Sportster 1200 that exact day. It wasn’t ‘till afterward I found out that the tire was down to like 22 or something.
“The Sportster 1200 is probably the bike I should have gotten to begin with. It was great. I loved it, it fit me well. I’m tall, so if I’m on anything too small I feel like I’m on a toy. I tried the 883 but I just felt like I was on a toy. So I had that for a while and then we switched to the Rocker C. It’s a fun bike. It’s not necessarily the best bike for California riding, it’s better for like Milwaukee or something (laughs), big wide-open roads, flat, that type of thing. Mine is lavender with a paw print on the back,” said Helfer.
She also owns a BMW F800GS, and has had the opportunity to sample bikes like a Harley V-Rod and BMS S1000RR in some of her roles. But Tricia’s true trial-by-fire came during “The LA La Ride” she did with Sackhoff. It stemmed from Tricia and Katee forming Acting Outlaws, a non-profit organization that combines their love of riding with the desire to give back.
“It started because basically we had a group of friends who all rode and Katee and I had discussed, we wanted to learn how to take something we love doing and do some good at the same time. So we founded “Acting Outlaws” and started joining in on some charity rides.”
One of their first and most ambitious projects as Acting Outlaws was “The LA La Ride,” an approximately 2500-mile journey from Los Angeles to Louisiana to help out the Gulf Restoration Network after the big BP oil spill in the Gulf of
Tricia and her best riding buddy Katee Sackhoff formed the charitable organization known as ‘Acting Outlaws’ together and have organized their first charity ride set for this weekend in LA.
Tricia Helfer has owned a series of Harleys, from a Dyna Low Rider to a Sportster 1200 to her current Rocker C.
Mexico. Riding a pair of BMW R1200GS motorcycles, the duo set out on a seven-day adventure across the Southwest, a two-man film crew capturing their exploits on film that eventually turned into a documentary. But like most long-distance motorcycle rides, it wasn’t without challenges, both external and internal as Helfer explains the lessons learned along the way.
“We definitely took away that we’re good on long-distance rides together because where one’s kind of failing, the other is picking up. You definitely need to be traveling with someone that A.) You can depend on, and B.) That you can have fun with. We went through a couple of pretty hairy days in terms of weather and one day we had extremely heavy rain, and that scared Katee quite a bit. I was better on that, so I took the lead.
“The next day we had extremely heavy winds, and that was tough. I mean, they were 40, 50, up to 60 mph winds, I remember at one point we stopped at a Subway and we were looking at the news and they were warning about tornadoes, so we stopped for a while and tried to regroup and reroute ourselves. We ended up going kind of north, away from where the weather was. We were predominantly on the freeway up till then and at one point a gust of wind blew me into the next lane, just up and blew me into the next lane. It’s scary because it was gusts of wind. When it was steady, you can still ride in it and your bike’s leaning, you can handle it. But when these gusts come out of nowhere. That kind of freaked me out because you can’t go too slow because then you’re even more susceptible.
“I had massive back surgery about 10 months before, had four discs replaced with artificial discs, and mentally I just started going really dark. I got really scared and in the back of my mind I started seeing like, my body being cut into, that kind of stuff, thinking if I go down… Katee took the lead and we rerouted ourselves north, but she really took the lead and we ended up having a great day. Exhausted, but we ended up what was supposed to be a 200-something-mile day, one of our shortest days, ended up being almost 500 miles in that wind.”
As mentioned, the pair’s “LA La Ride” was turned into a documentary that’s currently available as a digital download on the Acting Outlaws website. Helfer said they’ve recently revisited the footage and made new edits, screening it at the iPic Theater in Seattle when they went up there for the Tulip Ride where Helfer said it “played really well.” She also mentioned they’re thinking about getting the documentary into a couple of film festivals.
Before that though, there’s the business of this weekend’s PATH Home Charity Ride to attend to.
“At this point we’ve turned our focus on our own ride November 2. It goes up Angeles Crest, one of our favorite rides we do here. We’re partnering with PATH, one of the largest organizations fighting homelessness here in Southern California. They do a fantastic job and have been great to work with. It’s the first year, which is always a challenge getting the word out there, but it’s going to be fun. We’ve got a lot of our actor friends coming and we’ll probably have about 100 people,” said Helfer.
She and Sackhoff also just completed a photo shoot for another Acting Outlaws calendar, the popular calendar an avenue the pair uses to raise money for charity. Helfer was actually going through photos for this year’s calendar when we called, deciding which one’s will grace the pages of the 2015 Acting Outlaws calendar that will be available around mid-November.
Somehow, even with all of her charitable endeavors going on, Helfer’s career as an actress is flourishing. She’s filming a couple of episodes of “Suits” right now on USA in addition to a couple of projects in the works she can’t talk about yet, but hinted that one option is based on a series of books “that I would love, love, love, love to get off the ground.”
Then there’s her role on “Ascension” a new original mini-series on the SyFy Channlel created by “Smallville’s” Phillip Levens and produced by Blumhouse Productions in conjunction with Lionsgate. In it she plays Viondra Denniger, the wife of the captain of a spaceship appropriately called “Ascension.” We’ll let Helfer as a leading role provide a framework for the show.
“The basic premise is in 1963, during the ‘Space Race’ and the Cold War, President Kennedy organized a military project to launch some of the best and brightest on a ship on a 100-year journey to propagate a new planet called Proxima. At that time, they weren’t quite sure there was going to be an Earth or whether we were going to destroy ourselves. The people that went off on this mission really went off to continue humanity and find a new home. The show picks up 50 years into the journey right at the turning point where they either have to turn around and head back to earth or there’s no turning around.
“It starts out, it’s not a warship, it’s not like “Battlestar” in the way that the show starts out, ‘Wow! you’re in a war,’ high-paced and a lot of action and everything like that. This show actually starts out slower, you’re basically on a giant cruise ship with people just floating through space, traveling through space to get to another planet, so it’s not that type of action. But then through the episodes, the action starts to amp up when things start to go wrong. So it’s kind of the reverse where you have action right off the top and then things settling into the new norm, they’re taking what is normal for them and then things start to go wrong and the action starts to amp up. But it was loosely based off a real project called Project Orion that was a classified military operation about nuclear propulsion ships,” explained Helfer.
She said her character Viondra “starts out fairly light in the first three episodes and you think you’ve got her figured out when you first meet her. You think she’s sort of this manipulative, kind of Machiavellian-type character where you think you know what she’s all about. But then, as the mini-series progresses, you start to get to know her a little bit better and start to understand the reasoning. She really is power-hunger to some extent, she wants to stay in power, but she’s incredibly smart and she is manipulative, yes, but it’s to keep her husband and herself in power. The people that are trying to take that power away probably wouldn’t be as good in power, so she does have proper motive at the end of the day. And she does have some vulnerabilities that you don’t think she has until you get to know her a little bit better.”
Sounds like an intriguing storyline to us. Will it have the endearing qualities of “Battlestar?” Who knows. There’s no magic formula what shows will be embraced by the viewing audience. When we asked her if she ever thought “Battlestar” would become the pop-culture phenomenon it did, Helfer replied.
“I don’t know. When we first shot the mini-series, Edward James Olmos said to us, “Guys, we’re doing something special,” but you really never know. It’s a fickle business. You can think you’ve got everything all lined up and the dailies are coming in great and everybody seems super happy with it, and then something doesn’t end up working or clicking with an audience. Then you do something where it’s like, Ah, I don’t know, I don’t have a great feeling about this and then it takes off. It’s just such a bizarre thing, there’s this special sprinkle dust that goes on it whenever things work and I don’t know where it comes from.”
We look forward to seeing “Ascension” when it airs on SyFy December 15. We wish we could tag along for the PATH ride, but since we can’t, we encourage readers in the SoCal area to posse up with Helfer and Sackhoff this weekend to help raise money and awareness for the plight of the homeless in the Los Angeles area. With Helfer’s drive and ambition, we’re sure it will be a success.