Interview with Pacific Rim’s Heather Doerksen, the Russian Jaeger copilot

pacific rim heather doerksen
Right photo by Karolina Turek

Pacific Rim is the upcoming giant mech movie being helmed by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Blade 2, Pan’s Labyrinth), and it is stomping into theaters on July 12th. We get to talk to Heather Doerksen, who plays the tough Sasha Kaidanovsky who co-pilots the Russian Jaeger, Cherno Alpha. We chat about her role, playing Mario and Bubsy, being a math and science nerd, and cooking.

John “Spartan” Nguyen (Nerd Reactor): Hey, it’s Heather Doerksen!

Heather Doerksen: Hi John. How are you?

Nerd Reactor: Doing good. It’s a good thing I checked out how to pronounce your name, because I would have pronounced it “Dork-son.”

Heather Doerksen: I know it’s tricky. That O is so weird in there, it’s given me grief my whole life, I don’t know why I didn’t take it out. I just never did.

Nerd Reactor: I think you enjoy that, people pronouncing it wrong. It’s like, “No! That’s not how you say it.”

Heather Doerksen: Maybe that’s what it is. I just want a conversation starter. Just keep the O in there, it’s for conversation.

Nerd Reactor: It’s certainly working right now. So how’s everything so far? Enjoying the hype for your next biggest movie, Pacific Rim?

Heather Doerksen: Yup. That’s the next big guy. It feels like it’s been teased for so long. I’m ready to see it, I’m ready to get in the theater and put on my 3D glasses. I’m ready. Today. Let’s go.

Nerd Reactor: I’ve been noticing a trend. It seems like you like to play a lot of military-type roles. For example, Battlestar Galactica, you played a sergeant. In Stargate, you play a captain. Is this something you like to do?

Heather Doerksen: You know what I think? I think I just fell into those roles easily because of my height, my lower voice and I can take charge if I need to. I was like, “Okay, I can command people!” I think that’s why I fell into those roles. But I also really, really love comedy. So I get that every now and then too, which is pretty hilarious.

Nerd Reactor: If you had to choose between the comedies and the military roles, which would you choose?

Heather Doerksen: Well, it’s pretty much a tie because they feed totally different parts of me. The military roles allow me that ability to step into those shoes and be strong and find that strength in myself, and just kick ass. And then the comedy roles, there’s something about the timing and the improvising with my fellow actors and making people laugh that I think is so important. So they’re totally different.

Nerd Reactor: I would assume that the comedy roles would be a bigger part of your personality, compared to the military-type roles?

Heather Doerksen: Yeah. They are. I’m a bit of a dork. I mean, hey, my last name is Doerksen, it looks like “Doerksen, it’s not pronounced “Dork-son.” I goof around with my friends, and I’m pretty sarcastic and dry in real life. So I think that, yeah, I’m drawn to the wit of comedy, but I can step into the role of the military girl too.

Nerd Reactor: Have you ever tried in real life to assert yourself like a soldier to your friends?

Heather Doerksen: You know? That only comes out when I’m super hungry. It’s just the “watch out” moments. I just need to make sure that I eat. They just take a step back, “Whoa! What’s going on?” But no, not really. It’s typically light and jovial around me.

Nerd Reactor: So as long as we feed you, you’ll be okay.

Heather Doerksen: You just need to feed me, but I’m very happy and I love food if it’s in front of me. It’s perfect.

Nerd Reactor: I’ve noticed you’ve done some voice acting work for games like Dead Rising 2, so I was wondering how that experience compares to doing a live action role.

Heather Doerksen: You know what? That’s a good question. It’s different because you have to try and harness everything that you would be able to portray in film through your body and your face just into your voice. So that took me a year when I first started, to figure out how to actually translate all of that emotion and power and whatever you need for the scene just into your voice. So a lot of times in the studio, you’ll see animation actors really getting into it with their bodies too, so they can encapsulate that into their voice. Sometimes they’re throwing a punch and they’re making a punching sound. Sometimes it’s a workout.

Nerd Reactor: For Dead Rising 2, were you able to play the game or do any research beforehand?

Heather Doerksen: You know, I was a super video game nerd when I was younger and then when technology started changing and all this 3D stuff, I just got left by the wayside. I loved Mario Bros. and Bubsy, where I had to be an alien cat and collect yarn balls. Those were my favorite video games growing up. Since then I don’t play much. My brother is totally addicted. But not me as much. I’m more into movies.

Nerd Reactor: Before you ventured into acting, you were majoring in science?

Heather Doerksen: That is correct. I was doing math and science. I loved doing those in high school too. I basically fell into the myth of artists not being able to make a living, and while I liked science and math, I changed my mind in my first year in university. I have to follow my heart, which says it’s acting. So when I graduated from the theater program at my university, I formed a theater/film company. We’d make short plays and we’d make short little films and would put on full length shows that we’d written, produced, directed and acted in ourselves. So we had control over the material. It was super fun.

Nerd Reactor: I guess since you went from science and math to theatre, doing the science fiction roles was kind of like paying back to science?

Heather Doerksen: Totally, it is. It’s like I’m using that side of my brain so that when I get onto set for the sci-fi stuff, I satisfy that part of my soul that was left behind back in my university days.

Nerd Reactor: Still great at math?

Heather Doerksen: I still am, although the other day I tried doing some simple calculations and I couldn’t do it. I actually was quite alarmed because back in the day I was the whippersnapper with the math. So I think it’s because I’ve started relying on technology. I need to start using my brain again.

Nerd Reactor: Damn calculators!

Heather Doerksen: Damn calculators! Why must you exist?

Nerd Reactor: Now you’re doing Pacific Rim. You play a character named Sasha Kaidanovsky. She’s a Russian character?

Heather Doerksen: Yeah. That’s right. She co-pilots Cherno Alpha, the Russian Jaeger with Aleksi Kaidanovsky, played by Robert Maillet, who used to be in WWE. He was Kurgan and – don’t tell anyone, but he’s just a big gentle giant. Yeah, Sasha Kaidanovsky, she’s a piece of work and she doesn’t take any crap from anybody.

Nerd Reactor: Did you have to practice the Russian accent, or were you adept at it before?

Heather Doerksen: I did a play about six years ago where I had to do the entire thing in a Russian accent, and so when this audition came up and we had to have a Russian accent for it, I just fell into it. And because I do voice as well, I can pick up accents pretty quickly. I still needed to work on it, but I think it’s what made it easier than if I had never done that play in the Russian accent.

Nerd Reactor: How did you land the role?

Heather Doerksen: They had auditions in Toronto, and I just landed in Toronto from Vancouver. It was the second audition that I had. I was supposed to be in New York, but I canceled my trip just for this audition. It was super short, I went in, I went out a few minutes later and then I heard on the phone a couple weeks after that. It’s crazy. There’s a whole series of events that happened to allow for me to go to this audition. And then I got it. It’s amazing.

Nerd Reactor: This is definitely a big, big movie, literally.

Heather Doerksen: It’s definitely big. Everything about it. There’s nothing small about this one.

Nerd Reactor: Did you ever got to see what you’re controlling – the Jaegers – during the shoot? Or was it all from your imagination?

Heather Doerksen: The first cast read through day, they had photos and pictures and 3D models of the Jaegers. And so we had an idea of what we were piloting. And it wasn’t until later in the shooting that we actually got to those scenes. And when we finally got there, they had built the head of the Jaegers. So that was physically there in the space, that was not green screen. We were inside the head of the Jaeger, strapped in, with the armor on our suits, throwing punches and blocking.

Nerd Reactor: The suits are pretty cool judging from the trailer, and it takes two pilots to control one giant Jaeger robot, so did you guys have to do any choreography for that?

Heather Doerksen: Yeah, we had a month of physical training, which also included fight choreography, stunt choreography, and we also had a dancer too so we could do some dance choreography. We had to learn how to sync up, me and Robert. He was almost 7 feet tall. So our bodies were so different; it took a lot of repetition to get us synchronized. When we were strapped in, we couldn’t see each other in the head of the Jaeger, we could just feel each other and do the movements at the same time. It was rigorous.

Nerd Reactor: Can you give us a little bit of background about your character in the movie?

Heather Doerksen: Basically you’ll find out where these two come from in the movie. They have a little bit of back story that makes it pretty clear why they’re involved, and why they’ve left the war. But there’s even more back story that I think will come out in the prequel graphic novel that’s coming out on Pacific Rim. So that’s going to tell you even more, and that will be available before the film is released.

Nerd Reactor: Cool, so I have to check that one out too.

Heather Doerksen: Yeah, I know, me too.

Nerd Reactor: Since we’re a nerd site and all, do you have any nerdy hobbies during your free time?

Heather Doerksen: I don’t know if it’s totally nerdy or not, but I like to find recipes on the Internet based on what I have in my fridge. So I will have like a cucumber and some yogurt and some lentils and go online and find the perfect recipe and sit in front with my laptop open and meticulously create some kind of weird recipe that I found from scratch that I found at home. It’ll take me like a few hours. I don’t know if that’s nerdy or not, but I love it. I love cooking.

Nerd Reactor: That’s sweet, and it can definitely count into even making it more nerdy, just build a spaceship out of the food.

Heather Doerksen: That’s what I’ll do next time. Or I’ll make it into some of those yarn balls.

Nerd Reactor: Oh yes! Yarn balls, yeah.

Heather Doerksen: The video game yarn, that’s what I’m going to do next time, John.

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John 'Spartan' Nguyen
John 'Spartan' Nguyen 9950 posts

Assassin, scoundrel, head honcho.