All appearances to the contrary, Tricia Helfer claims to be “like a guy” in many ways.
“I was never all that into ultra-feminine, ultra-girly things,” the former Battlestar Galactica vixen says. “I grew up on a farm. I’m much more of a tomboy.”
That’s one of the reasons Helfer is savoring her new role as a tough Texas Ranger in Killer Women, a series that premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday on ABC.
“I love running around with guns and doing my own stunt fighting and stunt driving,” she says.
She’s good at it, too. Not all of the actresses who play rugged law-enforcement types on TV are believable. But you buy it with Helfer, mainly because she’s got the physicality to back it up.
“I think my size has a lot to do with it,” she says. “I’m tall [5-foot-11] and I’m fit and I have a deeper voice, so it’s not a stretch for me.
“I’m not saying I could get in a fistfight with a male perp and come out the victor. But I can do the stunt choreography, the dance of who’s going to throw the punch and who’s going to duck, and make it look like I might win.”
The 39-year-old Canadian plays Molly Parker, one of only a few female Texas Rangers. Molly excels at reading people during an interrogation, but she’s also a woman of action, quick to mount up (in her SUV) and give chase when a villain is getting away.
“I loved the idea of playing Molly from the moment I read the script,” Helfer says. “I thought she was smart and fun and active. I liked that she had a quirky side [playing trumpet with a band in a club every Tuesday night] and also a vulnerability [getting out of a marriage in which she was treated badly].
“I found her to be well-rounded and likable.”
She also liked the idea that killers in the show are female. Women too often on TV are only the victims, she notes.
“What’s really interesting is the reasons why some women kill,” Helfer says. “Their reasons are often very different from why men kill.”
The show is based on a hit Argentine crime drama called Mujeres Asesinas. With the pilot episode filmed in March in Austin, production has moved to Albuquerque, N.M., beginning with episode two, and Killer Women shoots on the same stages where Breaking Bad filmed.
“Would I have preferred to shoot it in Texas?” Helfer says. “Yes, since it’s Texas Rangers, it would have been nice to have stayed in Texas. But New Mexico was also great. It’s a lovely area, and the crews were great.
“The decision to film where something is filmed is strictly a studio decision and a tax-credit decision. That’s something that’s outside of my control.”
Still, given that Helfer portrayed an iconic Texas actress, Farrah Fawcett, in one of her early breakthrough roles, later starred in a music video for the Old 97’s, a beloved Texas band, AND now plays a Texas Ranger, maybe she could qualify for honorary Texan status.
“I’ll take it,” she says. “It would be an honor.”
By the time production wrapped its first season in mid-December, Helfer had her Texas swagger down pat.
Feeling truly Texan, she had decided, starts with choosing the ideal cowboy hat. She got to the point that she felt almost naked without it.
“Your hat becomes more than just part of your wardrobe,” she says. “It’s an extension of who you are. The walk is a little easier when you’re wearing it. I loved having it.”
Just about the only thing Helfer does in the pilot that doesn’t seem completely genuine, in fact, is her trumpet playing. And sure enough, that was the only thing she was nervous about doing.
“I can’t play at all,” she admits. “And it’s not like faking a lot of musical instruments, where you get somebody else to play and just show close-ups of your hands, because you have to blow into a trumpet.
“Everybody was like, ‘Oh, just wing it.’ But I was like, ‘The valves are right here by my face!’ I didn’t actually have to play anything, thank goodness. I was faking. But I did take a couple of lessons.
“I hope I pulled it off, but I was terrified to do that scene.”