The Stella Adler Theatre
Los Angeles, California
Saturday, August 5, 2000
Thank you to the Stella Adler Academy of Acting & Theatres
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Back to Part I
Q: Are you interested or are you now doing anything on the production side?
KM: I'm not really interested in the production side. Are you talking about television? No, I think if I were galvanized by a certain project perhaps I would be. But, having experienced so much television, I would tell you I'm very leery of the production side.
To answer that question.
Q: Are there any particular roles that you want to play?
KM: Masha in The Three Sisters, which at my age I could do in a VERY large theater, I suppose. (Stretches arm through air to emphasize large and laugh) The Scottish Play. I would really love to get my teeth into her. All of Pinter. I love David Hare. Some of these new plays are very exciting. There is a lot to do. There’s a lot to do. Any Shakespeare.
Q: You say you got your first acting role in two weeks after getting the agent. Has your career kind of been up and down? Have you had long patches when you didn't work? Have you always been working?
KM: I've certainly always worked enough to make quite a good living at it. But I've had some tough years. Had a lot of rejection. That's when you find out how serious you are about acting. I mean there were days, weeks, months of four or five auditions a day. How many would that be a week? Nothing. Agents don't call you back. Nothing. You just have to reach down very deep and say to yourself 'this too shall pass.' But to answer your questions, sure. Here particularly. Very tough here. You know? Very tough here. I went through long spells without any kind of great work. I snatched something. I used my voice a great deal. I was lucky enough to use my voice. A lot of voiceover work. But the cosmetic emphasis here never worked in my favor. Would that have had something to do with my attitude? (laughs) But, yes, indeed, and I think you cannot count yourself an actor unless you have suffered and been badly rejected and gone long periods without the work that you love. That fuels the fire, and that hones you, I think. It's a discipline that has stood me in good stead. There are going to be arid years ahead. I'm not getting younger. This is a business which is inclined very much towards youth. I would like to age with grace and dignity. I understand that the roles will be fewer and farther between and I would like to be able to accept that with some depth and equanimity. So I'm always aware of the transience of all things – to give you a very long winded answer. Yes?
Q: I read an article about a pillow that you have that you bought before you could afford it. I'd really like to hear the story behind that. What possessed you to buy that pillow?
KM: I bought a pillow and I bought a painting. The pillow was $375 and the painting was $12,500. I was waiting tables at Friar Tuck's during the day and tending bar at night. Right? I'm running around auditioning like an idiot in between. The pillow was easy because I had just cashed my check from the week before, so I gave her 200 bucks and took it. It was a beautiful needlepoint pillow. What I was doing on the upper east side is anybody's guess. Who knows, but I saw it in one of those chic boutiques and it said 'Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you want it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it comes and softly sits upon your shoulder.' That was during a period of great rejection. I went in and you know, the woman took my 200 and I gave her the extra 175 as the eight weeks went by and I've had that pillow ever since. It is still on my living room couch. I look at it and I think 'you must have known something, even at seventeen.' And the Fred MacDuff painting that I bought on 57th St. is a remarkable story because I was 18. I had no money and I saw it in the window and I thought 'I must have it.' Of course I come from painters. My mother is a painter and paintings to me have always been probably the most exalting form of solitary art. I thought if I could just have it up on my wall, I could face every day. And I went in and I actually negotiated with the gallery owner. And over a period of I guess it was two years or three years I paid for the painting, but she gave me the painting. It is in my dining room today. Beautiful painting. You should always do that. You can't go wrong investing in art. How funny you know that story. Anybody else?
Q: First thanks for coming and meeting with us.
KM: It's my pleasure.
Q: I'm curious about your experience in actually getting the role of Captain Janeway. You know, how did you actually get the first audition and between that and actually getting the part what did you have to go through?
KM: Hell. It was an altogether very difficult time in my life. I had just left my husband. I had two young sons and I took them to Ireland. Let me see if I can reconstruct this. I took my boys to Ireland after I asked my husband for a divorce. I thought we'd spend the month on the west coast of Ireland recovering and taking it easy. It was there that I got the phone call from my agent saying 'Listen, they're doing a new Star Trek series and they're actually thinking about a female captain. If I were you, I'd get on a plane.' And I said, 'Well, you know, isn't that interesting. You're not me. And I'm not getting on a plane. I have to take care of these two little kids.' Right? So, we had the month in Dingle.
I came back and I went to New York first and my agent called me in New York. 'They can't cast it. Get down to Times Square. They'd like to put you on tape.' So I went down to Times Square in the pouring rain in the middle of the day and gave the most abysmal audition. I looked at the camera when I was finished with the audition. It was like a two page monologue when I got them lost in the Delta Quadrant and I'm finished and I looked at the camera and I went 'forgive me for this appalling piece, but I met this guy when I was in Ireland and I'm about to go and meet him for a drink right now and my head is just not here.' Can you imagine them looking at that tape?
So I get the script. This actually becomes quite a good story. I can't get a taxi. I run all the way up town to meet this man who became my husband last year. Right? This was seven years ago. I'm running, running, running. I'm meeting him at the Mayflower. I'm so in love I can't even breathe. I can not breathe. Me heart is (palpitation hand motions) doing that with my raincoat. I knocked on the door and he opened the door and I said 'Oh my god, I love this man so much,' and he said 'Come in here, you look like a drowned rat (motions taking the script out of her hand), what's that?' I said, 'Oh this thing? Throw it away.' 'No, no, let me look at it. This is Star Trek: Voyager, what is it?' I said 'Oh, they're doing some sort of stupid thing with Star Trek.' 'A female captain?' 'Yeah, yeah, I guess so.' He said, 'You're gonna get this.' True Genevieve Bujold was offered the part. That week, I believe. French Canadian actress, right? So I said to him 'see, so much for your predictions.'
She lasted one and a half days on the set. One and a half days of --- somebody told me the story --- of walking onto the bridge like (does Bujold doing Janeway impression) 'Good morning Mr. Kim, Lt. Tuvok. Engage.' You know what a great actress she is. Obviously she wasn't meant to play Captain Janeway. God bless her, and I've always admired her for this because there was a lot of dough involved, I'm sure. She quit. She said 'I can't do it. I just haven't got the constitution for this. Two 18 hour days and I'm just --- I'll never make it.' And God bless her, because if she had persevered, it would have been a disaster.
So then Paramount scrambled. This is a big franchise for them. They make a lot of money. Now they're really in --- right? The one time they try a broad, she gives it a day and a half. Right? They pulled four of us back in. Four women they thought might be able to do it and started to comb the country for men. You know. Movie stars. They wanna go back to men. Obviously only a man knows how to walk on the bridge.
But they took four of us back. Four of us who'd already auditioned and they did a knock out. Do you know what that is? Have any of you been through this? All the executive producers including studio personnel are in the room. There were 30 people in the room at the time. All suits. Right? You couldn't perceive an expression in their faces if it were the bloody last moment in the history of time. Right? And you know they are down to the wire.
So they take the four actresses. They put us all in separate rooms and they give you two scenes with two different characters and they keep going until one by one you are knocked out. Right? Just awful. Awful. So I said to myself --- Helen Shaver was in there forever and they were screaming with laughter. Running out and getting drinks and going back in -- howling with laughter and I know she's got it. Right? She's a very good actress. She was in there 45 minutes. Then they called me. I went in there and I said --- I couldn't joke, you know --- I just did it. I was in there for seven minutes. They came out and said 'Ladies, thank you very much. That will be all.' No hanging around. No you're dismissed, you come back. Nothing.
It was Yom Kippur. I'll never forget it. Yom Kippur, because two days, you know what happens in Hollywood during Yom Kippur. Nothing. The second day of Yom Kippur, I went to the market, got some food. I was driving home. It was almost out of my mind. Right? Standing on the porch is my housekeeper of 16 years, Lucy, and my two sons like this (stands at anxious attention). 'Oh senora, you gotta come in now and you gotta play your messages. I know you don't like…' I never play my messages because I hate to. 'Please, I beg you, play.' My little guys are standing there. Right? One message. Two message. Three message. Four… 'Ah, Ms. Mulgrew, this is Rick Berman. I'm the executive producer of Star Trek: Voyager, and I would just like to say welcome aboard, Captain.' (Gets down on knees and folds hand in prayer.) Second time in my life! And Lucy opened the champagne. And that was it. But that was breathtaking and breathless that first year.
It's one thing to be tried in an arena like the theater, which is fair. Right? I'm on the stage. You're in the audience. But that arena, those 30 suits, some 30 suits were there every day for months. And honey, I'm telling ya, (stands with arms crossed, scowl on face, imitating the 'suites') it was all I could do just to keep my heart pumping because there is absolutely no read out. You are getting nothing. Cut. Print. Next. And everyday they would go back and talk about it for hours. What are we going to do with her hair? What are we going to do with her voice? What are we going to do with her figure? There wasn't anything about my acting. All superficial. Changed my hairdo eight times in the first season. They didn't know what to do with somebody who wasn't bald. They were absolutely fit to be tied with what to do with a woman. Absolutely fit to be tied. So that first year was just --- but I pulled it off, you know? And here we are, seven years later. They've left my hair alone. Any other questions?
Q: I'm 18 years old and I've been a big fan of yours ever since you've been on Voyager because you're really good. I just wanted to know how it feels to know that there are people my age who do look up to you?
KM: Marvelous. You give me hope. You make it all worthwhile. Do you understand that? Obviously I've done something that moves you and that is deeply important to you. How much more gratifying can it possibly be?
Q: I have your life size cardboard cut out in the bedroom. I've read all about you…(speaker isn't clear at this point)…you can do anything.
KM: You can. You can do anything. Thank you. It means a lot. You have your whole life ahead of you. Right? You can do anything you like. Do you believe that? Do you?
KM: You should. It's a big joke it goes on forever. It's a very, very, very short trip. There's only one shot. Take it. It's yours. Take it and take it without apology. Take no prisoners. Yes?
Q: Did you have any idea or did you ever say a prayer at some point that you would have the influence that you have and be able to be the person that you are to some of these girls? I mean, I feel like acting is my calling. That's what I'm supposed to do and I strive to be able to act with that love that I can move girls that much that they look up to me and I wanted to know if you ever said that prayer. If you had any clue.
KM: No. No clue at all. That, particularly this role of Kathryn Janeway would have such an influence on young women. And I know this for a fact. I was asked to the White House in my first season, or perhaps it was my second season. Women of science were being honored and they asked me to come representing --- you know (rolls eyes) --- how to do it. Well, all right. I'll go. A lot of women from NASA - chief engineers, astrophysicists. It was quite overwhelming. The First Lady spoke. And then I had to speak at the Kennedy Center the next night. Which I did with my usual palaver, Right? And when I finished the First Lady said to me 'We have the award winning students of science here to meet you in a small group from all over the country.' MIT, Stanford, Berkeley. There were about sixteen girls and one girl came up to me and said, 'You know, I was watching Voyager one night with my mother and I looked at her and I said, if Hollywood understands that this is possible, mother, what am I doing sitting around? I applied at MIT and I've been accepted in the’ – I believe' it was one of those advanced programs for astrophysics and she said, 'I'm going to be a chief engineer at NASA, and that's because of you.' Now that was more moving to me than, I would say, a zillion fans saying 'we adore you' because she obviously had looked. Right? And saw something in the program of enough quality to motivate her to do that. So that has been a great privilege, a great privilege and I'm taking it quite seriously. I have in no way been dismissive or cavalier about that. But, that's what I mean when I say I took on a phenomenon when I took on this role. I had no clue. This embraces so many other factors and moments and it's a way of life, not just a job.
Q: I'm not an actor, Kate, I'm a professor of religion and I need to let you know in the academic world of religion, Kathryn Janeway has been studied as a role model for teaching and confidence in women's groups.
KM: Really? How nice. I'm honored. She is, I guess, a creature of mythology now, isn't she? And how is she present in what you are teaching?
Q: I think just the layers of nuance. What we hear you talk about Stella Adler really allows me to see carry on that trajectory to character and carries on to many of us. We have a small group discussion session on academic topics and here's one: Janeway As a Role for Teaching. And many of them are talking about just a sense of presence. The integration role itself in the process of teaching and instilling both morality and confidence. The key to connecting with the person rather than --- much like you are talking about the audience and actor and that same kind of interaction.
KM: How great. What wonderful words those two words are. Morality and confidence. If they can be attributed to Janeway, that makes my year.
Q: I think they can be attributed to you.
KM: Thank you. And Stella by default.
Q: How many years did you do Ryan's Hope and why did you leave?
KM: Because soap operas are really nowhere. I mean I'm not biting the hand that fed me so graciously and so well, but a soap opera, is by it's very nature is a very limiting genre. Very taxing too. And without reward. 30 pages of dialogue, which you may not rehearse. Substantively there's just no process to it. You come in in the morning; you're given a very quick blocking rehearsal. Then you tape. If you screw up you tape maybe twice or three times. But it's really a race to the finish. There's an accelerated sense of needing to get it done without screwing up the words.
Q: Did you adlib a lot, because I've seen reruns and it looks like ---
KM: No. I have been blessed with --- every time I say this, I say it with great care --- I have a photographic memory, so I don't think I've ever forgotten a line in my life. I mean, I see it and I internalize it. No, but I just thought why am I wasting my time. And, in fact, Stella's presence was very haunting to me at that time. She warned me not to do that. She warned me to avoid that and the pitfalls of television. You can't internalize them, you can't rehearse, you can't learn, you can't grow, you can't possibly challenge yourself. And who knew that this soap would become so wildly successful?
Q: But you don't regret it?
KM: How could I regret it? I met my two best friends, Nancy Addison and Claire Labine there. No, I don't regret it. But I would certainly advise or counsel those of you who are even thinking about it to avoid it, if at all possible. It's not the way to go out of the gate. Go later.
Q: I know that after a lot of Star Trek shows are over there's a movie. So would you ever meet the bald one in a movie? Do a movie with the Picard character?
KM: And shoot the bald one?
Q: And shoot the bald one.
KM: Is that what I have to do? I don't think that we will be doing movies. They may take some of my characters like Bob Picardo who plays the doctor, Seven of Nine. Cross over characters. Maybe they could integrate them with The Next Generation, but I'd like to see Janeway --- should I say this out loud? Last frame of the season (waves good bye). That's my dream.
Q: What do you think about the creators of Star Trek creating a new series after Voyager?
KM: I think that it's very profitable. And that's the bottom line, right? Brannon Braga is a very smart guy. Very creative, talented writer. But I would have to say quickly if I were to be very honest with you, undoubtedly it’s about money. Because in my opinion, although I may be alone in this, I don't think I am, whereas the market may not be fully saturated with Star Trek or science fiction, it needs a moment of relief. You can only do so many years concentrated before the thing exhausts itself on a creative level. I mean you must take a window, just let it go for a while. And I think to pry this out shows the very worst face of the bank. Do you understand what I mean? So that's my thought about that.
Q: Do you find acting in science fiction different than, I mean just in terms of the things it calls upon your character, more difficult, or do you have to approach it a different way?
KM: I know exactly what you are asking. It is infinitely more difficult than anything I've ever before done in my life. There are strict parameters and confines to this character beyond which I may not go. I mean that is it. They are unbelievably rigorous. Talk about if I invert a line or do a 'the' or an 'or' or a mispronunciation or even an attitude that they feel is not completely appropriate to the Janeway that I have created, they will reshoot it. I have to be very careful and very clever to slip in my dimensions for her and for that reason, it's been great. It's challenged me on that most difficult of all levels. Can you do it without letting them know you’re doing it?
I mean this season, for instance, I have determined, and I was writing this down in my journal. I've kept a journal all through these years. Boy does that read like a soap opera. And I wrote down the other day, 'this is my season for stillness and simplicity, and if I can't find it deep, I'm going to leave it alone.' You know a lot of the Star Trek stuff is this (strikes several Star Trek/Janeway poses) and I think if you are just very, very still, something interesting will happen. So that's my challenge for this season. It's fun. The rest of the crew is falling asleep, but I think it's fun. Yes?
Q: Have you and DeLancie decided to do anything with “The Lion and the Portuguese”?
KM: Oh, he just called me, actually, the day before yesterday. She’s re-written – were you there? In Denver. I guess she’s re-written, and – you know John…
Q: He found her?
KM: ,,,we would go back to the original, the piece we did in Denver, which I thought was quite workable, didn’t you? I’d love to take that and maybe travel with it. He’s a great actor, isn’t he? Such a dear friend of mine. But I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s a wonderful story, isn’t it? Elizabeth Barrett Browning. A whole bunch of Trekkers and they just adored it. Anybody else?
Q: Was there a certain point when you were studying with Stella, that you thought “I can do this now”… and you knew that it was time to go out and lie and do it…
KM: Well. When I did it. But I didn’t think it was time. And she was right. If I had waited a little longer, I don’t think I would have taken the soap opera. I think I would have made braver decisions. Of course, starvation notwithstanding – I had to get something! But her counsel to me was – and I think she was disappointed that I made that decision - she wanted me to complete that last year. And I see now the validity of it. But I’ve always been one to jump the gun, hon, you know. And anyway it’s sort of pointless and heartbreaking to look back and wonder what if. We don’t have that luxury. I did what I did. And it was really a hell of a ride. So (Kate throws her hand up) those are the choices that I made. Yes? Anybody?
Q: I always enjoy seeing you on the Tom Snyder show.
KM: Oh, he’s great.
Q: I was wondering, do you enjoy doing talk shows?
KM: I enjoy doing Tom Snyder, because he’s a Jesuit. And he’s so interesting, and provocative and compelling, right. He’s smart. The rest of them are just (Kate makes quacking gestures with her hands) so… And that’s why I think he went off the air, he’s too smart for late night television. He’s too engaging. You know, they don’t really want you to get that involved in any subject, like Jesus Christ, or abortion or anything that might actually be interesting. So I’ve always thought he was a terrific guy. Hard thing to do, late night talk show. Very hard. Yes?
Q: You spoke about being bigger than life and electric and Stella giving you advice as far as being full of electricity. Can you explain a little bit more about that.
KM: It’s like trying to define presence. It’s almost impossible to do it. It’s an intangible, that some people possess and therefore can convey. Some people don’t. Stella not only possessed it, she was unfamiliar with anything less than. An electrifying presence. Surely you’ve felt it in your lifetime. Have you ever been in the presence of greatness? Have you? Maybe not (Kate stands up quickly). The world has changed so much. It’s really full of dull people now, isn’t it?
When I was young, in New York City – Stella being, of course majesty – there were a lot of people like that in the theater. It was fabulous to be in the theater. It was a great privilege and honor to be an actor. No (Kate hunches up and imitates a mumbling student)… Stella would walk in and one look – and you knew that if you did not rise, you just weren’t cut out, in her opinion. You could just join the masses of the boring, sloppy, lazy fools, right? She just loathed mediocrity. And I don’t care if part of it was pretence. Or artifice. I don’t really care. In fact I think it must be an obligation on the part of the person who possesses that kind of presence to do that. Do you think every day of her life she wanted to feel like that? She made herself like that. Because it was her job to teach us to stand up like dignitaries of the theater. You just don’t see that any more, you know. Actors sit around, they look like they’re drug addicts to me. Really. (Kate throws herself back down on the bed) You know. (Kate mumbles…)Yeahh… and if they could possibly mumble and drool at the same time. And the girls (Kate grabs at her breasts) with the things, and the… and I just want to say - you missed it. You all missed it. You missed that thing. Very few people have that opportunity, and thank God for that. And I remember sitting in her class and thinking – this I will take with me to my grave. And I will tell you that every time I have walked on the stage, or walked in front of the camera, I have said to myself I’m going to do this for Stella. And if I fall on my ass, I will do it with dignity.
And that’s something (Kate gets up from the bed). I mean, you have choices, right? You could do this (Kate walks towards the wings), I mean this is okay (She walks back onto the stage in a matter of fact manner) “Hi” (She heads back to the wings) That’s okay. (She makes another ‘entrance’) Or you could say - I now have to make myself up – or you could do this (She walks on with ‘presence’). “Hi”. It’s just (Kate gestures ‘up’) you have to - if you’re going to stand on the stage – pick it up. Pick it up. The world is full of people who will be lying on the ground. You’re not supposed to do that when you’re on stage. You’re supposed to pick it up. You understand that? Am I talking to students here or should I be talking to these students? You know? And take it down (Kate gestures down). Speak loudly. Speak clearly. Don’t say dude and don’t say fool. Although Stella did say the “F” word with great oomph! (Kate snaps her fingers) Yes?
Q: Did Stella Adler talk about her training with Stanislavsky?
KM: A little bit. Usually when we were discussing Lee Strasberg. (Kate does an imitation of Stella, smoothing back her hair, leaning back on the bed) Which was allowed over martinis only. Yes, but she was not very professorial about that. She was an actress, don’t forget that. She would tell it, for a little bit, and then she would want to see it executed. She had no time for – she really did not like to waste time in that regard. There was not a lot of chit chat. It was fast, and it was very clear what you had to do. So we knew we were studying Stanislavsky, we knew that of course, but she expected us to do a lot of that research ourselves. Classwork time was very precious. Yes?
Q: Thank you so much for your gift in giving us so generously, it is so appreciated.
KM: Oh I… thank you.
Q: Two questions. Number one, I have a sense you have a Catholic background.
KM: That I have a Catholic background? You have a sense of that?
Q: (question was unintelligible)
KM: I have a sense that YOU have a Catholic background!
Q: And number two, what do you think of these big casting workshops now where we have to pay to be seen? Do you feel that we should go in for that in order to get work?
KM: I’ll answer that one first.
KM: No. No. I don’t know what it’s come to. What is that? What IS that? And I want you all to promise me that every time you have an audition, go in and just – use them. Exhibit no fear. Who are they? Huh? Idiots writing (Kate stops suddenly and puts her hand over her mouth in reaction to her statement)… No. And you should never pay to be seen. I would say go and work in waiver theater. Go down, knock on every door you can knock on. Do everything. Make sure that those auditions are full of everything that you’ve got to give them. If nothing else you’ll leave and they’ll go ‘my god, what was that that just came in here?’ Instead of the usual ‘thank you so much (Kate mimes a meek handshake), thank you for seeing me, I’m so glad you could see me (she emphasizes her breasts), oh really? Are they big enough? (She smoothes her hair and ‘wiggles’)’ Don’t do it. All right?
And to answer your first question. Yes, yes, yes. My background is Catholic. I have never been satisfied with any role that I have done, and I am in a constant state of certainty that this was a mischosen profession for me. Like everybody else as well! Pretty much, except when – I’m in heaven. Yes?
Q: You said your father did not want you to act.
KM: Uh huh.
Q: When he found out – did he know all along that you were lying to him, did he find out at some point? And if so, did that sort of constrain your relationship? But now that you have become what you are that you are now a lot more accepted at home?
KM: This is a very strange thing. I come from a very large Irish Catholic family, right? There were eight kids. My mother adored me. And in fact has had no hesitation, appallingly, in saying to everybody, all her life, that I was her favorite child. So naturally my father, being of sound mind figured ‘I gotta do something’. And he resisted giving in to me – I think - adoring me I believe would be the word – the way my mother did. My father acted as a catalyst and it was a good thing that he did. I think he did that for me. But my father is an extremely male, patriarchal, dominant personality who preferred that his sons become accomplished in life, and has never seen me on Star Trek: Voyager. I don’t think he’s ever watched an episode. He came once to the theater and left at ‘half time’. (Kate shrugs) But my mother’s seen everything. She’s always there. And that’s the way it goes. I love my father. I really think that (Kate’s gestures indicate a scale), you know, if it weren’t for him I probably wouldn’t have had that kind of drive. He gave me drive. He looked at me and he said ‘you know you’re going to break your neck, kid. It’s not for you.’ ‘Watch my dust, Daddy.’
Q: I was wondering, do you dabble in any other artistic areas?
KM: No. I’m not a polymath as my mother would say. I love to cook. I’m a voracious reader. But I don’t play a musical instrument. I don’t paint. I write. But the acting’s been pretty consuming. It really has consumed me. I have had a wild, passionate love affair with this. And I think it’s saved my life. And I would say that - Irene looks like we need to end - I would say that if you can make the commitment to acting, as I did, with your whole heart and soul, knowing that there will be significant suffering and sacrifice involved, in the end you will have learned the greatest lesson there is to learn in life. That if you love something unerringly, and if you forgive it all its sins, it will reward you in the end. That’s what art is. Thank you all, very much.
Irene Gilbert: You can applaud forever, but what I want to tell you is I’ve just asked Kate a question. I really hope someday that you will not just stay in New York forever, but come here, and teach here.
KM: I’d love to. You were a wonderful audience. Thank you very much.
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