by Michael Logan
Mulgrew demands respect-even admiration.
Kate Mulgrew reclines in the study of her Brentwood home, pours a cup of tea, naughtily bats her lashes and says: “Let’s talk about sex.” No, the leading lady of Star Trek: Voyager doesn’t have carnal matters on her mind but, rather, sex as it pertains to Federation leadership.
“I can do things as Kathryn Janeway that no male Star Trek captain could … or maybe I should say would,” says the 40-year-old Mulgrew. “Men in power are inclined to deal with each other on a very primitive level – you know, ‘I’m in power, you’re in power, somebody’s gonna have to give up something here.’ But when women are in charge there is an altogether different dynamic. It is a fait accompli with any woman in a leadership role – even with Catherine the Great and other mercenary leaders – that there will be undercurrents of compassion and femininity. It would be foolish to say it should be ignored. It can’t be ignored. Kathryn can have deeper relationships with her crew and do it on a much freer level. And as an actress, I can liberate those feelings more easily than a man. I do not say this to boast: It’s just a fact.”
The former star of Mrs. Columbo – who has never before had the luxury of a long-running series – says she’s especially interested in seeing how the personal relationships among Voyager’s crew evolve. “For instance, I feel Kathryn and Tuvok began establishing a deep relationship from their very first scenes together,” she says. “That wasn’t what the writers intended – Vulcans, after all, are essentially emotionless beings – but because Tim Russ and I immediately connected in an emotional way, the writers are letting it creep into the scripts.”
Mulgrew is also intrigued by Janeway’s relationship with Chakotay, the Maquis commander (played by Robert Beltran) who was forced to take a secondary position when the two crews joined forces in the premiere episode. “He’s very fierce and extremely male and used to calling the shots. So Janeway has to deal with him on levels that a Picard or a Kirk probably never had to do.” Though there’s been little conflict scripted between Janeway and Chakotay during the early episodes, Mulgrew hopes and suspects that the Voyager writers will explore it down the road. “Let’s face it, here’s a guy who’s used to telling everybody what to do – most importantly women. The Maquis are still looking at him to lead them. Kathryn constantly has to intercede about B’Elanna’s behavior and sometimes he overrides me. Sooner or later it seems there will have to be big tension between them. But this ship’s not gonna fly any way but Kathryn’s. To her, protocol is everything, especially when you’re lost in space.”
The firm-jawed, chisel-cheeked, Iowa-born Mulgrew – second oldest of eight children – says she was born to play boss: “It’s rare that you meet a woman who you honestly think could command a ship of 200 people. I have that quality – and it has lost me lots of roles. There have been some weeks when I’ve had 10 rejections. When you go back five, six times and it’s down to the wire and you don’t get the job, that’s brutal. That’s cryin’ time. I’m just not your first choice for vulnerable and sexually accessible, you know? And that’s by and large what producers want. They aren’t fond of seeing women as leaders. They don’t want to see us take command and dole it out – they want to see us give something up.”
During the first go-round in Janeway casting, Mulgrew was just one of many actresses being considered for the role (the list included Lindsay Wagner, Linda Hamilton, Kate Jackson, Patsy Kensit, Tracy Scoggins, Chelsea Field, Joanna Cassidy and Lindsay Crouse). But after movie star Genevieve Bujold – who was initially cast as Janeway – took a sudden hike on her second day of filming, the field of contenders narrowed considerably.
“In the end, it was really between me and two other
actresses – who shall remain nameless,” says Mulgrew. She has several theories
as to why she won the brass ring: “For a part like this, you don’t want
a face you’ve seen a lot. If Lindsay Wagner walks in, we all know she’s
great but she’s been doing it for years, right? People know who I am but
they don’t immediately go, ‘Oh, that’s Kate Mulgrew from such-and-such.’”
And, despite their name value, many of the contenders were just too ‘90’s: “They needed someone with vocal authority, someone who spoke well, someone with dignity. They needed a classic. And they also needed someone with great room presence – a woman who walks into a room and you just have to look at her. I was given no acting notes [during the auditions]. There was no, ‘Why don’t you try this or that?’ You either had it or you didn’t. They were looking for stamina and fortitude and guts. Whoever played Janeway had to have the strength of a man. You’re on your feet 18 hours a day. There’s very little time to relax. You must have somebody who can memorize and who can convincingly relay the scientific language – and do it interestingly. You can’t have somebody who wants to go over a scene 52 times. I had the track record. If they’re as smart as I think they are, they probably made a few phone calls and checked me out.”
Then again, Mulgrew concedes she might have gotten the part because the producers were at wit’s end: “I think they were tired. I wouldn’t be surprised if everybody was just so exhausted and anxious to get on with things that they didn’t want to look any further. Whatever the case, I’m very happy this didn’t happen to me at 25. It’s almost as if God has said, “Now, I’m going to let you relax and enjoy and do what you always wanted to do.”
Mulgrew’s spotty movie career – which has included far fewer hits (Throw Momma From The Train) than flops (such as the notoriously stinky Tristan And Isolde, in which she starred opposite Richard Burton) – has long been a sore subject.
“I regret I have not done good films, but that’s probably my fault. I didn’t raise my sights high enough. I can look at a career like Genevieve Bujold’s and be completely envious. She’s a deeply introspective and subjective actress – a movie actress. That’s why she knew in two hours that Voyager wasn’t going to work. She works from within and takes two days to film two pages – and it’s a glorious two pages, the kind of in-depth work every actress dreams of doing.
“For the last few years I’ve had that awful, gnawing feeling that I’d left some stone unturned, and I think that stone was Voyager. This is my chance to sell a whole persona – someone who has both integrity and confidence, who has her up days and down days, who can run a ship but misses her lover, who’s afraid but concurrently strong. She can be everything. That’s what I think Roddenberry would have liked.”
Mulgrew is especially enthusiastic about plans for Janeway to indulge in holo-novels – a series of episodic, virtual-reality plots, one of which she says “will allow her to go back to the late 19th-century American West where a pioneering spirit and a kind of primitive physicality were necessary for survival. Her absolute womanliness can express itself there. She can have children, which she does not have in real life. She can show love in a way she can’t do on board ship – and do it in a time where a simple and passionate language prevailed. That’s a smart move on the part of the writers to help us get under Janeway’s skin. I also want to see her go to the era of the French Revolution and the Italian Renaissance. I want to see her pose for da Vinci! I’m going to put a bug in the writers’ ears about that.”
The single mother of two boys (Ian, 11, and Alec, 10), Mulgrew has thus far nixed all but two offers to make personal appearances on behalf of Voyager – one at a Trek convention in nearby Pasadena, the other at the White House, where she spoke before Hillary Clinton and the Association of Women in Science.
“I won’t let anything get in the way of this job or my family. I can’t imagine working ‘til the early hours of the morning and then hopping on a plane to a sci-fi gathering in Denver. For some of the company who have a lighter load, it’s a great way to make some extra money, but the weekends are the only times I have for my boys. Believe me, I’m not complaining, but I’ve never worked so hard in my life. I’m really busting my chops and I hope it shows. At my old age, I’m not about to take this opportunity for granted. On a show like this, you better pull yourself up by your bootstraps and marshal all your strengths and realize that you’re a lucky person to be there and you better do your best. People are paying me a lot of money, you know? It’s not enough to just stand there and bark out commands. When I get home, I prepare for the next day’s work very carefully, and it’s got to turn out every bit as well as I dreamed it would be the night before. I take this very seriously.”
But, of course, not too seriously. Admits Mulgrew:
“Sometimes this stuff can get kind of silly – especially at three in the
morning when I’m trying to maintain composure and play a scene with Neelix
and the Vulcan. It’s times like that where I will dissolve into tears of
laughter and wet my pants. But then this life is silly, you know.”