November 9, 1999
Dispatch TV/Radio Critic
As the captain of the lone remaining tent pole in the STAR TREK television franchise, she shoulders plenty of pressure. Kate Mulgrew is up to the task, though -- and more at ease than ever before in her role as Capt. Kathryn Janeway on the sci-fi series Star Trek: Voyager, which focuses on a starship struggling to return home after getting lost many light-years away.
Playing the first female lead in the history of the STAR TREK series, Mulgrew has become a part of TV history.
One reason she feels so little anxiety, perhaps, is her young marriage to Cleveland politico Tim Hagan, the actress acknowledged during a break from filming.
"Rest assured I've never been happier," she said. "Maybe it's true we have to take a rather eclectic journey to find out who we are. But he's great."
Mulgrew also knows that the pressure of this season could never match that of the first, which began in January 1995.
When she was hired at the last minute to replace Genevieve Bujold, she didn't grasp what she was taking on. "I didn't know, but, interestingly enough, Tim Hagan knew," she said with a wry chuckle. "We were involved at that time. He said, 'I don't think you realize what you're getting yourself into.' I said, 'It's a job; it's a good job."
"He sent me a case of tranquilizers."
"I think it's good I didn't know. The first year was fraught enough with the pressures, the demands and, I might say, the terror. All of that was sufficient to keep me well on my toes. And I think now, in retrospect, that's what they saw -- a natural approach to the captain."
The producers also saw her commanding, strong-willed presence, which she developed as the oldest girl in a family of eight. Her siblings, she said, " would be the first among many to say that I had a presence -- and a bossiness -- that leads."
The STAR TREK role, Mulgrew said, has had an influence beyond hard-core fans. "Not only young women but their mothers -- to read some of the mail, to hear some of their words. Some female students from MIT, I actually changed their lives. They were indecisive about physics, didn't know if they had the chops, and Janeway inspired them. Television is a very powerful medium. It can liberate an otherwise-paralyzed hope."
"My hope is that when I eventually walk away from the role I could have shared that kind of freedom with this young and vibrant generation of women."
Although the character has inspired many viewers, Janeway was joined on the Voyager bridge in the fourth season by a female character whose appeal includes a skintight suit and spike heels. Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) did not initially sit well with Mulgrew.
"I think I felt, reflecting on it as I have, my ego was bruised far more than myself as an actress," she said. "I had hoped that playing the first female captain would be sufficient without appealing to a rather common denominator. I think my full understanding, at age 41 or 42, though, was that this is a numbers game. After a time of turmoil, I came to realize it's about money. If more young men tune in to see a beautiful young woman, so be it. "She's a good girl, just trying to make a living. It was a pretty tough situation, and it's all worked out. Most things do, you know."
Even for the Voyager crew? The central plot -- the quest to return home -- has grown from a curiosity to an annoyance.
"I would think they will try to find a way home by the end of the season. It just opens so many possibilities, so many transitions: What does it mean to return to Federation space for all these people who have been away for so long? What would it be like for their families? There are so many transitions.... From a creative as well as political standpoint, it would be wise. However, I rather think they (the writers) enjoy surprising us."
When the series ends, Mulgrew said, she'll return to the stage or, because of the 17-hour shooting days, take "a very long and unprecedented nap."
"It's a bicoastal marriage right now, so I'll catch up to my husband; I'll launch my sons (two teenagers) into the world and try to be reflective. For seven years I've wondered if I had the ability any longer to be reflective."
"I think this chapter will inform all ensuing chapters. Janeway has captured the imaginations of millions of Star Trek fans who previously were otherwise neutral about me. I'd be a very silly girl not to acknowledge Janeway's influence in the future."
"If I want to do a play, for
instance, the producers of it would look at with a more clear, astute view
about my marketability, which has been greatly enhanced....If I play my
cards right, it can be the best of both worlds -- not to use Janeway but
to further her in other roles. She is, after all, an extension of myself."