The Female Frontier
By Ian Spelling
|It’s been three years since Captain Janeway
completed her epic journey back to Earth, but Kate Mulgrew remains firmly
associated with her work on Star Trek: Voyager. “It still has a wonderful
shine that I don’t think will ever fade,” she tells Ian Spelling
No one travelled further or broke more new ground than Kate Mulgrew. As the Star Trek franchise's first female lead, Captain Kathryn Janeway. Mulgrew claimed a place in TV history and gallantly led the Starship Voyager's quest to return to Earth after being propelled 70,000 light years across the galaxy. Janeway's command pitted her against all manner of foes - from Klingons and Borg to Hirogen and Species 8472 - and also provided an unforgettable showcase for Mulgrew during Voyager's original run between 1995 and 2001.
In the three years since Voyager ceased production, its 49-year-old star has enjoyed great success with Tea at Five, a one-woman stage play based on the life of the late actress Katharine Hepburn. More recently, she played Julie Cavendish in the George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber play, The Royal Family.
With Voyager receiving a new lease of life on DVD, dreamwatch catches up with the popular American actress to find out how she feels about the show today and quiz her about life in the wake of her return to the Alpha Quadrant...
Dreamwatch: Were you fully aware of the importance of portraying the first female lead on a Star Trek series when you were originally cast as Captain Kathryn Janeway? And how do you feel about that achievement now?
Well, I think that it was overwhelmingly important at the time. It was so highly scrutinised and the anticipation was so great. I was so looking forward to it at that time. In the wake of it, it still has a wonderful shine that I don't think will ever fade, certainly not in the eyes of the extraordinary fan base, which supported me and to whom I owe a great deal. I very much feel the weight of it now. And those seven years are absolutely complete within my memory.
Everyone connected with Star Trek has discussed the pros and cons of being associated with the franchise after their shows had ceased production, What's been your own experience of the pros and cons?
The pros, to be perfectly frank, were to play a role that was much sought after and to be generously compensated. Another of the pros was the chance to be an important player in that world. In addition, I got a chance to make my stamp as a television lead in a way that I had never seen before, as the captain of this spaceship. I love rigourous, hard work, and I got it. As time progressed I was more and more able to get involved. They allowed me to be more hands-on, which I loved. I loved so much of the company and came away with great and enduring friendships. This is irreplaceable in my mind.
The downside is that there is a stigma. A lot of people immediately think. `Kate Mulgrew - oh, Captain Janeway.' As an actress I hope to have 20 or 30 years of work left in me, and hopefully that stigma can he overcome. But it's a small price to pay, and I've always said that and been aware of it.
Have you revisited the show at all on DVD?
I haven't watched any of the old episodes. I haven't seen them in years. I've been very busy and I never watch anything again. Why would I? So, no.
You probably should check out season one on DVD, though, if only to see the footage of Genevieve Bujold playing Janeway, before she quit the show. It’s exciting to compare and contrast the two of you…
Oh, how fascinating. Now I am going to go get it! [Laughs] How interesting is that?
Season two is out this month on DVD. How do you look back on that particular year of the show? It features one of the series’ most entertaining early episodes, The 37s, and also one of the worst instalments of its seven-year run, Twisted…
Season two had its ups and downs. The show was finding its sea legs - or, rather, its space legs. I enjoyed season two, though. It was very exciting. I thought The 37s was great and Twisted was appalling, but there were other wonderful episodes. Don't forget that spirits were running very high still and the writing staff was trying to find its core. We were blending as a company. There's much to be said for the shifting of the sands, and that's what season two was to me. The 37s was Janeway's big episode that season. "That's the one you'd call "a Janeway episode", but I was pretty heavily in everything. I also remember that Joel Grey guest starred in a show that year [Resistance]. It was great to work with Joel again [following their collaboration on the 1985 film Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins].
Death Wish was also terrific. It was a fascinating and thought-provoking episode, and I loved working with John de Lancie [as Q] and Gerrit Graham [Q2]. Death Wish and [season five's] Counterpart are two episodes that really stand out for me, personally, from the whole series.
Obviously, the show really found itself in its later years, particularly with Seven of Nine's arrival in season four. Overall, do you think Star Trek Voyager lived up to its potential?
In hindsight I believe it did. I will tell you now, and I am sure I will still be saying this as I stagger into my grave, it was unending hard work on every conceivable level. I can't imagine that we could have worked harder. I don't think I could have worked any harder. Could the writing staff, producers or the actors have worked harder? I don't think so. If there were flaws and if there were mistakes and if some of it bordered on the mediocre, it was because people got tired. But by and large 1 would say it was seven years of pretty outstanding work.
Star Trek Voyager concluded its seven-year ran with Endgame, in which an aged Admiral Janeway travelled back in time to assist the Starship Voyager return to Earth, How did you rate the show's finale?
I was so directly involved with it that I was very pleased with it. I was a Cheshire cat about the whole thing. I wanted it to be softly and surprisingly dramatic, which it was. I loved the fact that the old and the young Janeway would face off, and that the old would sacrifice to the young. I adored the fact that it was a more philosophical ending than a bonanza, which I think disappointed a great many people but satisfied me. It was I who was looking for satisfaction at the end and it was I who received!
Some viewers felt that the Voyager crew should not have made it back to Earth, on the grounds that it would have been a more surprising end to the series and would also have sent out an important message that home is where you make it. How do you respond to that?
I think that's probably true. I had nothing to do with the decision about getting home. That, I felt, was last minute and very upstairs - by upstairs, I mean the studio brass and everybody else was involved. Civilians were involved.
Until the very end, I know, they were still undetermined about the ending. There is something very poignant, simple and wonderful to be said about being lost forever. It would have taken extraordinary courage and it would have left a heartbreaking image to see that ship once again lost in space. But I'm sure there were many reasons they made the decision they made.
Your experience as Janeway didn't really end with the final scenes of Voyager. You appeared as Admiral Janeway in the last Star Trek film, Nemesis, and you're also in the amusement park attraction Star Trek, The Experience - Borgg Invasion 4D. What were those projects like to do?
My experience with Janeway did end with the show. Those other things were just nothing; they were so incredibly brief. I don't count those as playing Janeway.
You mentioned that there's been some Star Trek stigma you've had to deal with, but overall you've been busy. So are you pleased with how life after Voyager has treated you?
It’s been good. It's been much to my liking. I wanted to get back into the theatre and that happened almost magically with the one-person show, Tea at Five, which I did for almost three years. And then I did The Royal Family in Los Angeles for several months. That was a very good thing.
Right now I am taking a break. Life is very good.
You were in the midst of playing Katharine Hepburn in Tea at Five when Hepburn died. How strange was that?
I was on stage that very night. There was a great sadness. There was a terrific poignancy to it when I stood backstage. The great leveler is death. All Hepburn lived for was work. In all of my research about her, and it was exhaustive, I could find no other great venue of passion for Hepburn, with the possible exception of Spencer Tracy. The work was everything. I stood there in the wings that night and realised that she would never do anything again. She'd given 96 years. At the end of the show I gave a very brief speech and asked for a moment of recollection. I think the audience understood it to be a very special evening.
What's next for you after you've concluded your break?
I may do Tea at Five again later this year and take it back on the road. There are a couple of other things brewing, and I'm open to doing movies or even another series. But mostly now it's just about life and love.
Your mother is afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and you've done a lot of work to highlight the problem. How are you planning to develop that?
My work with Alzheimer's is of great significance to me. They are making so many breakthroughs. I just met with the CEO of the Alzheimer's Association and I think I'm going to become a member of the national board. I very much want to get involved in this with [Frasier star] David Hyde Pierce and see if we can make some difference, so that my children's generation don't have to suffer the way my mother has.
That's another pro of Star Trek. If because I was on Voyager someone will listen to my voice and my opinion and be moved to action, that's a wonderful thing.
If a Star Trek Voyager movie of some kind entered production one day, would you be open to starring in it?
If they considered making a Voyager movie I would be very happy to talk to them about doing it. It would be wonderful if Voyager became a movie. But that's purely speculative at this point.