By Bryony Weaver
An edited version appeared in Gay Times' April 2006 issue
Best known for her role as Captain Katherine Janeway of the star ship Voyager, in April Kate Mulgrew will be joining the cast of The Exonerated at London’s Riverside Studios. GT caught up with the First Lady of Star Fleet

What is The Exonerated  about?
It’s based on the true stories of six wrongly convicted people, who were sentenced to execution and Death Row, and later exonerated. I play Sunny Jacobs – probably the least guilty – who was on Death Row for 16 years, and had to suffer the execution of her husband – again, wrongly. It’s a very gripping story, and a play that speaks to everybody. In 2006, the fact that we’re still executing people – Texas is still executing people; it should secede, really – chills me to the bone. History will look back and say, “My God, what were they thinking?”

Have you played the London stage before?
This is my London debut, and I’m particularly excited because this material is very meaningful. Underneath that, I love London. I’m an anglophile.

What are you looking forward to most?
Civilization, a good craic at the pub, and getting to know London better. I’m very comfortable when I’m there – Londoners are very curious, very discerning, so if you match their intelligence and don’t offend, it’s probably the best craic in the world, right?

You've been touring the US with your own one-woman play about the life of Katharine Hepburn. Tell us about it.
Tea at Five is Katharine Hepburn’s life, concentrated into a few hours. In the first act, I play Hepburn at 31 and in the second Hepburn at 76. Playwright (now producer) Matthew Lombardo has done a clever job of encapsulating her life, and we’ve found a loneliness and vulnerability that was very true of her. We’ve interwoven all her griefs, how she surmounted them, and the price she paid to become the great star she was.
I immersed myself in Katharine’s life for months. I’d come up with bons mots that I thought were more appropriate than something Matthew had found, and we’d work like gangbusters. I was scared to death on opening night – in Hartford, Connecticut, where she was born and raised – because these people really knew her. I guess they thought we’d done a good job, because they came back for months. It was wonderful.

Do you think that Hepburn was bisexual?
Androgynous is the word I’d use. She used her sexuality to cloak, to conceal and to reveal. She had a very robust sex life with Tracy (Spencer), Howard Hughes, Leland “Luddy” Hayward. She had long, enduring and mysterious friendships with just a couple of women. People thought that Laura Harding, her great friend, was a beard, but I don’t know – I wasn’t in the bedroom! It was my gut feeling that Katharine wasn’t bisexual.
The sacrifices she made to become an icon – she knew very early on she wanted to be one – were big. It cost her huge – but she was prepared to pay.

Have you had to make sacrifices in your life?
I’ve had three children, and for children, you sacrifice a lot [laughs]. I’ve lost two sisters, my father died two years ago, and my mother is in the final stages of Altzheimer’s, so I’ve had my share of suffering.
I think suffering’s very important. I’m very Jungian about this – happiness is pedestrian, and it shouldn’t be deliberately sought. But we’ve got to be more generous with each other. We’re always saying, “Tomorrow’s another day, and everybody’s in this together” – that’s not true. We should listen to each other’s sorrows and have empathy. In that way, we go much deeper. 

Would you ever play a gay character?
I’d give my right hand to play any one of the Bloomsbury group. I have an understanding of them – I don’t know what it’s based on. Vita Sackville-West – that entire group. They were just fascinating.

What do you think of Captain Janeway being a bit of a gay icon?
Don’t you think that’s great?! I was over there for a convention a couple of weeks ago, and there was a huge gay crowd, peppering me with questions. It’s a terrific tribute. Captain Janeway stood for equality: who are we if we aren’t in this together? The fact that the gay community has looked up to Janeway, and then up to me as a result of having played her, fills me with hope. It’s opened up a discourse. I said to the Executive Producers: “You’ve done it all here. The next time you do it, you’ve got to have a regular gay character, and we must go inside that character, so that everybody can honestly share this together”.
But I wasn’t about the scream into battle. I thought it was a huge step forward that they hired a woman and put her in the Captain’s seat!

What did you like most about Katherine Janeway?
Her passion, and her slow realisation that her crew mattered more than anything else. She started out thinking the opposite – “What will I find, and what will I learn?” She came away saying, “Who have I loved, and how deeply?” So, I loved that process with her. 

Who else would you like to play?
Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra. She’s divine. She’s smart, funny, passionate – and ugly, but when she hurled herself at Caesar’s feet, he fell madly in love. It’s a wonderful story, and quite beautiful. So, I’d love to play Cleopatra.
I love the theatre: period.