The Last Star Captain
Time has trekked on, but Kate Mulgrew still struggles to bring Voyager home. 
November 1999
By Ian Spelling

Photo: Michael Yarish
Click on above image for photos from this article.
All Voyager photos copyright Paramount Pictures. 

CAPTAIN KATHRYN JANEWAY continues to stand tall and proud. Even after five full seasons, despite less than stellar ratings and regardless of assorted personal matters that nearly caused her to quit, Kate Mulgrew insists that Star Trek: Voyager remains a fun, fulfilling and provocative part of her life.

“Of course it has,” Mulgrew says forcefully as she warps into season six. “That’s my job and, as everyone knows, I take my job very seriously. The writers—Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky—are allowing Janeway to go where I need to take her. That transition began to take place a couple of seasons ago, and now it’s in full swing. My power is probably equal to theirs, creatively, regarding the character.

 “I have created Kathryn Janeway as much as they have,” she adds. “I think the great element that needed to be in place, and now is, was that of trust. The writers know that I understand Janeway very, very well. I know her now in a way that is so deep and so filled with my own nuances that they allow me to not only to endow her with those nuances, but to guide them accordingly.”

 Does that mean Mulgrew makes suggestions?  Offers up storylines? Perhaps even puts her foot down on occasion and argues, “My character would never do that?” Mulgrew’s thoughtful answers are authoritative, but not inflexible. “I have never said,  ‘My character would not do that.’ A good actor never says that. A good actor says, ‘Let’s try it.’  However, I am very careful about command. That has been an ongoing vigilance on my part. When I feel that her command is threatened or inappropriate, I will certainly address that immediately. Seven of Nine [Jeri Ryan], for example, has countermanded my orders now three times in the last two seasons. It is inappropriate. It makes the Captain look wishy-washy. I said, ‘Let’s have a scene where Janeway handles it.’ And they did that for me.”

Startling Treks

Mulgrew, in a positively chatty and reflective mood, continues, heading off in a different tangent as it relates to the show’s writing.“Brannon has a wonderful gift for austerity in language, and that’s much more Janeway’s way than verbosity. And I much prefer it as an actor.

“I also love the laughter that I’ve not only been given, but that I’ve owned. Most of it is absurd laughter. When people are lost in space for six years, they laugh a lot. It’s called gallows humor. What happens to people who are under duress for a long period of time can be not only extremely comical, but can be shared only by those people. There’s a shorthand now between characters, even in their communications, and it’s through facial expressions. It’s there between Janeway and her senior officers.

“There’s also a specificity in the relationships which, of course, evolves over time. I address Tom Paris [Robert Duncan McNeill] now in kind of a maverick way. The maverick in me goes out to the maverick in him. That’s the way we communicate. With the Doctor [Robert Picardo], there’s a much greater desire to appreciate his sentience. With Seven of Nine, there’s a relaxation and a trust that comes with accepting her for who she is, and for all the conflicts and unpredictable moments that she engenders. There’s a confidence there in all the relationships and a trust that has developed that serves us very well.”

At the time of this interview, Mulgrew and her Voyager co-stars were nearly finished filming the sixth season’s sixth episode. And so far, according to Mulgrew, so good. “We’ve done several interesting episodes. Of course,” she notes,” ‘Equinox, Part II’ resolves the cliffhanger from last season. We’ve done ‘Barge of the Dead,’ which was really a Roxann Dawson episode. B’Elanna [Dawson] goes back into a rather mystical state to meet her mother and to confront her spiritual side. The set—this ship of death— was a knockout. The journey that B’Elanna takes is a powerful one, and it’s something we’ve not seen before on Voyager or on any Star Trek show for that matter.

“The Doctor has a brilliant show in which his fantasy life takes over [“Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy”]. All the women are in love with him, all the men are in love with him and he’s the captain of the ship. It is Bob Picardo as you have never seen him before. It’s so funny and so beautifully shot by Mike Vejar—he uses very long and very specific shots. Every episode so far has been like a mini-movie. Brannon is planning to do a lot of that. He’s trying to cover every character now with a far greater specificity, at least for the first nine episodes. After that, it will be open season, if you’ll pardon the expression.”

There’s far more to the revamped Voyager than just greater character specificity. The powers that be are out to broaden the series’ appeal significantly in an effort to attract new viewers, be they total newcomers or forlorn Deep Space Nine junkies seeking a Trek fix. Star Trek boss Rick Berman has already revealed that such an effort means the first six episodes will be purposefully accessible even to those unfamiliar with Voyager’s inner workings. For Mulgrew and her co-stars—not to mention the writers and crew—the initiative has meant longer hours, harder work and an intensified focus.

It has also manifested another situation. “Revisions! Unbelievable revisions!” Mulgrew shouts, dissolving into the kind of gallows laughter that Janeway would so well understand. “They’re doing unbelievable work on the word here. Some times I don’t get revisions until midnight [of the day before shooting] that are meant to alter a scene completely. Brannon’s job, as he sees it this year, is to strip down the work. Often, that’s tough on [the actors]. My pattern and work ethic is such that I like very much to study the night before and prepare, so that I have the freedom the next day not only to rehearse, but to do what I want to do within the context of the scene. But often I’m getting revisions at the last minute now. Fortunately, they’re almost always improvements. So, I’ve had to learn to roll with the punches.”

Captain Courageous

Just as Mulgrew has learned to roll with the punches, so too has Kathryn Janeway. She’s tougher than ever, still human and humane, but clearly hardened by the last half-decade of living with the consequences of a fateful decision. Her goal could not be clearer: get her ship home. But Janeway realizes she must do it without caving in to the fear and loneliness that drove Captain Ransom (John Savage) of the U.S.S. Equinox to nearly toss aside every last shred of honor normally held so dear by Starfleet officers. Thus, Janeway commands with passion and compassion, although she finds these qualities sorely lacking in her personal life.

But that situation may soon change. Mulgrew, dropping a little bombshell, reveals that episodes in the near-future should find Janeway seriously engaged in a relationship. It’s not a fait accompli yet, and no character has been selected as Janeway’s paramour. “I don’t think it will be one of the regulars,” Mulgrew observes. “We’re talking about what to do right now. Whomever it’s with, I would like to see it carry through to the season’s end. By doing that, we’ll see Janeway’s fragmented self, her passion, her needs—all that has been bottled up for so long, all that has been repressed. I would like to see her with a humanoid.

“Do you remember ‘Counterpoint?’ Do you remember Kashyk [Mark Harelik]? I would go for him. I think the return of Kashyk in a very, very moving story would be great. It would be great to see him and Janeway as two people who come together other under impossible circumstances, but who somehow make it work until somebody has to die. That would very interesting.”

Speaking of romance, now is as good a time as any to address Mulgrew’s real-life affairs of the heart. As every Trekker knows, Mulgrew dated frequent Trek director Rick Kolbe for several years. Then, like a photon torpedo out of the blue, came the announcement that Mulgrew married Tim Hagan, a politician from Cleveland. Mulgrew cheerfully recounts a saga that spans more than half a decade and two continents. “I met Tim six years ago in Ireland. We fell in love,” she remembers. “He was then the Commissioner of Cuyahoga County, which is all of Cleveland and beyond. And I was newly divorced and in Ireland with my two children. I met him through the then-ambassador, Jean Kennedy Smith, who is my mother’s great friend. And it was instant. We fell in love and the romance began.

“Then I came back and I got the job on Voyager. Tim has two little girls, so it was virtually impossible to continue. It absolutely broke our hearts. It was one of those very strange, mysterious and haunting things. It was unresolved and very difficult to understand. Then, of course, I went on and so did Tim. I met Rick. We got involved. Then, toward the end of last spring, that ended. And my mother called Tim and said, ‘You might want to call Katie now,’ and he did. I told him that my heart had been broken, that we never had closure, and he said, ‘I think we need to put closure to this.’ I said, ‘I agree. When, when, when?’ We couldn’t figure it out, and I said, ‘You see, it’s as impossible now as it was then, unless you want to meet me for lunch on Friday.’ He said, ‘I’ll be there.’ He met me for lunch on Friday, and that was it.” Around the same time Mulgrew’s love life was coming together, she nearly broke from Voyager. While speaking with the press, Mulgrew more than hinted that she might beam off the show. The media and fans alike went on red alert. Rumors spread like wildfire. Did Mulgrew mean she wanted out before the sixth season began, during it or after it? Were her dire warnings just a negotiating ploy? After all, Paramount wanted to sew up the entire Voyager cast for a seventh season. Or did personal considerations truly override all other concerns?

Mulgrew swears that her controversial words derived not only from her desire to begin, in earnest, her life with Hagan, but also her fears that she was missing far too many important moments in the lives of her two young sons. The actress took her concerns to Berman and Braga, stressing that she yearned for some flexibility in her schedule. She could handle long hours when she worked, but she coveted the occasional day off so she could be by Hagan’s side at some political reception if necessary or at her sons’ school for sporting events. In other words, Mulgrew wanted to reduce the frequency of times that she would be sitting at home for hours, unable to go anywhere or do anything, waiting for production to call her in. And she didn’t want too many more instances in which she shot only a single, non- essential scene.

 Berman and company heard Mulgrew out, and ultimately they came to an agreement that satisfied everyone. Janeway wouldn’t be pulling a vanishing act this year or next. Just how close, though, did we come to losing Mulgrew? “If they had said to me, ‘We really don’t care,’ I may have considered leaving,” she responds. “I was under contract already for the sixth year and I intended to honor that contract. I’m only talking about conversations and negotiations for the seventh season. It really involved my happiness quotient. In many ways, I set the tone on the set. My mood and my approach are very important, and I think there’s nothing worse than a professional actress who is unhappy because she misses her husband and children. But [Berman and Braga] realized that. And if I may say so, they were not only gentlemen about it, but very gracious. I am much, much happier now.”

Mulgrew is so happy that she’s even willing to review a batch of Janeway-heavy fifth season episodes. Appropriately enough, the conversation begins with “Night,” the first episode of the 1998-1999 season. “I loved that show, and I understand that the audience didn’t love it so I much,” she says. “I’m sorry about that, but it makes me think that perhaps the audience isn’t as reflective as I had hoped they would be. I thought ‘Night’ was such a terrific opener for us. Janeway is depressed. Of course she’s depressed. We’re lost in this dark blanket of space. There’s nowhere to breathe. There’s nowhere to go. It’s all coming down on Janeway.

 “I loved the scene,” she notes, “when I walk on the bridge and tell the crew that they’ve all got to do this and that I’m going to stay behind in the shuttlecraft. That was a great scene, when my senior officers tell me they’re not going to let me do that. I loved it.”

Mulgrew’s hour of choice from last season remains “Counterpoint,” in which Devore inspector Kashyk, who should be seeking defectors, implores Janeway to grant him asylum. “I kissed the script when I got it. I kissed it and I called Brannon,” she raves. “I said, ‘I’m in heaven. Don’t touch it. Let me help you get the right actor.’ And to their credit, they chose the guy I recommended. I knew Mark Harelik was a great actor. I had watched him for years. I knew we needed a great theater actor, somebody who could carry off all the levels at which an actor had to play the character.”

Though technically a two-parter, “Dark Frontier” aired as a two-hour UPN movie. The gamble paid off handsomely, as Voyager earned some of its best reviews and highest ratings in years with the action-and-FX packed return of the Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson). “That was wonderful. It was beautifully done. I thought Susanna was great,” Mulgrew notes. “Talk about grace under pressure. She did a beautiful job with the Queen, and I thought Jeri did a terrific job with Seven of Nine. We all got to play the hell out of our scenes. The special FX were fantastic. It’s a great feeling on the set when all of the departments are equally involved. The FX guys get in there, and so do the set design people, the hair and makeup people, the actors, the writers and producers. You could sense the collaborative effort from beginning to end.”

Other memorable outings for Mulgrew included “Bride of Chaotica,” in which Janeway had to assume the role of Queen Arachnia in Paris’ “Captain Proton” holonovel after the fantasy spilled over into reality; “11:59,” in which Mulgrew played her own ancestor, Shannon O’Donnel, circa 1999, and “Equinox,” the cliffhanger in which the Voyager crew is thrilled to meet up with another Starfleet ship stranded in the Delta Quadrant, only to realize that its crew hasn’t exactly been following protocol.

“‘Bride of Chaotica’ was a blast, a blast,” enthuses Mulgrew. “It was a little controversial, but what the hell? It pushed the envelope a little bit, which we must do every now and then. And I loved playing Arachnia. ‘11:59’ was another wonderful show. How often do you get to play your great-great-great-great-grandmother? What did I think of ‘Equinox?’ Let’s just say not all of them can be as provocative as one might hope. I think the writers knocked themselves out, but certain variables and components were missing.”

Q & Alpha

With season six now underway, fans are still enduring a game of “will they or won’t they” when it comes to two plot points of great interest: the possible return of Q (John de Lancie) and the much-awaited arrival of Voyager back in the Alpha Quadrant. In a nutshell, Mulgrew doubts anyone will see Q, while home may be closer and more viable a plot machination than some people imagine.

“I think that the writer-producers feel that there’s no particular arc for Q in the state that Voyager is in and given what we’ve already done with Q in other episodes,” the actress reasons. “They’re feeling that there are so many other journeys still left unexplored that they must address them first. So, it’s probably true that Q won’t be back this season. That’s sad for me, because I adore John. We’re very good friends. But I understand entirely the writers’ feeling that they have to look at some of the regular characters who have struggled a bit. It’s very important, for example, that B’Elanna re-establish herself and that Neelix [Ethan Phillips] be developed.

“As for coming home, there’s a season of stories there. Come on, just think of the ramifications, the repercussions. They’re unending. We would have explosive conflicts that we can’t possibly have now. If we return to the Alpha Quadrant, what would it mean to the Maquis aboard the ship? What would it mean to Chakotay [Robert Beltran]? Where would Neelix go? Seven of Nine alone—think of what they could do with her adjustment to life back on Earth.

“I don’t know if they’ll actually bring the ship home or not this year, because everybody seemed to think it was going to happen last year, and it didn’t. I don’t think they’ll titillate the audience unendingly. That would be stupid. I think that if they intend to bring us home at the season’s end, it will be made clear that we are going home.”

Mulgrew must bid farewell in a moment in order to study her script for the next day’s shoot, but before doing so, she contemplates both the episode she would be quickest to erase from any comprehensive Voyager episode guide, and the one she thus far considers the best in the Voyager canon. “I would erase ‘Twisted,’ “ she says. “What the hell was that? And the one with the lizards, too. I’ve forgotten the title. Blissfully. It was the one in which Robbie becomes a lizard and I become a lizard and we have lizard babies.”

That would be “Threshold.”

“Right,” Kate Mulgrew concludes. “That was just silliness. ‘Counterpoint,’ I would say, was our finest hour. The whole show was wonderful. I always feel I have to play Janeway at two levels, as the Captain and as a person, and I got to do both with such a wonderful script and one of the world’s greatest actors to back me up. It was like a dance. That final scene on the bridge was pure heaven. I would say that’s as close as I’ve come to complete happiness on Voyager, and I hope we get even closer this year.”