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Starburst #232
December 1997

Kate's Calling 

 
Star Trek: Voyager's Kate Mulgrew talks to Edward Gross about her progress in the Captainís Chair.

KATE MULGREW is Captain Kathryn Janeway. That simple fact becomes apparent the instant you take a seat in her trailer on the Paramount lot. This is a woman obviously in charge on or off the set, and it's almost startling to note how closely her mannerisms, expressions and the careful consideration of her words mirrors those of her on-screen alter ego.
 

Go the distance

"I hesitate to use the word love because it always sounds so cliched," she smiles, "but I liked Janeway so much from the very beginning. I had very little doubt as to the longevity of it, and the real success of it. I knew I'd go the distance and that I would do it with passion. Both are true. That's a great gift that I don't think is shared by very many actors in Hollywood. Especially in series work. The hour dramatic show is truly the hardest format. Our hours are the longest, most gruelling. You look at it and say, 'Oh, man, all that technobabble, and there's sparks going off behind her, the opticals, the split screens...' But I find it all increasingly more challenging. On a bad day, which is very rare, I have the good sense to understand that this will pass, and it does.

     "Voyager stays fresh because, in my mind, it is fresh," she adds. "I think it's a very individual and personal thing. But the fact that I love the character I play is 90% of the game and it's why every day is like a new day for me. If I didn't feel that way, you'd know it in a second because it is one of those things that cannot be concealed. I think I was pretty convinced from the get go, though from the beginning of this whole thing I didn't know if I would be able to execute it. The pressure was unbelievable. The scrutiny was even more incredible. The press, the suits... everybody's job on the line, not just mine. I've got 300 hundred guys here. A lot of stuff was hanging in the balance to see if this female captain was going to be a success or not."
 

A good life

The days of worrying, it seems, are behind her. Star Trek: Voyager has entered its fourth season, with at least two-to-three more in its future. Despite creative highs and lows in terms of the show's scripts, Mulgrew is obviously having a great time in what she has referred to as the "gig" of a lifetime. "Maybe I've said that about every gig in my life, what do you think?" she muses dreamily. "Maybe that's why I've had such a good life."

  Not that itís always been an easy one. Non-Star Trek fans recognize her from roles in the American soap opera Ryan's Hope, supporting roles in feature films (Remo Williams, Throw Momma From the Train among others) and the often derised Mrs Columbo series. It is actually her stage performances that seem dearest to Mulgrew. She made her Broadway debut in Black Comedy, and also appeared in Titus Andronicus in New York, Hedda Gabler and Measure for Measure. Super stardom, however, had eluded her and a shaky personal life had taken its fiscal toll on her around the time that Genevieve Bujould dropped out of Voyager and Mulgrew, now a single mother of two, beamed in.

     "I needed this job," she admits. "My personal life was in a bit of a shambles and I had serious reckoning to do at that time. God said, 'I haven't forgotten you, sweetheart.' It was all quite miraculous from my point of view, because as you well know, I hadn't a clue as to what Star Trek was all about. 'A female captain? What the hell are they talking about?' No idea. Of course after I got the job and I understood the enormity of what it was all about, I realized that this is one in a long line of stellar authorities. I've just got to run this ship and see if I have enough authority to do it."
 

Captain Kate Mulgrew

At one point, Patrick Stewart mentioned that the lines between he and Captain Jean-Luc Picard have blurred in the ten years that he has essayed the character; making it more difficult to discern where the actor and character begin and end. Mulgrew identifies with the sentiment. In the first series, she explains, she had attempted to figure out what she was doing there but then, eventually, it became something of a marriage.

     "It's very difficult to separate myself from [Janeway] when I'm working, and even when I'm not," she says. "It's altered my life dramatically. I really have to be in charge of my life. I have to be more authoritative, I have to be more careful because I have so much less time than I used to.  Sleep has become inordinately important. I really think about it.

     "I also think I'm dealing with things that the men [William Shatner, Stewart, Avery Brooks] didn't deal with, which is a first in that way," Mulgrew elaborates. "I'm raising two sons here by myself, which I don't think those guys did. I'm trying to do it well, which is very hard. Additionally, my intimate relationships are terribly important to me; my friends, who are not large in number but are so dear to me, are my food without whom I don't function at a very deep level. And it's my depth that gives me Janeway. So it all works as one. But it can become slightly treacherous if I don't really watch my step. Priorities have become a masterpiece of choreography."
 

Relaxed and happy

And yet, she emphasizes in the same breath, she is extremely content in general, and pleased in particular with where Captain Janeway has begun the new season.

"What I wanted for this year is what's already happening, which is maybe why you're seeing me in such a relaxed and very happy state," Mulgrew explains. "Janeway has deepened, she is who she is. She's much more fun. She's the real article. This girl's been lost in space for four years, but she's in complete and utter command. She has loved it and her allegiance to this crew has deepened and refined and complicated itself to the point where it's a fine stew now. I think we should see that bubbling in Janeway at all times. It's just a matter of the flavour I wish to add in any given episode now. It took me a long time to hang some flesh on this girl. I was nervous at first. It seemed to me she had a nobility and a size I wasn't sure I could endow, but I have done it. I've pulled whatever I could from the saints, the rest from myself and a lot from my imagination. Now it's just fun. It must be the thing an athlete feels once they break through. I think it's the difference between trying and being. In fact, if I was to do a scene for you trying and being, you would say, 'Well, the difference is infinitesimal.' But I would feel it was night and day, and that's where I feel with Kathryn right now. She's mine. There's a comfort level, but at the same time it's very unpredictable."

     Perhaps most unpredictable is the critical and audience acclaim that has surrounded the newest Voyager character, the Borg crewmember Seven of Nine, portrayed by Dark Skies' Jeri Ryan. Essentially taken by Janeway from the Borg collective in the fourth season premiere Scorpion Part II, Seven is trying to reclaim the humanity that was taken from her as a child by the Borg. So far, virtually every scene featuring the character has been alive with tension and excitement.
 

Humanity vs Borg

"Jeri as Seven is intended to bring conflict, intensity, uncertainty, confusion and, I imagine, divided allegiance onto the ship," Mulgrew offers. "We'll have to see how she evolves. Jeri is playing her with a lovely touch of vulnerability, which lends itself to relationships, so I see her going rather more quickly to becoming one of us. For my druthers, though, I would like to see the sting of the scorpion still -- always --be a threat. Even as Janeway humanizes her, and this is a wonderful opportunity to lay a mentor-pupil relationship. Can I really de-Borgify her? Do I have it within my power to show her the vast beauty of human nature versus her Borgification? Or is that not possible? But to be able to play that is like being in a room with someone who you know has a lethal component. It's always possible that that weapon can be used, which is why I thought the episode title Scorpion was so good."

     A real danger does, exist, though, that Seven can become too human too quickly, as opposed to TNG's Data who spent seven years plus a feature film attempting to get closer to humanity. Should this happen, it could diminish the character's inner conflict.

     "You must realize that there are many cooks in this kitchen," smiles Mulgrew. "I understand they want to enhance the ratings. I understand it all and I'm glad I'm not a numbers-cruncher, because if it was up to me I would make Seven a very viable threat, while finding her essentially irresistible. Now that's playable and that's interesting. Do you understand? It's like falling in love with the wrong person, but you just can't help yourself. Then the audience is on the edge of their seat thinking, 'Janeway, don't go there!' Suffice it to say I would prefer to see it drawn out. For me, it creates a wonderful tension and a foil. I brought her on.

     "This captain, she's always getting them into something new, but that keeps things exciting, doesn't it?" The lady's got a point.
 
 

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