From the Center Seat
By Deborah Fisher
First, there was Kirk — brash, intuitive, charming, heroic, sexy ...the white male product of ‘6os television. Then came Picard — cerebral, loyal, demanding, inquisitive, principled ... more New Age sensitive, but still a bit removed and allowed to lead with no hair. Sisko had to command on the frontier: he was wounded, simmering, intractable, confident, and bonded to his family. His ethnicity was a vital part of his story.
Captain Kathryn Janeway has to be all those things and, because she is a woman, more. She has to be a strong leader who is accessible. A science expert who isn’t afraid to show her emotions. A natural leader more in tune with her crew. Voyager’s progenitors - Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor- thought creating a female captain was the only viable option for Star Trek series number four. To them, it seemed a small risk in the scheme of things. Kate Mulgrew knew better.
“I was very aware in the beginning of the pressures to define the character,” Mulgrew told The Communicator in an exclusive interview. “The stakes were high for Paramount and I felt very strongly they were taking a risk with me. It was tough going at first. There was incredible scrutiny.”
Mulgrew had to deal with the fact, of course, that she was not the studio’s first choice. But when Genevieve Bujold walked off the set after less than two days at work, Mulgrew was the only choice. Now it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
Mulgrew knew she had a complicated job. She had to do all the things a man could do and still be feminine.
“The young men who watch the show want to look at men as their captain. They’re not fond of looking at their mothers. I decided to just go about the business of being myself. I was the oldest girl in a very large family and I possess a natural command. I took whatever presence I had to the fullest extent and let the devil take the hindmost. I think eventually it released all those young men from whatever was pushing their buttons.”
For Mulgrew, defining Captain Janeway was less about gender and more about portraying a hero. “Courage transcends gender. It always does. Courage is a very rare thing and it needs to belong to the captain, but Janeway’s is a maverick courage. She’s brave to the final moment. Without hesitation, she would sacrifice herself and go down with her ship.
“At the same time, I hope I’ve drawn a picture of a woman who, against her better judgment, has fallen in love with all eight people who are dear to her. It goes beyond words. There’s her unfolding heart and a spirit to share as well as her guts and fire. I hope I’ve woven all that into the tapestry.”
Portraying a hero is lofty, but Mulgrew has still has to deal with the realities of Hollywood. Until audience research showed her firmly in command of her demographics in Voyager’s second year, for example, Mulgrew had to endure seemingly endless suggestions from the studio for tweaking her character. “My voice, my hair, my walk, my freckles. At the time I thought I can’t let myself be completely screwed up by this endless information. I took my usual approach to creating a character and just looked for the unique in her.”
Mulgrew has felt unswerving support from Voyager’s producers and writers, but she has, at times, put her foot down about the character’s personal journey. “I have strong ideas about sex. When they first started pushing for the Janeway/ Chakotay relationship, I just didn’t feel it would be correct. I was sure it would backfire. But when they had Janeway involved with a hologram, I was prepared to take the risk with that. Face it, this is make-believe. We’re all extending our imaginations here and the captain hadn’t had a kiss in six years!”
If Mulgrew has been able to bring some of her natural command to Janeway, then the actor also readily concedes that the captain has taught her a few things, too.
“Real discipline — which I’ve always had, but now feel I have more discipline-at-large in the world. I hope my compassion has grown. I’ve had a chance to meet people I wouldn’t have dreamt of meetng. Playing her has been a terrific journey of understanding for me.”
Captain Janeway has certainly made her mark on the Star Trek world, but Mulgrew also believes that her character has had an impact on the larger universe. ‘I think she’s had an influence on women of science. At least that’s what shows in the letters I receive and the women I talk to- scientists, doctors, lawyers, women struggling with different careers. I feel we have a shared dilemma and that’s what has been the most important thing to me. They’ve watched me on TV and read a little bit about me. They say ‘she’s raised two sons and hasn’t lost her verve, her honesty, some of her grace.’ I’m aware of Janeway not only being a role model, but full of integrity which is a very rare creature on television. Women in this culture of TV are starving and want to share something with their young girls.”
Kate Mulgrew says she fell in love with acting at the age of 12 and believes it saved her life. She is intensely aware that little girls are watching her now.
“I want them to learn to love themselves and to become passionate about something very early whether it’s acting or science or the military or writing. I want them to look at me and think ‘if that woman can do that, why can’t l?’ To exercise a passion in your life as young as possible will promise that girl a life of richness beyond anything.”
Trek Communicator Website
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