She got her crew stranded in the Delta Quadrant, subjected them to Neelix’s cooking and put them in mortal danger on a weekly basis. This year, however, it looks like Captain Janeway is going to get them home. “I have loved these people,” says Kate Mulgrew
By Melissa J Perenson
ANYONE who thinks that being the captain of a starship is all glamour, think again. “I’ve been in the trenches with these guys,” says Kate Mulgrew of her time with her colleagues in the acting ranks on Star Trek: Voyager. Mulgrew has donned her Starfleet uniform to assume command of Voyager as Captain Kathryn Janeway, a woman whose determination to see her crew home has never wavered. And the years of early set calls and shoots that last well into the night have given the actress ample time to bond with the acting ensemble that comprises her crew. It’s not surprising, then, that that bond is what Mulgrew cites as the foremost thing she’ll miss when the series comes to a close at the end of this season.
“To have been so closely allied to them for seven years, and to know that this will abruptly end rankles and divides my heart,” she admits. “I’m struggling with that, even now, in preparation for the moment when I’ll have to say goodbye to them. For me, it’s always, essentially, about people. And I have loved these people. I have taken this journey with them. That’s what I’m grappling with in this final season.”
In spite of the intense and often gruelling schedule, the role of Janeway is one she describes as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.
Appropriately, at the mid-point through shooting the show’s seventh and final series, Mulgrew’s tone becomes reflective. “My thoughts are introspective,” Mulgrew says. “This is the end of a remarkable chapter in my life. And as it unfolds this final year, I find that there’s a real poignancy to it.”
From the comfortable perspective afforded by 20-20 hindsight, the years have passed “very quickly. Unerringly quickly,” adds Mulgrew. Likewise, the foreknowledge that this is indeed the final season has provided something of a mental edge going into the home stretch of episodes. “No doubt about it. That’s one of the great advantages of this series — we knew that going in. It certainly relieves us of the burden of being shocked. And we’ve had seven years to prepare ourselves.”
Given the finality of this season, preparation is perhaps the keyword. This season has been more relaxed than in years past, and not just because the cast is well-versed with one another, both on-screen and off. Brannon Braga, former executive producer, has shifted his attentions to developing the next Star Trek series, and newly anointed executive producer Kenneth Biller has assumed the day-to-day responsibilities on the show. That transition has resulted in less 11th hour script deliveries to the cast. “That’s been very effectively handled this season, though, and I’m grateful for that. I suppose we have Ken Biller to credit there,” offers Mulgrew. “That’s great, that’s marvellous, that the writers are finally understanding that of course they can get the work done in 12 hours just like everybody else. And that we don’t have to get these revisions at 9, 10, 11 o’clock at night, which is just ridiculous. [It was that way] for many years.”
While some actors might find it hard to get a script piecemeal, without knowing the full implications of a scene in the bigger picture, Mulgrew’s concerns were typically more immediate and practical. “Generally speaking, Janeway would not have known the resolution, so it’s more interesting to play it as not knowing. More challenging, at any rate,” she points out.
Rather, the many last-minute revisions, “made it harder for me as an actress and a human being because I wasn’t getting the sleep that I should get, because I was waiting for the script revisions to come,” Mulgrew says matter-of-factly. “And then I’m sitting up and re-learning the lines. Which is my habit. I never go into work cold. I don’t believe in it. I’m very well-paid. I don’t go to bed without studying, and that was a hardship when I wanted to go to sleep. But it certainly never killed me. And I understand that’s how it is; I’ve been around [the business] for 28 years, so these things do not throw me terribly.”
It takes a lot to phase the cool, calm and ever-so-collected captain. Not even the usual disruptions of conflict on the set can shake Mulgrew — a consummate professional — off-course from the task at hand. “That’s the nature of the beast,” she says patiently. “Conflicts between actors and writers, between actors and actors, between producers and directors. It’s the nature of night-time television that these conflicts should exist, because we’re different people, and as one increasingly possesses one’s own character, those tensions can also become even stronger. For instance, I would state very frankly that I feel that I own Janeway now, in a way that even the writers do not. Therefore, if I find her saying something that I consider very inappropriate to Janeway, I will simply call that in. Generally speaking, they have been not only respectful and attentive, but they’ve been quite collaborative. And sometimes they haven’t.
“I think the writers watch as the character develops,” she adds realistically. “Some actors do that more effectively than others, and I think in my case they grew to trust me. Now they pretty much understand, exactly, my possession of Janeway, and they know how to write her.”
The writers didn’t always know how to write for Janeway, the first female captain to head up a Star Trek series, and it showed in the early episodes of the first season. As time passed, and Mulgrew grew more confident in the role, so too did the writers and producers. “I think there was initially a struggle with my being a woman, and they were concerned about my inherent command and authority,” she reflects. “The first couple of seasons were tough; I was highly scrutinized. It seemed to me everything was analyzed to an inch of its being, and then when they saw I could not only command the ship but do it with a degree of aplomb they began to give me some slack. And that is when the true creative process begins.”
To an extent, though, you can’t blame them —at the outset, Janeway began with a lot of gusto and bravado, but she was “a little overwhelmed with this command,” notes Mulgrew. “An intrepid ship, wonderful senior officiers, and then to instantly find herself in that excruciating dilemma [to be stranded or sacrifice an alien race], and then electing to save the Ocampans, thereby stranding us in the Delta Quadrant... it put Janeway immediately into a kind of a crunch mode, out of which she did not emerge for a few years.”
That so-called ‘crunch’ mode gave way to a lighter, freer Janeway, as seen by the show’s fourth season. Her hair no longer pulled back in a tight bun, this Janeway was freer to explore and freer to command. “She became much looser, much more of a risk-taker, I think. I would say she allowed her feelings and the depth of what those feelings mean to her to show there is more levity, more enjoyment of the moment. She is much less cerebral and much more visceral.”
As time has worn on, more and more of Kate Mulgrew is reflected in Kathryn Janeway. It was inevitable, perhaps: “More and more, as the writers and I come to fully understand that one is not as interesting without the other. I have always likened it to a love affair: it takes a long time to make a commitment from the writers to the character, and from the character to the writers. They begin to write in the voice that belongs not only to the character that they have devised, but they are listening to the actress who is portraying that character. And you take more risks as you become relaxed and you realize you are out of the trenches and onto the field.”
It’s those kinds of risks in front of the camera that have kept things interesting for Mulgrew over the past seven years.
Good writing is the key, she notes. “And one’s partner is crucial to the process. So if you’ve got good writing and a good [acting] partner, it’s a pretty terrific feeling, and I’ve been blessed with both of those opportunities time and again on this series.”
Be it the cloud of nostalgia or the reality of strong, tightly-written episodes leading up to the series’ grand farewell, Mulgrew has found those standout moments throughout Season Seven. “There are so many, my head is really swimming, there are so many,” she says.
The season started out with an otherworldly challenge of prosthetic proportions, in which Janeway donned Borg make-up for part two of Unimatrix Zero. But the actress waves off any discomfort the lengthy and potentially uncomfortable make-up process caused. “It’s fine. I went in, I sat down, and it only took those guys three hours — these make-up artists are highly skilled people,” she says. “Then I went in and did the work, had to do that three or four times, and it doesn’t bother me, it’s sort of challenging.”
Repression proved an intriguing episode, because it found new ways to address old issues of the Maquis; issues of loyalty that are bound to resurface as Voyager makes its way closer to home. “That’s exactly right,” agrees Mulgrew. “But from a selfish point of view, it’s also always great fun to work with Tim Russ [Tuvok] when he gets something juicy to do, because there’s such a viable and passionate actor there. And I always love that when they give him those breaks.”
The two-hour episode Flesh and Blood provided similarly salient moments, this time with the Doctor (Robert Picardo). “There’s a wonderful scene at the end between the two of us; he wants to defect and go to another ship, and I have to confront him at the end. I had to confront the reality that I enhanced his protocols to such an extent that he really is endowed with humanity,” explains Mulgrew.
While Mulgrew often finds the writing to have some meaning buried deep within, the script for Shattered left her a bit bewildered, she admits. “That was Chakotay and me. That was a bit of a wacky script. Temporal prime directive, where Voyager goes through many temporal barriers. Time zones, back and forth, pre-Season One, and where we are now. I’m not sure what it was about.”
Even after the depth of episodes like the sixth season’s Memorial and the fun of episodes like the fifth season’s Bride of Chaotica!, the fifth season opener, Night, remains one of Mulgrew’s all-time faves. “Night I liked. But I don’t think the audience liked it so much. The audience wanted Janeway to be a little more forward looking. And I had hoped that they would look inward with me,” she ponders. “I liked it because it was introspective. I like it because it dealt with the loneliness of command. I like it because it gives Janeway a lot to do on a deeper level than she’s accustomed to dwelling in. And of course I like it as an actress. I think it’s a very powerful and substantive theme — that of loneliness in command — and I think that Brannon wrote a beautiful script. I will always say that Braga is a hell of a writer — very edgy, very dark. He knows how to go down there. And I loved playing it.”
With more than half of the season’s episodes filmed, there’s not a whole lot of time to wrap up existing storylines, or introduce new ones for that matter. The main thing Mulgrew wants to see is for the captain to say an appropriate farewell to her crew. “It needs to be said, in various scenes, how fond I am of these characters. It needs to be explored,” Mulgrew notes. “And unless I’m mistaken, it’s more emotional than it is anything else. So we need to put some emotional periods to some of these relationships.” There’s some unfinished business between Janeway and her second-in-command, Chakotay (Robert Beltran), too. “In these last 10 episodes, it would be wonderful to fully resolve this relationship between Chakotay and Janeway, which is an intimate relationship without the sexual ramifications. How intimate is it? What do they mean to each other? What have they lived through in these seven years? Is there a future for them as friends, and if so, what kind of a future? I think that needs to be wrapped up a little bit; that’s unresolved.”
While she always knew it was coming, Mulgrew says she never really envisioned what, exactly, those final episodes might be. “I think at this point, I’m living it. It’s interesting the way that they seem to be delaying getting us home,” she notes. “Now the momentum is such that they’re going to have to start to develop the final arc pretty quickly. Are we going home, are we not, if we’re not — what’s going to happen? And so on, and so forth. I should make it very clear to you that I know nothing. I’ve been told nothing. They’re extremely careful of that upstairs. The writers are very protective of their material and their ideas, and they do not share them with us in advance, so don’t ask me, because I don’t know.”
While she’ll certainly miss aspects of life aboard Voyager, Mulgrew is already contemplating what she’ll do when she retires from Starfleet this spring. “I’m going back to the theatre,” she says, though her specific plans are vague as yet. Rather, she intends to spend time with her family. “My mother is not well, some of the people very close to me are struggling right now, so I think I’d just like to give my time, my heart, and my life to my loved ones.
“I’m very much looking forward to the end. Because I’m very much looking forward to the rest of my life.”