Shooting from the hip
DreamWatch #34 - June 1997
by Sue Schneider

When Jeri Taylor announced at a STAR TREK convention in Los Angeles that the Captain of the newest franchise, STAR TREK: VOYAGER, would be female, the fans applauded wildly.  After Genevieve Bujuold decided that the role was too much for her, KATE MULGREW was cast as her replacement and has since fallen in love with her character Captain Kathryn Janeway. SUE SCHNEIDER chatted with her at the beginning of April, just after wrapping filming of the third season...

DreamWatch: How did you feel about being second choice when you were approached to take the place of Genevieve Bujold?

Kate Mulgrew: My feelings were great! Notwithstanding [her] defection, which quite frankly at the time I found admirable and still do-I think she was quite wise to understand that it wasn't for her. I just felt great. Let's get in there! And I had some pretty stiff competition. It wasn't a breeze. I had to go to network with three or four really wonderful actresses. They had each of us come in the room and audition. It seemed to me there were thirty people there-it seemed like a sea of faces. Then they held us all there and then they released us. It wasn't until later that I got the phone call.

Did you have to wait long?

They make you wait until everyone has completed their process, just in case they want to see one of you again that same afternoon. In this case they did not, so we were all released which is a very nerve racking experience. You're released without knowing.

You didn't to go back for a second reading?

No, but I did audition twice. I auditioned the day they gave [the part] to Genevieve Bujold, but I was a bit too late. However, they were impressed enough to ask me back the minute that she left. I think at that time it was a very dire thing. I just felt very strongly that she belonged to me.

How much of the character and its background did the producers actually give you?

It was so fast. I got the role Thursday and started to work on Friday. They sent me several tapes of past episodes to familiarize myself, since I was not a Trekker at all. I hadn't a clue as to what this was all about. But I understood the great importance and seriousness of putting a woman in the Captain's seat. I understood that there was a lot at stake here.

How would you describe Captain Janeway?

Extremely humane and a very passionate scientist. Her strongest dynamic is her love of all species, and hand and glove with that love is an intense curiosity; which is of course borne out of her love of science and enhanced by her dedication to Starfleet. She takes her position as Captain very seriously, but not as seriously as I think she values her own soul.

I love my character! What I like best about her... that she's the Captain. [laughs] I won't pull any punches there. I get to be in charge but I also get to take some pretty extraordinary risks, because if the Captain slips up it can be epic, like we learned in the Pilot when I got us lost, but she also has the ability to correct extraordinary situations. To resolve dilemmas, to keep insoluble and to connect with so many different kinds of people in a cohesive way. This is, for lack of better words, her genius. She can actually do business with an adversary and at the same time almost turn that adversary to an ally. She shoots from the hip.

Is there anything you would change about her?

I would like to see her deepen of course, but this will evolve. I would like to see how the loneliness of her command has affected her. I would like to see specific relationships evolve out of Janeway's need to relate. Very much my relationship with Chakotay [Robert Beltran] concerns me and delights me.

It does seems that Janeway and Chakotay have a special bond, underlying feelings for each other. Will they ever explore that more?

I think they will, because the great thing going for us is a natural chemistry-the screen doesn't lie. That's because Robert and I share it in life. That's like a gift which neither they, nor we, knew would happen. We had just met. It should be used to the advantage of the show.

So I think they will explore it, but it's a very delicate business. I would like a relationship with Chakotay, not necessarily a sexual one, but one that is filled with complexity and depth. I would like to see a relationship like this explored for the first time on prime-time television in a series of this duration. A deeply meaningful relationship between a man and a woman, but it does not have to express itself erotically and I think Robert and I can do that. We do already in so many unspoken ways. That's why you pick up the fact that there is that special bond there. We have great nuance and subtlety between us and a great delight in the other's being. I have a true kindness for him as a man. It translates on the screen.

[Co-creator] Jeri Taylor once said that she doesn't plan too far ahead on the plots and characters on VOYAGER. Do you find that this is limiting in trying to understand your character or has her views on doing this changed?

I think her views have changed by necessity. I think perhaps she was referring to the fact that it is very difficult to shape a long and complicated arc when you're dealing with such a large company, and such a vast unknown as the Delta Quadrant. She was speaking judicially. Now that we are in our third season, I think one of the reasons we are wrapping early this year is because they realize and want very much to develop certain character arcs. The audience hungers for this and so do the characters as actors, now that we've found our sea legs. It usually takes about three seasons-like any other relationship in life. We've now established that we can take flight, but in order to do so all control and systems have to be online. I believe that is what this hiatus is going to mean for the writing staff.

Is this because a couple of the characters haven't really been developed yet?

No, they haven't.

Chakotay is one of them.

Towards the end of this season he's been featured quite heavily in four or five episodes. But notwithstanding that, I think what you're talking about is what his relationship is, for instance with Janeway, with Tuvok, with Tom Paris, let's see these things further explored.

It's hard to juggle nine characters. It's hard to be fair in terms of screen time. Very often they take commissioned scripts. Whatever is ready goes and in this season we've had seven Doctor episodes back to back, because they were ready and the rest had to wait and gestate. I think that that is the part of the logic in shutting down a bit early, to find a balance for next season.

Janeway has a lot of different levels to her personality. How much of Kate Mulgrew is reflected In Kathryn?

A lot. At this point I would say a lot and there's a lot more to come. I'm really relaxed this season. If you watch carefully these last episodes, there's a much greater sense of ease in her own skin that conveys itself through laughter and warmth. I think the danger that Janeway had in the first couple of seasons was a certain rigidity which doesn't belong to Kate Mulgrew, but which I felt would belong to the Captain.

In fact, part of that is research. I watch films with Captains in them. Captains are pretty rigid people. They have to maintain control and if in any way they suggest that they are not in control, it has an immediate effect on the crew. Unfortunately, it does go hand and hand with the business of being a Captain, but there are other ways to get around that. One can be in control and still allow one's humanity to peak through.

I believe that was a great aspect that Patrick Stewart had on THE NEXT GENERATION. I have noticed this year that Janeway has softened a little bit, but still keeps the control.

It's a tough line I have to walk there. I'm a girl after all. Patrick Stewart had his gender and his voice to command his authority. I had a lot of people saying, 'What's that little woman going to do?'. It's hard.

Over the years the role of women in STAR TREK have evolved into a very dynamic force in shaping the shows. Do you have any thoughts on the evolution of that and what effect it has had on you?

It's been an interesting evolution. I've reaped the rewards of all of these thirty years of hard work on the part of those other ladies. I got the piquancy, which is what I think in the end they were all helping me and helping STAR TREK towards. Had it not been for Nichelle Nichols... had it not been for each one them in their various uniforms and various capacities trying, working, growing and evolving, there wouldn't have been a female captain. Janeway is the by-product of many years of hard labour on the parts of damn good actresses. Many of them could have played the captain, the studio wasn't ready for the female captain. So I had time on my side and serendipity and, believe me, I am terribly grateful to all of them for contributing to this possibility.

Do you have any input into your character? Have you ever suggested any storylines for Janeway?

I talk a lot. [laughs] I'm not shy. If I ever have questions, I address them immediately. If I feel that something isn't suitable or sounds foreign coming out of her mouth, I will call up immediately. If I find a plot point to be disconnecting or somehow unclear, I'll address that. I just had a big meeting last week about next season, brought in my own ideas and I must say they are extremely respectful and very responsive to me. I'm really passionate about Janeway, so it is not that they can't listen. I think they love that fact that I love her.

How would you like to see Janeway develop?

I would like to see the loneliness examined. I would like to see this relationship with Chakotay examined. I would like to see a new and terrifying alien introduced, with a nice arc. How she would grapple with a species so mysterious and foreign to her that she and her crew would be forced to use every level of their experience. I think that would be a wonderful tool, a wonderful angle to find out who they are specifically. How does Chakotay deal with fear? How does Janeway deal with, let's just say terrible confusion? How do the younger ones deal with decisions that are too mature for them or too demanding of them? Let's see what these Starfleet officers are made of underneath the cloth, with themselves and with one another.

I understand the Borg homeworld is believed to be in the Delta Quadrant.

I'm sure it is now.

Do you think that will lead for more storylines on the Borg?

I would expect so. Our cliff hanger at the end of the season [Scorpion] has to do with the Borg. Beyond that I know very little. I'd like to confront them. I've had very little to do with them. Even in Unity, I myself did not address the Borg, that was Chakotay.

Your holodeck programme was as a governess....

It's gone.

That's too bad, it was almost like a Wuthering Heights type. Why was this programme chosen for Janeway?

I didn't choose it, of course. I actually think it hasn't been very popular with the audience.

What programme would you create?

It's most interesting that you should ask this question, that's what I took in last week to the meeting. I said, 'You know she's bound to be terrible lonely at this point. She's bound to be exploring other aspects of her personality; where can she channel this  loneliness and how does she do it?' If she is worth her salt, she does it creatively. So I would think she would implement a programme whereby she would have an ongoing meeting with the great minds in science and art. Da Vinci, a relationship with Leonardo da Vinci. A relationship with Pablo Picasso. So that Science becomes Art, and Art becomes Science and through it all we are introduced to two historical characters that the world had long revered, and are also very much in keeping with the STAR TREK philosophy. That was my idea. We talked at length about this. The Captain can be many things and should be many things, but she cannot be silly, it just doesn't work.

I couldn't figure out why they chose the governess?

I think, because she has no romance in her real life, they thought that she would pick this rather gothic romantic mystery to release her imagination. But in fact, it's not as quite as Janeway as a long Italian dinner at a table with da Vinci would be. That's who she would seek to counsel her and to comfort her and to teach her. She is above all things an ardent student of life.

Which episodes are your favourites so far?

I loved Deathwish, the first Q show. It was very provocative. Suicide is more compelling than that. Of course, I adore working with John de Lancie, so I loved doing The Q and the Grey.

Are there any plans on Q coming back?

Oh, he'll always come back. We are great friends. He is a wonderful guy and very important to STAR TREK. He's a brilliant actor, so he will return. That's another thing they should deal with now: we've established that the chemistry between Q and Janeway is unlike any other chemistry explored between Q and a Captain-they are almost friends, aren't they?

I think he wants you a little bit more then a friend.

That's right, but that's also the diabolic and titillating part of it. They could shape a very nice arc between us and I hope they do.

It seems when Q is in an episode, it's a little more lively. He just brings something....

He elevates it, because he is so good and so full of  creative energy. He is such an original actor and personality.

In the beginning, did you have trouble with the techno-babble or the STAR TREK moves?

It was nerve racking. It's like learning Japanese overnight. It was quite a challenge. I'd say for the first season I really had to grapple with that. That took a lot of composure and a lot of intense focus, that bridge work in the first season. Now it's just fun! Because I know what it all is. It took me a long time to study it and learn it: tachyon and tetryon things and plasma fields. I didn't even understand what the view screen was for the longest time. Opticals and split screens, the warp core, warp vs impulse, all of it. It took time.

Has working on VOYAGER changed your personal life?

No, not much. I've become a little more solitary if anything. More protective of my time, but if anything it's enhanced my personal life. I met my boyfriend on it. This has been a very wonderful and important part of my life. I have my sons and I have four or five very dear friends, so I would say that my personal life is quite rich and rewarding.

What is the working day for Kate like?

Well, it's a lot easier this year than it has been in the past. [laughs] In the first two seasons, it was an eighteen hour day and I was swinging. It was a trapeze act. Now that I've adjusted and relaxed, I'll put in a twelve hour day. With any luck I'll get up to get my kids off to school. The best case scenario is, I can get up, take my kids to school, put in twelve hours then come home in time to get them into bed, overlook the homework, get into my bed and do my homework, which I do every night for an hour and a half to two hours reading the script and studying my scenes. I break down the story and all that. I believe in preparation. So that's it.

What do your children think of all the merchandising that is out there? Do they have a Janeway doll or a cardboard figure?

My son has an action figure on his desk I think that they think it's funny. They think it's rather cute, they smile, but they're sort of lopsided smiles. It is hard for children to have a mother who is a celebrity to tell you the truth. It's one thing to have a father who's a celebrity, but it's quite another to have a mother who's the captain. The mother is supposed to be at home. I think young boys really do think that, and they've got a mother who is really in the vanguard here. I am their mother, but I am this other person as well. We keep it very low-key around here, but I think their pride in me and their knowledge that I love my work is sufficient to protect them from any kind of misguided notions.

Which acting medium do you prefer?

That is hard to answer, there is no preference. I would say with my nature I'm probably built for the stage, but by disposition and longing, I would like to seduce the camera as the camera has seduced me. I believe in the discipline of the theatre, which one doesn't see a lot in movie or film acting, because they haven't learned it. I love the live audience. I'd like the chance to do it again... with a beginning, a middle and an end. There is a lot to be said about getting on the stage and following the story straight through. In shooting we never do that. It's very disconnected, but therein lies the greater challenge, it's up to us to then connect it in our own minds.

What would your ideal role be besides Janeway?

Marsha in The Three Sisters by Chekov.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years?

In New York City on the stage.

Are there any upcoming plans for you to direct any episodes?

No, I'm not interested in directing.

Did you always want to be an actor? You left lowa to go to New York at the age of seventeen, wasn't that scary?

No, I touched down in that city and it was the beginning of a long and wonderful love affair. It just kept going, but I had some hard times there. It was the city of my soul and it still is. When this is all over, and the kids are in college, I'd like to go back. I love New York. I love it because it's such a diverse kind of life. In Los Angeles everything is about the film industry. In New York everything is about survival.

The Christmas cards you did for the Starlight Foundation were very nice.

Oh thank you, they were so primitive. I can't believe they took off like that.

How did the whole project come to light?

Somebody just asked me if I would draw a picture for a charity and I did. The next thing I knew mine, Kelsey Grammer and John Lithgow's had been chosen to become Christmas cards. It was really by fluke. I guess it just appealed to both adults and children the way I sketched that out. I'm not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it's wonderful that it can be used for such a good reason.

Will you be doing another one this year?

Sure, I will.

What was the best time of your life?


Have you ever read any of the novelizations?

 A few.

Which one is your favourite?

Mosaic. It was written by Jeri Taylor, who created Janeway. I did the book on tape for Simon and Schuster.

Anything special coming up on Janeway?

No, but there's the two-parter, the cliffhanger. We're winding down here. Everything's been shot. We only have one more to film. We are working on this episode now, Worst Case Scenario, which is quite fascinating: Seska [Martha Hackett] comes to us. She's dead. But is she really back... we'll have to find that out.

Above Photo © Katz
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