Despite numerous criticisms, Kate Mulgrew, as befits the Captain of the ship, has always been a staunch defender of VOYAGER, and tells Paul Simpson about the great potential the fourth and fifth season hold....
THE DELTA QUADRANT: ON the bridge of the Starship Voyager, an energy field has been detected in the ship's path. As the vessel goes closer to the phenomenon, Tom Paris, Harry Kim, even Chakotay and Captain Janeway are severely affected feeling faint - and worse... Chakotay and Janeway both reel under the effects, Janeway staggering against her command chair her face contorting with pain...
And - cut!" calls director Kenneth Biller, bringing to an end the complicated ensemble scene. While lighting preparations are made by the first Asistant Director and his team on the penultimate episode of the fourth season, ONE, I follow Captain Kathryn Janeway as actress Kate Mulgrew, off the stage and into her trailer, parked conveniently outside. She sits back and listens intently as I ask whether she would agree that the introduction of Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and the conflict that has caused has helped this season to gel more than the previous three years, and whether there is consequently more drama.
“Yes, I would say that the writing is better she says immediately. `I'm pleased with the way it's gone dramatically this season. A lot of the dynamics have shifted and changed. But of course it is my conviction that they have been there since the beginning. These things have to be rooted out; these things have to be winnowed out. Very often there's a dance between the writing staff and the acting company which has to play itself out until everybody is very comfortable. At that time if you're very lucky, then wonderful things start to happen.
"The idea of conflict and tension is always crucial to the success of a series. Once it gets too comfortable, or too intellectually sedentary, it becomes boring. And it's not been boring this season!"
Kate commiserates with terrestrial viewers in Britain who have yet to see the third and fourth season, since the show has moved on in leaps and bounds. What is the greatest change that she thinks has happened? "When I say `writing', I mean writing: I mean characterisation. The writers have made a breakthrough with Janeway - I've made a breakthrough with Janeway! I think that the introduction of the Hirogen as a villain has helped - finally we have a worthy adversary, which is very important if you are lost in the Delta Quadrant. You can appreciate that!"
She pauses, collecting her thoughts, then says carefully, "I'm not sure about quite where the rest of my company has gone to: I'm a bit concerned about that. There's been a great deal of Seven of Nine. She's just another member of the crew- she's not even a Starfleet officer, and I do get concerned when I sense that my senior staff has not had the screen time that they should have had in any given season. But notwithstanding the need to establish her, I think that we will now go back to pro forma for next season. This is a great company: one of the all time great companies".
Certainly the cast has supported each other in outside projects - many of them attended Robert Beltran's production of Hamlet last year during the hiatus, and it seems there is a genuine camaraderie amongst the actors. "That's very true," the Captain both on and off screen agrees.
What does Kate consider the highpoint of VOYAGER'S arc has been? "I think we're at the tip of the iceberg now. It's very much like a dish. If you're a cook, like I am, then you make a lot of mistakes. Then finally you get the rudimentary ingredients to work and there is a cohesion and an alchemy. Once those basic things begin to work, then you can make quite an extravagant souffle.
Now the foundation is laid. Janeway is very strong. Seven of Nine is presenting some conflict, which is always interesting I would like to see them further develop the relationship between Torres and Paris and the relationship between Torres and Chakotay. The Maquis elements could be excited, and I think should be excited. There are many ways to stimulate the imagination which have not been touched upon yet it in our great eagerness to find our acting legs - or our Space legs And now that we have found them, and with Brannon Braga taking over now [as Executive Producer for the fifth season, following the retirement of series co-creator Jeri Taylor] in the vanguard, I think it’s going to be darker. It’s going to be elevated writing. His skills are probably unparalleled in this business, as far as science fiction writing is concerned. I really believe that. He’s got one of those flukey, genius brains, and when he decides to go 100%, when he's total in his direction, its quite amazing. The Year of Hell is a good case in point.
I think next year you'll see more interpersonal conflict. You'll see the Maquis coming out, with Chakotay more. The crew have been gone now, lost for four years. It's time there should be some upset on the ship, and I think that that is what is going to happen. But very often in the creative world, you can't take those risks until there's trust on all sides. If you're not sure how the dice are going to fall, the writers and producers are not going to take these risks unless they're pretty sure that they're going to have a successful product They've got to know where their actors are situated. It's like a chess board. Now I think everybody is in place."
You can't change the rules until you've established them? "That's exactly right. Everybody now can take the plunge, and I think we'll do that. I think that the Hirogen will be fascinating, if that goes on. Species 8472 is frightening - but they're expensive. A lot of opticals, and we have to watch that. We do have a budget so they say!" she laughs.
Does she feel that the balance between the opticals and the drama is right now? There have been some very effects-heavy episodes, and others where they hardly feature. “I'll tell you, Paul" she says bluntly. “They usually save the effects for the sweeps - for all of February and all of May - or for shows that they want to situate for political or highly creative reasons. It makes great sense that they save the money and throw it into those.
“We have to pepper the seasons with what we call ‘bottle shows'. It saves money, and it also gives all of us a chance to catch our breath and get into relationships or one character's head. That will probably change a little bit, but it has a great deal to do with our ratings, and our political situation. If we do better, then we can afford more. But the essence, and the keynote here, has always been that the special effects have been a success. They're a very compelling aspect of STAR TREK, and they don't want to change that.''
Hopefully the effects will not dominate in importance to such an extent that they are the raison d'etre for an episode as has happened with certain films where the storyline has been very weak coupled with amazing effects. "Yes, they have to work in tandem. You can never sacrifice a character for an optical. That's a a great mistake - and vice versa. I completely agree with you. Perhaps we walked the line in Macrocosm. But of late, and this is also is Brannon's forte, I think, he knows how to create a Species 8472 and he knows he's got to go to [Visual Effects Supervisor ] Dan Curry and say, 'For hundred grand, can we shape this, can we do this?' We have to see it and feel it palpably, this alien. And they are splendid. I saw those scenes for the first time the other night - we act to a blue ball, or to a stand in who pretends they're the aliens. When I saw what they had created, that's Dan Curry's genius. I really felt the nature of that creature, that beast. That's all to their enormous credit. What they're doing is unbelievable."
"As long as effects don't replace real people. That was a discussion I had at the dinner table last night. Someone said we are irreplaceable - for obviously philosophical reasons, meaning we have souls, hearts and brains. But did you see TITANIC? When the ship split, it was very difficult for me to determine what was CGI and what was in real time. It was really well done, and it was harrowing to know that if you to don't do a good job your tiny little clone is going to do it!"
I start asking about the ups and downs in Janeway's relationship with her first officer Chakotay , but Kate interrupts: “It hasn't really had its ups and downs, because that's just what the viewers think."
But it seems that those characters do now know how they feel and where they're going... "You've put your finger on the pulse of it. I think we didn't know ourselves. We have a wonderful chemistry, Robert and I, and when you have that on camera, as we do in life, you want to exploit it. It's so much fun. But I look at it from every conceivable angle. I was talking to [Executive Producer] Rick Berman yesterday, and I said, ‘I think we have to put this one to bed, and I would like this great friendship to be intensified and have every possible opportunity to grow.”
"But they can't be lovers. That would kill it. It's not going to work. He needs to be freed up. He's a strapping, attractive, marvellous man and Chakotay should be free, and Janeway in essence should be free too. So without that question hanging over out heads, I think we’ll be liberated in many ways. I’ve asked for an episode addressing this next season. It’s only fair to the viewers. A lot of the women have pinned high hopes on this thing, and I'd like everybody to see it done with integrity and nobility and some grace. We're going to go for a profound relationship. Everybody can then go `Okay, forward and onward’.”
There are scenes between Chakotay and Torres in the fourth season, where Chakotay is berating Torres for undisciplined actions, which have echos of Janeway's relationship with her first officer in the first season. Does Kate feel that Janeway now trusts Chakotay to act as her Exec in these circumstances? "Yes, and I feel [those scenes] open up another door for Torres and Chakotay. I'm not going anywhere specifically with this, but I think tltat it's very important that she's there to stir him up, to agitate him as a Maquis, to remind him who he is. It's very important also that he comes back with, `Yes, but now we are Starfleet.'
"Everybody has settled in, but now it's the time when things would pop. Living under these constraints for four years? I think we're going to see more or that.”
How long does Kate see VOYAGER having as a series? "Before I wheel myself into the ready room?” she jokingly asks. "You know the saying: 'There's no saturation point until there is a saturation point’. I think we have just cracked open the safe. Let's see what treasures there are within. It could go two years, it could go three. We certainly have a distance to go, and I’m excited about it. It’s hard work , but it's fun."
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