A standing ovation greeted Kate Mulgrew's speaking engagement at the Bellevue, WA Dreamwerks' Collector's Expo. Dressed simply, yet elegantly, in a cream colored tunic and pants set, she spoke for an hour before opening up for questions from the audience. Throughout, she was funny, relaxed, and down-to-earth. She easily carried the audience with her as she moved from empathy to warmth, from near tears to irreverent comments that evoked frequent laughter.
Kate started speaking with what sounded like a prepared speech, alternately praising and poking sly fun at her co-workers. She couldn't say enough about how hard Jeri Ryan had to work this past year, but her hand gestures described the oft noticed dimensions of the Borg character's chest. Asked later to comment on the dynamic between Janeway and Seven of Nine, Mulgrew quipped, "Oh, it's clearly a mother-daughter relationship. Haven't you noticed we have the same figure?"
Ms. Mulgrew also assured her audience that, "with all due respect, enough is enough." Voyager will concentrate more on the entire ensemble next season, now that the character of Seven of Nine has been introduced. She added that "this is a story about an [entire] family who is lost in space," rather than a story about one or two characters.
Now Voyager, Kate's fan club, presented her with 2 huge buckets of flowers and $300 for Incarnation House, a Harlem-based residence for children and babies with HIV/AIDS. Every time this charity is mentioned, it is clear that it means a lot to Kate. She again told the story of Geraldo and Rosie O'Donnell contributing a million dollars each, enabling Incarnation House to provide nearly one-on-one care for the children. However, her comment that she knew her fans probably didn't have the money for this $300 contribution gave us the impression that she was also touched by this donation. She explained that "We all must die, but at Incarnation House, at least these children can die with dignity."
Kate took some pleasure in beating her audience to broaching two of the hotter topics she routinely deals with. She followed a casual comment about getting rid of Janeway's ponytail with a gleeful, "Ha! I beat you to the hair." She also initiated talk about J/C, promising again that she wants to see their relationship deepen and show more complexity. Mulgrew added with a laugh, "I have to pay Robert (Beltran) like a million dollars every time I say that."
After she'd talked for about an hour, Ms. Mulgrew asked for questions from the audience. A mike was set up in the center aisle, and a line formed as members of the audience took turns asking about an hour's worth of questions.
A dynamic in the con audience that I was not expecting came from several young women who told Kate how much she means to them as a role model. These people were crying as they spoke; I found their comments both heart-rending and embarrassing. At one point, Kate herself seemed to be on the verge of tears, "I always find such comments daunting." She added that young women often write to her, and "I feel responsible."
One woman explained that she'd been adopted, and "it's strong, beautiful women like you who help me do [the scary things] I need to do." Another woman concluded similar comments by presenting Kate with a richly colored afghan that she'd made, causing Ms. Mulgrew to comment "Life is too intensely short not to do the courageous and the bold." Kate listened compassionately, and called some of them over to the stage for a few private comments or a hug.
Always impressed by her timing and speaking ability, I was particularly amused at the way Kate could change the mood after some of the more emotional comments. She'd seem nearly in tears one moment, then two minutes later, she'd be cheekily asking the next person in line, "So where *else* are you pierced?"
Prompted by another audience question, Kate spoke at length about the Grand Slam occasion where she joined William Shatner, Avery Brooks and Patrick Stewart on stage for a Trek Captains' forum. When asked about Avery Brooks' intensity on this occasion, I was surprised and pleased to hear her preface her defense of him with the comment, "Because you are a white male, you will honor this." She went on to explain that Brooks' family had struggled to succeed against the effects of racism while he was growing up as an African-American male. She also commented how much fun it was to play opposite Brooks in "Roots: The Gift" because her character (as a bounty hunter pursuing escaped slave Brooks) was one of the few she's played who could be considered completely amoral. She added that the Roots production provided Avery Brooks a forum to explain some of his beliefs and opinions.
William Shatner was the subject of another question. As she did with several other people she mentioned, she said several complimentary things about him, but used this to build up to a sly comment that I took as poking fun at Shatner's well-known ego. "It's really difficult to be uncomfortable with Bill Shatner, because Bill is so... ...comfortable... with himself". She managed to make this seemingly innocuous comment sound like all the nice things she'd said about him were things he'd undoubtedly agree with. Throughout the con, she showed an impish, slightly naughty sense of humor which served to endear her even more to an already appreciative audience.
One audience member asked her if Voyager would get home to the Alpha Quadrant this season. Her reply that she didn't think that would happen included the self-deprecating caveat, "Of course, they [TPTB] don't tell me everything; they learned that the hard way."
Asked about her family, Kate responded that they were fine, except that Alex (her teenage son) "severed" his foot skateboarding and "won't walk for four months." Her explanation indicated that he'd suffered a very severe break, not an amputation. During her hiatus this past spring, she traveled in eight countries throughout the Middle East and Europe with her mother, whom "I told my mother.... how much I loved her.....it's probably the last time." She seemed to choke up for a split second, but didn't explain this comment.
Her hiatus also included the opportunity to make a TV movie for UPN, which will be shown during October on UPN's Thursday movie night. Entitled "Riddler's Moon", it is a story about the struggles of an Indiana farm woman, whom Kate explained is a "very different character than Janeway."
Asked if she was concerned about being typecast as Kathryn Janeway, Kate responded that Janeway possesses "intelligence, strength and humanity. I don't mind being typecast like that."
Further questions from the audience included one from a man who asked what was the most unusual thing she'd ever been asked to autograph. Kate laughed, hemmed and hawed for a second, and then retorted that she'd have to give that one some thought. Someone else referred to the scene in Caretaker where Janeway takes Harry Kim to task for calling her "Sir" or "Ma'am", and insists that he call her Captain "until it's crunch time." This audience member wanted to know which one Mulgrew preferred. She replied, "I like "Yes, ma'am"; I'm fond of it. I like "Captain" best."
Another audience member's question prompted her to query the audience, "Don't you think Kathryn Janeway is Mary Ryan (one of Kate's first roles, on a soap opera called "Ryan's Hope") grown up?"
When her comments drifted onto the topic of feminism, Kate voiced a concern that "in our eagerness to be competitive with men," she sees women "losing our compassion." This concerns her, since she sees women's compassion as something unique.
A young boy (he said he was 12) asked Kate when she started acting, as he was interested in becoming an actor. She responded that she was "pierced by the arrow of passion" at age 13. A moment later, she realized the double entendre, and stepped away from the podium blushing and laughing. She asked the boy, "Do you know what that means?" More laughter. "Of course you do!"
She went on to explain that she'd done a reading for her school (her irreverent description of the nuns at her Catholic school rivaled any I've heard) and, at the end, when she realized she had all these nuns in tears, she was "like, YES! This is for me." Kate then put the boy on the spot by asking him if he knew what the most important thing he could do to prepare might be? He was quite silent, but she kept pushing him, and he finally volunteered, "Practice?" She acknowledged that that was important, but emphasized that he should "READ!"
In one of her closing remarks she reiterated "one message to today's youth. Read, and live your passion!" Then, she queried the audience about the reasons why young people today don't have great passion. She said she'd had such a great passion for acting, but that her sons don't have that kind of passion. When asked if her sons wanted to become actors, she replied that no, they'd probably become doctors or lawyers.
I'd heard somewhere that Kate likes hot cars and expensive clothes, so I was surprised when she responded to one questioner by saying that "I've always driven a Jeep. I'm not really that interested in material things." She did admit that her one weakness was shoes. "I'll take 52 of those...."
She said her favorite book was probably Tolstoy's War and Peace. When asked, "Do you have heroes?" she responded that she did, but "not celebrities." She named Mother Theresa, and said she respects the Pope for his strength and dignity, although she's "not sure about his dogma." When she was a young girl, she loved Shakespeare. She also named William Faulkner. Asked about her favorite actors, she said she likes a lot of the British actresses.
Asked to comment on how physically demanding her job is, she replied that it's *very* demanding, but that she finds it fun to do stunts. She does all her own stunts, except those that are "clearly death-defying", and said that it's a great way to get in shape. "I do things I wouldn't have dreamed of doing four years ago." A pause, then, "Of course, I had *fun* not doing those things.... "
This was the first time I'd seen Kate live. Prior to this, I'd only heard several WAV files of her doing interviews, and she often sounded tired, with her voice deep, rough, and often monotonic. In addition, her extensive vocabulary and unusual way of phrasing her comments often makes her sound somewhat stilted to me. However, this was not my impression at the Dreamwerks con. Although she often used vocabulary that might daunt the less literate (at one point, she rattled off a list of her favorite Russian authors, most of whom I'd never heard of), she rarely seemed to speechify. Most often, her voice was quite pleasant and more melodic than it often seems on TV, and her warmth and humor made me feel almost as if she were enjoying a dialogue with a group of friends. Her opening remarks included comments praising the Northwest and her history in the Seattle theatre community. Kate made it clear that she remembers Seattle with affection and enjoys the audiences here.
Her offer to sign autographs for the entire audience (estimated at about 450 people) seemed to cement that feeling. As I watched her interact with the people approaching the table where she sat, the warmth that she'd projected from the podium was passed on to many of her fans. Her warm smile was often in evidence, as was her graciousness at repeated requests to pose for a picture with her. She does a very good job of projecting the aura of a generous, giving person.
After the con, I had an opportunity to rewatch several Season Three and Four Voyager episodes. While I was most amused at Winrich Kolbe's rather obvious tendency to include LOTS of profile shots of the lovely Kathryn Janeway, I was also struck at how much stiffer, colder and more uptight Janeway seems when compared with Kate Mulgrew. Suddenly, it was clearer to me how much Mulgrew is able to build a character that is visibly different than her own. I found myself watching those videos for a glimpse of the warm, ready smile that was very much in evidence at the con. I saw it rarely, if ever. Guess I'll have to attend another con someday......
(c) Aspen Mountjoy, August 1998