Totally Kate Talks with Kate Mulgrew 
August 15, 2010
New York, NY
On Sunday, August 15th I saw the matinee performance of 'Love, Loss and What I Wore' at the Westside Theatre and then had dinner with Kate and her assistant. I asked Kate the following questions which were submitted by fans through Facebook, Twitter and the Totally Kate website. 

Many thanks to everyone for their questions and especially to my transcriber! 

Special thanks to Kate Mulgrew for answering our questions and sharing a part of herself with us!

Please feel free to share the link but do not repost the interview. 

Kate Mulgrew:  Are these from peopleÖ.?

Totally Kate:  Yes, these are from people from the website, Facebook, Twitter.

Kate Mulgrew:  Fantastic!  Start with yours. What is yours? Do you have one?

Totally Kate:  I do have one.  Do you have to go in and audition for parts, or do you just getÖ ďwe think youíd like to do this, would you like to do thisĒ?

Kate Mulgrew:  Iím going to repeat that back so youíll have it:  Do I have to audition for parts, or are they offered to me.  It depends.  It absolutely depends.  For television thereís almost always a meeting.  Iím in a meeting category.  They ask to meet with me, and then when I go in I usually say, ĎLet me audition for this.  Let me read it for you.í  And then sometimes I just get straight offers.   It really depends. But as you know, itís a very competitive world soÖ

Totally Kate:  ĎLove, Loss, and What I Woreí is performed in a relatively intimate setting.  The theatre is small and thereís no formal set.  How do you like working in such a setting as this Ė does it have a different feel to it?  And can you tell us what you like or dislike about it.

Kate Mulgrew:  ItísÖ Iíd have to say itís easy, but Iím not sure I like that.  I mean itís easy to come in, sit down at a music stand and have the script in front of you, so Iím not sure I really prefer that.  I think I prefer to be doing a play. But it is what it is.  This is an event, and it shouldnít be confused with a play. Itís a series of monologues, and for what it is, Iím enjoying myself.  Yes.  But itís not a completeÖ

Totally Kate:  Itís not a character that youíre getting into.

Kate Mulgrew:  Which is always my preference Ė to go deeper.  You know, these are just thirty day cycles. 

Totally Kate:  Right.  Which story from ĎLove, Loss, and What I Woreí do you relate to the most, and why?

Kate Mulgrew:  Which do I relate to the most?  Thatís a good question.  BoyÖ!  Thatís interesting!  Which do I relate to the most?  Probably Geralynís storyÖ because thatís my sister, my friendÖ you know, I know that story very well.  And I know Lynneís story, I know about love.  The others IÖ and Gingy Ė parts of Gingyís life.  Right?  Her marriages.  Her sisters.  Her friend Dora, all of that.  Itís all female stuff.

Totally Kate:  How were the various scenes/stories assigned? Did you have a choice in any of the scenes? 

Kate Mulgrew:  Well, I went with Daryl Roth - I met Daryl at an event I was MCing Ė thatís how this all started.  She asked me if I would be interested in doing it, and I said ĎSureí.  So she took me.  And the night I was there it was Brooke Shields, Julie Halston, Doris Roberts, Samuel Jacksonís wife, Iíve forgotten who that is.  And Julie Halston was in my seat.  Do you know who she is?  Sheís very funny.  And I remember saying when it was over, ĎI want that track.  Iíd like to do it, and Iíd like that track.í  And I got exactly that track.  But Geralynís story was an addition for my character. Brooke Shields had it that night, so...  They switch it Ė they switch them around.   They have, as it was explained to me, a young one, an ethnic one, a funny one slash slightly heavy one Ė so she can do all the Ďfat stuffí, because thereís a lot of Ďfat stuffí in this piece. A sort of elegant, Ďstarí one (thatís me), and then the older one Ė which is Gingy.  And of all of them, mine is probably the straight man, soÖ I have to reallyÖwhich Iím notÖ

Totally Kate:  You have some zingers!

Kate Mulgrew: I have some good stuff, but itísÖ

Totally Kate:  What goes through your mind when you walk out that stage door to greet your fans?  Especially in New York City!

Totally Kate:  Wonder where Iím going to eat tonight!  (much laughter from Kate) AndÖ where are they?  AndÖ Is this going to be a fun house?  If itís too young, itís not fun Ė they donít get the jokes.  If itís too old, they donít get the jokes.  If itís your age Ė middle aged women.  30!  You canít get young girls in there.  They just donít connect to it. 

Totally Kate:  How are you preparing for Antony & Cleopatra? (Kate will be playing Cleopatra at Hartford Stage Company - Oct. 7th to Nov. 7th) Are the preparations both mental and physical?

Kate Mulgrew:  Thereís nothing Iím not doing.   Iím training three times a week Ė rigorously, and spending a fortune to do it!  A top-notch personal trainer. But you canít see the difference?!

Totally Kate:  You look great!

Kate Mulgrew:  Iím on a strict diet.  I havenít had a drink in a month. Iím reading and working all day, every day, when Iím not in this. I mean Iím consumed. (as our food comes) Look at your French fries!!

Totally Kate:  Do want to pause while we eat?

Kate Mulgrew:  NoÖweíll keep going! Can we eat and talk at the same time?!  I can do it!  (laughing) Iím from Iowa. And Iíll tell you something, Connie:  getting in shape physically gets absolutely much harder.  I did it for ĎIphigeniaí, and I did it for ĎLeading Ladyí, and I did it for ĎEquusí, and itísÖ itís hard.  I meanÖ

Totally Kate:  You look better now than I think youíve looked in some timeÖ

Kate Mulgrew:  Thank you.  Thank you.   I feel great.  Thatís the up side.
Totally Kate:  What is the most interesting tidbit you learned about Cleopatra in your readings about her?

Kate Mulgrew: That she spoke fifteen languages. 

Totally Kate:  Wow!

Kate Mulgrew:  And was the only ruler of her time, or of the dynasties preceding her who did that.  The only ruler to speak fluent Egyptian, and she was the leader of Egypt.  She could converse with anyone, on their level and in their tongue. It was masterful.  Unheard of, and unprecedented.   It is debatable now Ė arguable, historically whether she was the product of complete incest or not.  Her mother may have been her aunt.  Incest was practiced in the Ptolemaic Dynasty. And if thatís the case, and she was, I think what it proves is that in her case it produced a kind of genius. But I think she was on the edge of a knife, Cleopatra the Seventh.   Her mood swings.  Her mind. Her strategy, her methodology.  Everything was on.  She was just fantastically smart. And extremely temperamental. And she cared about one thing more than anything else, and that was her kingdom. Look what she did:  She bedded Julius Caesar, itís said she bedded Naius Pompey but itís not proven.  And Antony.  She wasnít thinking purely about sexual gratification, clearly.  She was thinking - at that time Rome was the great power of the world.  She was thinking about being protected. She was an extraordinary creature.  You know how she met Caesar, donít you?  Well, Iím not going to go on and on and on!  Whatís the next question?

Totally Kate: A Voyager question: Do you think at any point Janeway would have liked to have been able to relinquish her command, even temporarily? If she never would, do you think that's because of her need for control or her sense of responsibility?

Kate Mulgrew:  She did relinquish control a few times. She did.  Although not entirely. No, I think she was a control freak!  And thatís what you love about her, and thatís what got her in trouble, and thatís what you sometimes donít like about her.  But she had to control it. Thatís the only way she could function.  Thatís what got them home.  It could be a pain butÖ

Totally Kate:  A Ryanís Hope question: This person wants to say that Mary Ryan is one of the best television characters ever created, period! Do you still have any contact or relationships with your former Ryan's Hope cast mates?

Kate Mulgrew:  Well, you know, the real answer to that is Nancy Addison was my best friend, and sheís dead.  Claire Labine is one of my closest friends and I see her all the time.  Thatís enough!  I love to see Michael Levin when I see him.  I just had dinner with Helen Gallagher a couple of weeks ago Ė it was Claireís birthday.  Iím very happy to see them when I see them. But I have a deep and enduring friendship with Claire Labine. 

Totally Kate:  The relationship between Jack and Mary on Ryanís Hope reminded me of the Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracey film couples. What was it like working with Michael Levin and did you like playing that relationship?

Kate Mulgrew:  I loved working with Michael Levin. You know we had a wonderfulÖ

Totally Kate:  You fought very well!

Kate Mulgrew:  We fought very well and we made up very well!  I like him so much.  You have to like somebody like that when youíre working that closely. And obviously it captured the imagination of a very large audience, didnít it?

Totally Kate:  Definitely.

Kate Mulgrew:  He was a good man.  A wonderful friend to have on that set.  It could be a difficult thing, working so hard.  But no, it was great, great. 

Totally Kate:  Of all your auditions and experiences, what are some of your favorite monologues/pieces to present? Or perhaps a favorite writer you enjoy presenting?

Kate Mulgrew:  Oh.  But Iíve neverÖ I donít need to auditionÖ I donít use monologues to audition. 

Totally Kate:  Okay!  When reading a script for a project are there certain aspects/characteristics within the character(s) or story line that you look for which help you decide on the project?  And if so what are they and why are they important to you?

Kate Mulgrew:  What do I look for in a character that makes me choose the project?  If itís well written.  If the character has depth and dimension. I mean clearly Ė the obvious:  Someone who can make a Ö someone who will have an effect.  Someone bigger thanÖ you knowÖ what we usually see.  And a character that will let me stretch, is what I ideally would love. 

Totally Kate:  OkayÖ so with that:  Most of the roles youíve played indicate a tendency toward strong, independent and confident characters. Is this intentional, or subconscious? And, what would it take to intrigue you enough to take on a role where the woman was a meek, mild mannered or dependent type?

Kate Mulgrew: Iíd love to.  But Iím not offered them.  The world is without an imagination in this regard.  Iím passed in these roles because Iím like this. You know.  They werenít going to cast a meek, funny looking person to play Captain Janeway. It wasnít going to happen.  Or Mary Ryan.  Or Mrs. Columbo, or Cleopatra, or anybody!  It doesnítÖ so to play the meek, why would they go to me?  When there is a meek actress.  When they can get, you knowÖ so would I like to stretch, yes! ButÖ not likely.

Totally Kate: Do you think people underestimate your comedic ability? Does comedy come naturally to you?

Kate Mulgrew:  Yes!  They do underestimate it.  Even in this.  Daryl Roth knows me very well Ė she gave me all straight stuff!

KMís Assistant:  I think when ĎThe Best and the Brightestí comes out, itíll twig some people to see that Ė the comedic side of you, donít you think?

Kate Mulgrew:  I hope!  I have a very comedic side.  Once again, you get typed as a serious, dramatic actress.  Leading ladies are not usually comedians, you know?  And thatís for a variety of reasons, but I think thatís because men donít want to Ö donít really find women funny. And they donít want to laugh at a leading lady.  They want to make love to the leading lady.  Itís just the basic stuff.  Well that doesnít apply any more, butÖ now Iím the mother!

KMís Assistant:  Which is ridiculous!

Kate Mulgrew:  Iím happy about that, actually.  WellÖ I wouldnít say shouting with joy!

Totally Kate:  (Laughing) Well, hereís another question: You have been described as a character actress. What exactly does that mean to you?

Kate Mulgrew:  This is the first Iíve heard of this!  I have not been commonly known as a character actress.  I think what this person is suggesting is that I immerse myself in another characterÖ is that I create another character, as I did with Hepburn. Thatís what they mean. And that is of course the entire challenge, isnít it?  Thatís the fun.  So bring on the character work!

Totally Kate: A lot of people are asked if they use their life experiences to help convey the emotions needed to play a role. I would like to flip this around and ask, if any of the roles that Kate has taken on have helped her deal with situations that subsequently arose in her own life.

Kate Mulgrew:  Of course.  And everything that Iíve experienced goes into the work. We were talking about this yesterday Ė I had dinner with Kristine (Nielsen) and Jane (Houdyshell).  Itís a craft, without question.  At our age itís a craft. Indisputably.  But itís also catharsis - itís also a way of letting go. Kristineís mother just died, and her sisterÖ so sheís letting a lot of that go in this Ė you can see it. I brought to Hepburn the loss of my own mother.  Absolutely.  Thatís how you can endow it.  If you havenít lived it, I think itís very hard to make it up.

Totally Kate:  I have loved listening to the audiobooks you have read. Do you plan to do any more? And what book would you most like to make into an audiobook?

Kate Mulgrew:  I just did one yesterday.  I loved it! He asked me if Iíd do more.  I just did one and I loved it.  It was about a Ö it was about a vineyard. If I could remember the title of itÖSo, I love doing them, I intend to do more. Audible Books.  Great group.

Totally Kate:  As an avid reader how do you feel about the Kindle/eBooks/Nooks? Do you think that they will eventually get rid of paper books? And do you own one?

Kate Mulgrew:  I have such a resistance to this technology. My niece pulled one out the other day Ė sheís a voracious reader.  Sheís only twelve, but sheísÖ I actually got sad.  I said ĎIsabel, are you really telling me that thatís going to replaceÖí  She said, ĎOh, itís just for trips, Aunt Kate.í  I said, ĎDonít get defensive, just tell me the truth.í  She said, ĎWell, itís what everybodyís using.í  I said, ĎWell, what about the ritual?í 

KM to her Assistant:  Do you have it (referring to the previously mentioned audiobook)?

KMís Assistant:  Itís called ďWater to WineĒ by Mary Robinette Kowal.  Itís for Audible Books.

Kate Mulgrew:  (back to the Kindle question) Itís all about letting go of what we are familiar with.  For me, and for thousands of years, ladies, it has been the ritual of reading the book Ė from papyrus to binding.  It is the taking of the book, smelling of the book.  The lovely thing of being alone with the book. For me itís very romantic about the book.  You know thatísÖ I was one of eight kids Ė that was the escape.  The book.  Not that (meaning the Reader).  I donít know what that is, you know?

Totally Kate:  Itís nice because you can put a bunch of books on, and just carry this little thing, but you canít share a book when youíre done. 

Kate Mulgrew:  Part of it is having a relationship.  Itís a very real thing, a relationship with a book.  The book is a living, breathing thing in my opinion.  It has a smell and a taste and a feel.  And if youíre just holding a little plastic thing, thereís no longer that dynamic. Do you feel that way too, Connie?  How do you feel?

Totally Kate:  I want to get one!

Kate Mulgrew:  You do?!  (Laughs)  Then you go get one!  And let me know what it feels like, will you?!

Totally Kate:  I will! Where do you see yourself in your career in the next five years?

Kate Mulgrew:  I think everythingís changing, Connie. I donít want everybody to take this amiss.  First of all Iím going to say I want to do what I want to do now.  The things that make me happy.  But Iím beginning to feel veryÖ Iím beginning to feel that I have to do something else.  Iím not even sure what it is.  What I need isÖ I need to give back a little bit more than Iím doing.  In a way it almost feels like this isnít enough anymore.  Are you understanding me?  This isnít toÖ I love to act, but I think thereís something else that I will be doing as well.  I think I will be writing, or I think I will be doing something.  And theyíll be neck and neck.  I will always act. Something else is coming Ė I just feel that.  I write a lot, you know.  And itís getting published, and itís being used andÖ

Totally Kate:  Are you going to write yourÖ

Kate Mulgrew:   And Iím going to write my book and thatís going to take some time.  So Iíll start that pretty soon.  I used to say I was too young, but Iím not saying that any more!

Totally Kate:  If you could travel forward or backwards in time, which way would you go? Where would you see? And who would you want to meet?

Kate Mulgrew:   Iíd go back, and Iíd meet Christ.  Iíd like to sit at that table, with Christ and the Disciples. Iíd have dinner with them, and just listen to them - talk to them.  See what was going on.  And ask him, ĎAre you really the son of God?í  What do you guys think?  And donít all go ĎOy!í  Thatís the other thing.  Christ was just around the corner from Cleopatra!  She had a serious flirtation with Herod, who you know was responsible for the death of Christ.  Everythingís now Cleopatra!  I can track her in any way!

Totally Kate:  Always turn it back to that!

Kate Mulgrew: Iíll go back to that!

Totally Kate: What do you do in your little time off? How do you unwind after a long days work? What kind of music do you like?

Kate Mulgrew:  I love classical music.  I love opera.  I like all kinds of music, really.  Except rock.  HardÖI donít like that.  How do I relax?  I love to go out to eat and have a little wine Ė a great dinner.  I love to entertain.  If Iím working with this intensity, itís all about just being alone and doing my thing.  Read, read, read, read, read. I watched a special the other night about Picasso, but thatís the only bit of television Iíve watched in a long time. Iím so riveted Ė fascinated by Picasso. I donít think he had one happy moment in his life. This guy was so intense, you know?

KMís Assistant:  Did you see the exhibit at the Met?

Kate Mulgrew: A new exhibit?  I saw this on CUNY.  Iíve got to get over there to see the Egyptian exhibit. I have to do that.

Totally Kate:  What is the best advice you have ever been given?

Kate Mulgrew:  Learn your lines, and donít bump into the furniture.  Allís fair in love and war Ė which is very true!  And Ö my mother used to say, I donít know how she put it, but it was always very clear Ė that to beÖ to be kind was more important than anything else. To be empathetic.  If you can put yourself in the other personís shoes, thereís nothing that you canít feel or understand.  SoÖ thatís what Iíd say.

Totally Kate:  Last question: Since losing your mother to Alzheimer's and educating yourself about the disease, have you found yourself making any lifestyle changes in order to reduce risk factors for yourself, and to better promote your own mental/brain health? If so, what were they and what have you learned that you might recommend to others?

Kate Mulgrew:  Yes, and Iím presently practicing all of those disciplines, which are (that) I watch my diet Ė very carefully.  But I have done since she got sick, Iíd say.  I exercise religiously.  And I use my mind as much as I possibly can.  You know, if that organ is exercised Iíd say the better chance ofÖ of being able to rely on it later on.  So I think the disciplineís a factor.  Itís very clear Ė sloppiness is sloppy, and makes people unhappy anyway. It seems to me a little discipline is great.  Thatís it.  Read.  Think.  Talk to interesting people. Iím more and more inclined to not want to partake of anything thatís reallyÖ stupid. I see that the clock is ticking now, very loudly and very fast.  And I donít want to engage in stuff that is not only without substance, but is stupidÖ yeah, really stupid.  A lot of people do that.  I donít want to be with a lot of dumb kids, I want to be with smart kids!  I want to be with people that I can really engage with, because itís over.  Are you reading Christopher Hitchens?  Very interesting about him.  Hitchens is dying you know, of cancer. I love him Ė professed atheist, you know.  He says, ďIf you want to pray for me, pray for me. But if I call out the name of God at the end, itís only because the cancer has gone to my brain!Ē I mean heís an absolute Ė isnít he Ė diehard.

KMís Assistant:  He has like Stage 4, found it too late, never going to be able to recoverÖ

Kate Mulgrew:  No.  He said if he lives five years it will be a miracle. I think the thing to do is to develop an ideology that not only suits you, but that you probably would die for. Itís not enough to say youíre going to die for people Ė weíre all going to die. Of course Iím going to take a bullet for my kids. Iíd like to be able to take a bullet for a greater idea, do you know?  The more I read, and the longer I live, the more I see that thatís the way of it. You have to fashion an ideology.  And a methodology that is strong. Yeah.  

So there you have it Ė we whipped right through those questions!  Now, you eat your dinner!