Totally Kate Talks with Kate Mulgrew
January 24, 2009
Broadhurst Theatre
New York City
On Saturday, January 24th, I attended the matinee performance of 'Equus' at Broadway's Broadhurst Theatre. Kate Mulgrew plays the role of Hesther Saloman in this revival of Peter Shaffer's play. Kate and the rest of the cast, including Daniel Radcliffe & Richard Griffiths, gave superb performances and I enjoyed a fascinating and thought-provoking play. The limited run ends February 8th but if you have a chance to see it be sure to go!

After the performance I made my way to the stage door to go backstage to see Kate. Although the woman manning the stage door kept assuring everyone that none of the actors would come out to sign autographs after the matinee, her announcement didn't deter fans from crowding around.  I was lucky enough to have an appointment and was eventually able to make my way through the crowd and into the theatre. 

I was led through the theater's basement to Kate's dressing room where I was greeted warmly by Kate. Like all space-starved real estate in New York City the room was small but nice. There was a small sofa and two chairs in the room and across the back wall was a large mirror and vanity where cards and greetings from friends were displayed. Kate was eating her dinner between performances and graciously offered food and drink. After a few minutes of chit-chat we started the interview.

We spoke about 'Equus', 'Master Class', President Obama and various other topics. Many of the questions came from visitors to the Totally Kate website. I didn't want to take up too much of Kate's time but I was pleased to be able to ask quite a few of them. Kate and I thank you all for such thought provoking questions. 

A special thank you to Kate Mulgrew - for taking the time to speak with me; for her wonderful performance in 'Equus'; and for so generously sharing a part of herself with the fans. 

Connie Bell
Totally Kate Webmaster

Many thanks to my transcriber!
Please feel free to share the link but do not repost the interview. 

Totally Kate:  Well these questions are asked from the Totally Kate list.  I got bunches of questions, so I’m just going to ask a few.  Everyone of course is interested in Equus.

Since the character of Hester Saloman is mostly expository, how did you prepare for the role?

Kate Mulgrew:  They’re assuming it’s mostly expository!  Well of course I had to dig deep.  Because she is, pretty much, the messenger. But she’s also the only one in present time, so I consider myself the conscience of the audience, or the people.  I’m there in linear time with Richard Griffiths, whereas everybody else is in flashback.  So I’m experiencing it with him. And I would say that the beauty of this character, if there is beauty to her, which I think there is, is that she understands that this psychotic break that this boy has experienced is not only urgent, but vast.  And she’s intrigued by it.  And she gets to watch as Dr. Dysart finds himself in this vortex … caught up in this vortex. So I get to play on many levels, this wonderful friendship that I have to sort of pull him back into the reality of the mental well being of this boy.  She’s a lot of things, I think, not on the page. 

Totally Kate:  Did you discuss or elaborate upon the relationship between Hester and Dysart with Richard Griffiths?

Kate Mulgrew: With Richard - no.  He said to me very perfunctorily upon meeting me that he wanted no romance.  That evidently the actress in England had really wanted to suggest a romance and that it was not only inappropriate, but something he had no… I said ‘fear not!  I completely agree with you.’  And so I went the other way and took him to this… into this intellectual friendship, which is both stimulating and of course endearing. She’s come to care for him a great deal, but as is revealed in the play, not so much that she knows about his private life, so that when he tells her about his wife, she doesn’t really want to hear it. I’d consider that sort of stepping over the line. Also I think Sir Peter Shaffer has made it very clear that this friendship is very clearly within the parameters of their respective professions brought together because of this boy.

Totally Kate:  Was the role changed for this Broadway production from the original version or the recent London version?

Kate Mulgrew:  It was enhanced for this production. That final argument in the last scene between Hester and Dysart is new.  Where I say he’s got to snap out of it and take care of the kid. 

Totally Kate:  Did you discuss Hester’s character with Peter Shaffer?

Kate Mulgrew:  I didn’t.  No. No, I didn’t feel compelled to do so.

Totally Kate:  How do you feel about the nudity in the play? Necessary?

Kate Mulgrew: Am I nude in this play?! (Both laugh)  Do I think it’s gratuitous or… This is an… this play’s been around for a long time, Connie. And I think Peter Shaffer is not only erudite and very gifted, but I don’t think this is a gratuitous kind of person.  I think the sex is there to bring to the audience’s attention in a severe and immediate way the size of this problem.  Without that vulnerability I don’t know that we’d recognize it for what it really is - that he’s given all of that over to the horse. Could I personally do it?  Probably not. But I think Anna (Camp) does a beautiful job of it. I don’t think… you know I’ve only seen it once from the audience – from the theatre, and it’s so… it’s so innocuous, it’s so tender.  It’s just two little kids taking off their clothes, not having much fun in the end. 

Totally Kate:  Definitely not.  How do you like the audience on the stage – well it’s above you, but…

Kate Mulgrew:  In the gallery.  I don’t mind them.  I don’t mind them. I don’t think I was ever aware of them in any kind of a disturbing way.  No.  You know, they’re there to obviously indicate medical school… Greek… whatever it is.  I feel sorry for them because I know that they’re not seeing the play, you know.

Totally Kate:  I don’t think I’d want to sit up there.

Kate Mulgrew:  It’s a conceit that I think is interesting, but I don’t think they see much.

Totally Kate: After completing your current work in Equus you’ll start another stage role (due to a schedule change Kate will not be performing Maria Callas in Master Class) with about a month’s time for break and rehearsal.  What is the downtime/recovery process between such major works?

Kate Mulgrew:  Two days.  About two days.  This one is fast, fast.  And it’s huge.  And I don’t know what I was thinking about, Connie, but I couldn’t say no to it because it’s so great. 

Totally Kate:  So what kind of research have you done for it?

Kate Mulgrew:  I’m in the middle of it.  I’ve got every single thing she ever sang and every documentary that we could get, and all the literature and I’m right in the middle of it.  It’s extremely dense, the research for this, because there’s so much available to me.  Do you know?  I feel really torn.

Totally Kate:  So she doesn’t sing in Master Class, but are you working on your singing skills?

Kate Mulgrew:  No. Why would I? I have no singing skills. I’m working on imitating some singing skills, though. She does have to… she does have to lip-sync with her… with her appearances. So that’s what she has to do. 

Totally Kate:  You started your research – what has surprised you most about Maria Callas?

Kate Mulgrew: The dimension of her unhappiness. Unsurpassed.  And I’ve told you that I think Hepburn was unhappy.  Nothing.  Hepburn was a walk in the park (compared) to this.  Dark. Sad.  Not sad.  Severe unhappiness at every turn.  Even when she was performing.  Tremendous insecurity about it.  Tremendous angst – the anxiety was awful.  And then she either took that tapeworm, developed that tapeworm, or went on that diet and lost 100 pounds … you know…  that sort of affected her health, and then as you know… you know all the rest of it. Onassis left her and she… she aborted their baby at the age of forty-one, and just one awful thing after another and she was left with her maid and her butler which to me is about the height of real sadness in any life.  So I have to find, as I did with Hepburn, what it is about her that I love - that I can love, that I can understand.  And I have to find the vulnerabilities.  Notwithstanding the insecurities. Insecurities are not interesting to play.  But vulnerabilities are.  To find out where those insecurities came from and how that is still present in a fifty year-old woman, which is how old she would be at this point.

Totally Kate:  Is there any truth about life and art that you share with Maria Callas that you would use if you were to prepare your own master class?

Kate Mulgrew: Yes, I would draw the same parallels.  She says a lot of the things that I say when I teach my own students.  She says it’s all about discipline; it’s a certain…it requires a certain epic strength; that if you want to be great at anything that you do, the sacrifices are unending. And I think that her passion for her craft is not unlike mine for mine, with one possible exception, and that is that she was absolutely unsurpassed as a dramatic coloratura. And when I listen to her I think it’s true, you know, some of the severe critics – and many of them were just… were her critics until the day she died. She is metallic in her high range. She can be like… that sound is… is difficult to hear.  It’s not soft, it’s not velvety, it’s not thick like a Sutherland or a Scott even a Renata Tebaldi.  It’s got a metallic thing, and she… she has that way… you know she talks like that in life, too, so I have to … I went off,  sorry – I’ve forgotten completely what the question was!

Totally Kate:  Do you feel your approach to acting has changed over the years?

Kate Mulgrew:  Well… let’s hope so! Right! God!  At my age I should be thinking about retiring, don’t you think Connie?

Totally Kate: No!  You’re not going to retire!

Kate Mulgrew:  Thank you! Correct answer!  I think it’s changed.  I’ve lightened up, you know. When I was young my ambition was pretty incredible.  And even throughout all the years of raising the children and all the rest of it, it was … I had blinders on.  I would say now there’s no question that life is about who you love.  And I have loved this, and it’s saved me.  It saved me.  I’ve had a lot of bad blows.  It’s really saved me. I’ve always had it to go to.  It’s exalting and it’s great - you know - it’s art. But it’s not people. That’s where I would say the change is. I know that now.

Totally Kate:  You’ve mentioned in the past that you’ve turned your hand to writing.  Is that something that you’re still interested in?  Is there any chance that we’ll ever see any of your writing in the future?

Kate Mulgrew:  Yeah.  I mean I do want to write my memoirs one day.  I keep trying it.  If only to write about that… brilliant chapter… in space!  But I will… I will.  When I’m… you know… when there’s a fallow period and I feel like I need to get this down before I lose it.  I haven’t documented a lot of it, but I need to, while my memory is sharp.  I will do it.  It needs to wait a little bit.  There are people living now I don’t want to upset, you know?  All those men! (laughs) Everybody knows that’s a big joke! (more laughter)

Totally Kate:  So how did you spend election night, and how did you feel when it became clear that Barack Obama would be the next President of the United States?

Kate Mulgrew:  I performed, because it was Tuesday, and I was invited to a party at Claire Labine’s (Ryan's Hope - creator/writer).  And I went, and a lot of the old guard were there – Helen Gallagher was there, Malachy McCourt.  It was a good group.  Gilbert Parker.  And I was the youngster!  And I felt… as I feel today, just… what an amazing thing, huh? What a… what a brilliant thing.  I was reading in the Times a few days ago, letters to the editor, and there was a letter from Canada – this is how I feel – from some woman in Ottawa, but she was speaking for Canada: ‘We’ve missed you. Welcome back dear America.’  And that’s how it feels. That we’re back.  It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be very hard.  It’s going to be complicated.  But dear America is back. And that idiot and his cohorts have gone. Right?

Totally Kate:  How do you think, or do you think things will change now that Barack Obama has taken office?  Do you think people are going to expect too many changes too soon, and what changes do you think he should make first?

Kate Mulgrew:  Well I think it’s in human nature that we expect too much too soon, always.  Especially of someone who is historic – the first African American president, so we’re looking to see, you know, what’s he going to do?  Is he going to be different? How is he going to … But I think he’s made it very clear with the series of executive orders that he’s made, what his intentions are. And I think to the best of his ability, they will be fulfilled. There’s no question that Guantanamo, about which I am now very familiar, is a terribly complicated issue, right? You’ve got 250 detainees there.  Some of them are enemy combatants, some of them are not. Some of them are confirmed terrorists, some are not. Some are benign, some are not. Do we send them back?  If not, how do we… how do we… what’s the word I’m looking for?

Kate's assistant:  Try them?

Kate Mulgrew:  Yes.  Try them and where do we put them here?  Because it… you know… the United States is going to feel very, very vulnerable about that.  So I think it’s great to freeze it for 120 days and see what he can do to restore rule of law, constitutional law, habeas corpus, take one step at a time.  The media’s going to be on him about that.  I know that.  But, you know, that’s the media. You can’t win with this media.  Our media is just… I’m a little over them.

Totally Kate:  He can’t worry about that either.

Kate Mulgrew:  No. He cannot.  So I think Guantanamo is great. I think his choices now, for these envoys to the Middle East, and to Afghanistan and Pakistan are just… it’s brilliant.  George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, whom I do adore. 

Totally Kate:  And the Secretary of State.

Kate Mulgrew:  Hillary Clinton looks like she fell out of bed into that job, she was so marvelous the other day, do you know?  I thought that whole thing at the State Department was just grand.  His confidence in his team. His belief in his team. His not only support of them, but his… his sort of great pleasure and pride – something Bush wouldn’t know if it hit him over the head, because there was none of that, it was so covert, right?  That Darth Vader nonsense. There’s a glory to that.  I mean I think that his great hero is Abraham Lincoln and he’s right.  These are going to be dark times.  Almost as dark as the emancipation of the Negro in this country will be the emancipation of its people under African American dominance.  It’s all going to be just fascinating.  And I think that he’s got a terrific wife, a great cabinet.  It looks like the committees and the sub-committees are coming together nicely.  He’s got this economy to deal with – it’s not going to be pretty.  Probably not for five years. Whereupon he will be into his second term and we will see some turnaround.  But any American who can read, and unfortunately there are many who don’t, understands what’s happened here. And that it’s not our fault, and that we have to just take a deep breath and hang on, and follow his guidance… his guidelines.  I think he’s very smart, I think he’s very good.  I think it’s high time… and I’m so proud, you know?  Really proud.  Tim (Kate's husband) wept.  Tim has been weeping for weeks. Something… that’s something to watch, when he was sworn in. That was really something. 

Totally Kate:  Yes.  Aside from family and friends, what keeps you most connected and present to life?

Kate Mulgrew: Oh… family and friends.  I have a little funny thing… of joy about life that I’ve had ever since I can remember - so of conscious age – four or five. I always wake up with joy. Sometimes the day takes me into a little bit of a … a black hole.  But there’s always this spark of life that begins my day.  So I think if I can just trust that this mystery is so far beyond me, to… to try to… flirt with my capacity to love and challenge it.  To fulfill this thing as an actress, whatever it is, and to be the best kind of mother and friend I can be… and wife to him… that will be enough.  You know I have a little fear of death, Connie, I have a little fear of that.  I just finished reading Julian Barnes’ ‘Nothing To Be Frightened Of’, so it’s comforting to know that one of the foremost philosophers of our times also agrees with that.  I don’t have any answers and I don’t have any kind of… silly faith, you know?  I don’t mean that faith is silly, but I don’t have a … I don’t rely on faith, I’m not going to make it up. I think that if Voyager did one thing in a kind of severe way, it was to make me really question the dimensions of my faith versus what science and the physical world really teaches us, which is there is no god.

Totally Kate: You seem very disciplined and focused.  How do you avoid procrastination and keep motivated?

Kate Mulgrew: I don’t like… procrastination doesn’t interest me at all. I’m not at all a procrastinator. I never have been and I never will be. Only going to bed I’ll procrastinate sometimes.  But no, I love to be doing it. In fact, I would say that’s not such a great thing at this point. Less doing. More reflecting. I’m fifty-three, you know?  I’ve done a lot. It would behoove me to calm down a little bit – take a look. Later!! (laughs)

Totally Kate:  Do you like using the computer?  Do you consider it a necessary annoyance for email, etc?

Kate Mulgrew:  You know I so resent it.  You know all those years when I was doing Voyager that was the biggest joke of all.  Captain Janeway was … I said ‘How do you do this with this?  How do you..?’  I had no idea!  I love to email.  Yeah. I can do that!  Does it intrigue me? No.  Will I, until the day I die say it’s all about books?  Yes. But I can see in this younger generation that computers … they’re all just remarkable.  They can’t do anything without it!  I mean they’ve mastered the whole thing.

Totally Kate: So you’re not going to get an iPhone?

Kate Mulgrew:  No!

Totally Kate:  Best invention!

Kate Mulgrew:  I’m sure!

Totally Kate:  Do you have a favorite memory?

Kate Mulgrew:  Memory?

Totally Kate: Yeah.

Kate Mulgrew:  Oh, I have a lot of wonderful memories, Connie.  It wasn’t so bad when I met Tim.  That memory – meeting him in the hotel lobby…

Totally Kate:  I’ve heard the story!

Kate Mulgrew:  I think that’s a pretty good one.  Well… I’ll skip it!

Totally Kate:  Is there any scientific advancement or development that you’ve heard about in the news that grabbed your attention/curiosity, and would you like to travel into space?

Kate Mulgrew: You always ask me that!

Totally Kate:  It’s not my question!

Kate Mulgrew:  They always want to know if I’ll travel into space.  You know, too bad about Majel (Roddenberry), huh?  I’m sad about Majel.  But Eugene’s been asking me for years to take the zero gravity thing.

Totally Kate:  You said that.  You never did it.

Kate Mulgrew:  Well I’ll do it if he offers it again.  I’ll do it.   But it’s not my great thing to do.  I mean I got to play at it, you know?  Which is the best of all possible worlds. For seven years.  And the first question – these advancements in stem-cell are very… are intriguing. And it appears Alzheimer’s as well.  But we shall see what we shall see, this has been said before.  Remember when I said to you, what was it - eight years ago – that there was a vaccine out of Milan, and they pulled that.  So we’ll have to see what the clinical studies bring to bear. 

Is that it?

Totally Kate:  Those are my questions. 

Kate Mulgrew:  Very good questions. Thank you.