Totally Kate Talks with Kate Mulgrew 
November 22, 2010
New York, NY
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions for Kate through Facebook, Twitter and the Totally Kate website. We weren't able to get together during the run of Antony & Cleopatra so we had lunch on Monday before Kate went to rehearsal for Project Shaw

A few interview tidbits - for those who remember my last interview with Kate, once again my french fries were a topic for comment. I offered to share and since she wasn't "in training" for Antony & Cleopatra this time Kate took me up on the offer. And for those among you who love shoes, and you know who you are, during our lunch Kate commented on the shoes of a lady who sat behind us at the bar - "What great shoes. Look at those shoes." - which were leopard print, ballet slippers. 

Never enough time for all the questions but here you go. Hope you enjoy! 

Many thanks to my transcriber! 

Many, many thanks to Kate Mulgrew for taking the time to answer our questions! 

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

Totally Kate:  First thing I want to say is that I loved Cleopatra.

Kate Mulgrew:  Thank you.

Totally Kate:  I really did.  I was glad I saw it twice, though, because as you were saying about the language...

Kate Mulgrew:  Yes... When was the last time you saw it Ė the last weekend?

Totally Kate:  Yes.  The last weekend Ė Saturday and Sunday.

Kate Mulgrew:  So you saw the best.  I was flying by then.  Wasnít it great at the end?  Itís the sorrow of an actor.  I had to give that up.  That's really hard.  John Douglas called me last night.  He said, ďIím in mourning.  I started fighting with my girlfriend!  Itís terrible!Ē You work so hard.  So hard.  And then when it finally takes flight, then you stop.  At any rateÖthank you.

Totally Kate:  Was playing Cleopatra everything you thought it would be?

Kate Mulgrew:  Everything and more.  Everything and much, much more.  But I knew.  I told you some months ago that this was a dream, and how many actresses can tell you that their dream is real.  Itís because of the people in my life.  Michael Wilson decided to mount it.  Tina Landau comes on board to direct. You get a lovely actor like John Douglas Thompson to play Antony.  Itís fantastic.  Extraordinary.  Once in a lifetime. So now I can say I did it. I did it, and I think I did it well.  I know I did it well because I was so completely there. 

Totally Kate:  You did it very well.

Kate Mulgrew:  Thank you.  You know when youíre present to something youíre justÖ. That is whatÖ that is where I belong Connie, do you know that?  Immersed in a great role. Bad roles are not for me.  Iím telling you right now Iím not going to take them any more. So if you donít see me on television for a while, itís because Iím not going to do them. Itís notÖ if I donít fit the role, when I take them and I try to do them, it doesnít work.  It only works if itís good.  Cleopatra works.  Katharine Hepburn works.  Janeway works. Because theyíre good. So I have to just be patient. And I swear to you, thatís what Iím going to do now.  I want you to hold me to it!! 

Totally Kate: What scene was your favorite to portray?

Kate Mulgrew:  I lovedÖ itís so difficult to say.  The secondÖ the first messenger scene, where he comes in and I think that Antony has died, and he tells me that heís married to Octavia, is a great scene.  Because I get to do every conceivable turn, right?  Physically, emotionally, textually Ė so challenging, and so much fun.  But then, for my dimension as an actress, from the moment I walk up to the monument until the end of the play, itís nothing but completeÖIím just going deeper and deeper.  I'm calling on everything in my life from the moment he dies in my arms to the end.  Thatís some pretty challenging stuff. And there was only one way to go, and I just gave itÖ away. I just did it. Every sorrow Iíve known I brought to bear on that.  You know I owned that. Everything is realized. So itís difficult to pick one, but there you have it. 

Totally Kate:  Did you love the costumes?

Kate Mulgrew:  Well you know my dear friend, Anita Yavich, designed them.  And when your costumes are designed at the hands of somebody you love Ė I begged her Ė I had to beg her.  She had three other shows she was doing. ďOh Kate, maybe if I just do you?Ē  And then Tina said Ďyou canít just do her, you have to do all twenty.í  So she really extended herself.  Thatís friendship.  Gorgeous. One diaphanous, exquisite gown after another. Very intricate Connie, you know, we had a lot of problems. It took days to get me in and out of those in time.  Every one of those gold chains had to be individually attached. They didnít go right over my head.  I had three women working on me backstage. Sometimes we couldnít get it all together.  Werenít they marvelous?

Totally Kate:  They were.

Kate Mulgrew:  And of course the Act Two takes me through to the end. Beautifully conceived.  She thinks everything through. Everything to match the feeling. YesÖ againÖ how lucky.  And then I decided to do it in my bare feet.

Totally Kate:  Yeah.

Kate Mulgrew:  I just said, ĎIím not going to do this in sandals, no.í  I think sheísÖ Iím going toÖ

Totally Kate:  And then you had to run up and down the steps and out through the lobbyÖ

Kate Mulgrew:  I stayed so fit!  I was so fit!  And years fall away, you know?  Youíre not thinking about anything else. Youíre just thinking that this is who you are.  When I came home it took me a week to get out of bed.  My feet and legs were in suchÖ trouble.  My knees were so black and blue, you know?  My arms were so bruised from all the grabbing.  It took me a week, and then my back went out. I was flat on my back for four days.  Itís always what happens when you leave something that youíve loved too soon. 

Totally Kate:  Well, you looked great, so what was your fitness routine?

Kate Mulgrew:  I know you have to keep up, yes, but you know itís a natural thing.  Itís all about chemistry - the adrenalineís flowing constantly Ė every day and every night, from the beginning of the day until the end of the evening.  Itís still pouring through me, right?  Rushing through me.  And serotonin, the happiness hormone.  All of this takes weight off, right?  And Iíd get to the theatre an hour and a half early and Iíd do my warm-ups for half an hour which consists of push-ups and sit-ups and running up and down.  And Iím running all over the place.  I run more than the youngsters do in this one!  And I don't eat but you donít really think of eating, you know.  Itís all part of it. So you have noticed, Iím sure, when I work, the weight just comes right off. Itís when Iím fooling around in New York doing nothing, having meal after mealÖ

Totally Kate:  Now that youíve done the role that you always wanted to play, whatís your next dream role?

Kate Mulgrew:  Iím doing a reading of Notebook of Trigorin with Michael Wilson on the 30th.  I donít think itís to the public Ė I donít know Ė Iíll find out from Sarah tomorrow. Notebook of Trigorin is Tennessee Williamsí adaptation of The Seagull by Anton Chekov, and in it is the great role of Madame Arakadina, the actress, whoís taken a younger lover, Trigorin.  Her son tries to commit suicide Ė  absolutely exquisite part.  So I think Michael would like to do that. It would be myself, Matthew Modine, my darling friend Daniel Davis will play my brother Sorin, and Hallie Foote, Horton Footeís daughter will play Nina.  I think itís just for investors though on the 30th.  Iíll find out. (edited to add - this reading isn't open to the public)

Totally Kate:  Will that be for Hartford Stage, or Broadway?

Kate Mulgrew:  It would be Broadway, but heíd like to launch it at Hartford. So he could work it out of town as a new play, and then bring it in.  And thatís the only way heíll do it. Heíll do a deal and work it out of town. So thatís exciting. 

Totally Kate:  Yes.  I hope it does well. It sounds like a real...

Kate Mulgrew:  It sounds good, doesnít it?  Yes, it does.

Totally Kate:  How would you describe your personality?

Kate Mulgrew:  Who asks this question?!

Totally Kate:  Iím just reading the question!

Kate Mulgrew:  A little girl asked that question!  Iíd say that my personality is extroverted.  Iím actually in equal measures an extrovert and an introvert.  Socially extroverted.  Curious. Generous.  Strong.  Willful. Happy.  By in large. And then there's the flip side. But we wonít get into that!

Totally Kate:  The second part of the question is what kind of personality do you work best with, and is this different than the type of personality you are drawn to for personal relationships?

Kate Mulgrew:  That's a good question, a very good question, in fact.  I am drawn to a disciplined personality Ė I am very disciplined.  Iím drawn to humor.  But Iím drawn to someone who loves the work and wants to completely immerse themselves.  And Iím very drawn to talent, Connie.  I donít have any friends who arenít talented, do you know what I mean?  I love talent.  I love goodness, so if that element is present as well, thatís the icing on the cake.  In my private life itís a little different.  Iím increasingly Ė youíll laugh at me Ė Iím increasingly drawn to a real alpha personality, who can Ö sort of take care of me, since Iíve never, ever had that.  A warm, but big, almost powerful, Iíd say, personality.  And devoted, but balanced.  No highs, no lows Ė I donít need it.  Iíll take that when I go to work!  In my private life I want somebody there whoís constant. 

Totally Kate:  When are you happy?

Kate Mulgrew:  Iím happy now.  I'm quite happy. My life is always fraught!  My father said something to me which I will share with you, because itís true:  When I was ten, maybe twelve years old, he said, ĎYouíre a catalyst for drama. Youíre a lightning rod for it!  This room was perfectly fine, and there were twelve people in it.  You walked in - within five minutes there was chaos.  Itís something you do.  Itís just Ė you stir it up!í  And it is true wherever I go, I manage to stir it up.  And I donít know why, but I do!  So thatísÖ thatís alwaysÖ been equally fun and troubling.

Totally Kate:  What do you love most about being a mother, and now that your children have grown, how has this relationship evolved?

Kate Mulgrew: It gets better and better.  Although I still continue to sort of help themÖ Ian is at Columbia and needs help. Alec, although heís a wonderful artist always needs help, and so does my daughter. But as they mature, and as they accept accountablity the burden is lifted from me.  Itís like any other adult relationship, you can really begin to be yourself.  But that weaning process has been particularly difficult for me because Iíve been a single mother for so long, and the breadwinner for so long, that I feel Iíve been in many ways mother and father both, and thatís not good. Iím only their mother.  Their father has to be their father, and he does.  So Iíd say, yes, suddenly realizing Ďoh my heavensí, these are people who if I met them at a cocktail party, Iíd like very, very much.  Itís a joy.

Totally Kate: Have you ever done a play, movie or TV show where the director or co-star was not fully pulling his or her weight, and how did you handle it?

Kate Mulgrew:  Are you asking that seriously?  Well you know how I handle it.  I donít handle that well.  I donít like it.  I donít know why theyíre there.  The worldís full of fine actors.  I donít understand that.  And then when it continues, and it's not corrected, I lose my patience.

Totally Kate:  Who has impacted you most in your career and how?

Kate Mulgrew:  Well certainly my great mentor, Stella Adler.  Stella was amazing.  She absolutely formed me as an actress, and my mother formed me as a human being.  My best friend, Beth has formed me as a person.  Iíd say those three. 

Totally Kate:  Whatís the last book you purchased, and whatís on your night table.

Kate Mulgrew:  Iím reading "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen, Iím almost finished.  And I finished yesterday "Must You Go?", Antonia Fraserís memoire of her marriage to Harold Pinter which was absolutely splendid. Iíve read twelve books on Cleopatra, which I always do when I study somebody.  But those are the two on my night table right now.  But Iím on my way to the bookstore tomorrow.  There are a lot of great things now.  What was Beth talking about last nightÖI donít know. My best friend always calls me with the book sheís just reading, and then we trade. 

Totally Kate:  What real life experiences or people, fictional or not, did you draw on in your role as Captain Janeway?

Kate Mulgrew:  Itís an often asked question, but itís seldom the case that one draws on any one. One draws on a composite.  Itís what I draw from my imagination, from my own personality.  From my mother, from women I know in authoritative positions. Itís what Iíve always said about Janeway Ė that kind of a character emerges as a love affair.  When you know youíre going to play somebody for seven years you have to tap into things that you like and trust about yourself as a leader, because the audience will see through it very quickly.  So I think that my warmth, my capacity for love, my allegiance, again my curiosity, my discipline Ė all those things stood me in good stead.  And they just translated into Janeway in the end, do you know?  Also I think she had a graceÖ I loved her grace. Always gracious.  To the end.  Even to the Borg Queen as she was taking her down, right?

Totally Kate:  How do you define success, and how has your definition of success changed?

Kate Mulgrew:  Very good question.  I define success as doing what makes one happy Ė making a living at what one loves. I have been so lucky in this regard, because Iíve been acting for almost forty years.  What was the second part of the question?

Totally Kate:  How has your definition of success changed over the years?

Kate Mulgrew:  I was very ambitious for most of those years. When the ambition changes is when the idea of success changes.  Success to me now is doing the work that makes me grow and makes me happy. Not the work thatís going to take me to the next good job.  Hollywood and New York are very different things. Night and day, although both cities are tough.  New York is smarter but Hollywood is richer and more powerful, and I choose New York.  Iím getting older, and Iím telling you, I want to play these great roles. I donít want to worry about money or how my TVQ is doingÖ. Iím promising you this:  Iím not going to take anything unless I really want to do it.