Totally Kate Interviews Kate Mulgrew
February 2004

Totally Kate and her Transcriber were lucky enough to share a leisurely lunch with Kate Mulgrew in West Palm Beach in early February.  During that time Kate answered many of the questions submitted by list members and talked about theatre, literature and life in general.

We want to thank Kate very much for the time she took out of her busy schedule to spend with us.  We had a fabulous few hours – we hope you enjoy the results.


Totally Kate:  We asked the list – the Totally Kate list – if they could ask you a question, what would it be.   And we got lots of answers!

Kate Mulgrew:  Did you?!

Totally Kate: We went through them and we picked out some pretty good ones!

Kate Mulgrew:  Did you?!  Did you?  I'm ready.  Are you ready, ladies!?

Totally Kate:  We've got your requisite Janeway question – one Janeway question.  This is from MisVoy. She wants to know – she remembers you saying in an interview that you wanted to be in a room with Katharine Hepburn and Kathryn Janeway and have a heart-to-heart talk about men.  She wants to know what does she think each of these three Kates would say about men? 

Kate Mulgrew:  I'll bet she does!! There's no question what Hepburn would say.  She would go back to what she's always said about Tracy.  "He's a man's man. He put out his big paw and smacked me and that's what it's all about.  And I just fell to my knees. And that's what I loved.  And that's the way it's always been." 

Janeway would be far more circumspect.  "I regard men as equal to women.  I myself have made a sacrifice in this regard.  I am now no longer willing to make this sacrifice.  But I'm getting on in years.  I would like a kind man, and more importantly, an intimate companion."  The great difference between them is Janeway would want the intimate companionship and Hepburn would want the separation – big man – little woman. That's my take on that.

Totally Kate:  So what's Kate's thinking?

Kate Mulgrew:  You've met him, Connie, haven't you?

Totally Kate:  Yes.

Kate Mulgrew:  The perfect combination of everything that not only delights, but exalts me - is my husband.  I could not ask for a better man.  (Jokingly) If it stays alive!  We only see each other once a year!!! 

Totally Kate:  Is he coming back (to West Palm Beach)?

Kate Mulgrew:  He may now change his mind because I go directly to L.A.  That's the hard part.  That's what I mean.

He understands that if I'm not happy – which was not an understanding in my first marriage – if I'm not happy as an actor the marriage isn't going to work. And conversely, if he is not politically fulfilled … Maybe that's the second time around - I don't know.  We're absolute equals in this.  And it feeds the passion.

Totally Kate:  We've got one Ryan's Hope question. Claire Labine who did such a wonderful job writing Ryan's Hope, also wrote and produced Lovespell, the movie you did with Richard Burton, which is actually coming out on DVD in a few months. Have you two had the opportunity to work together on any other projects and would you like to work together again?

Kate Mulgrew:  We would very much like to work together again.  And we've talked about it for years.  For some reason it's been elusive. She would take a movie idea to a network and I would not be available.  And of course Voyager happened and it's just been – it's not been in the cards. But I'd give my eye-teeth to work with her.  Not only did she launch my career, but I have always held that Claire Labine was one of the great writers of all time - in television.  She introduced to daytime television Ryan's Hope - a completely unorthodox notion - couched in such beautiful language. She really lifted up the medium.  So would I die to do it again?  Absolutely.  But serendipity has to play a major role in all this, so I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Totally Kate:  Me too!  Let's see… Do you prefer doing original pieces where you have room for collaboration on your character with the author, or the classics where there obviously isn't much room for changes in the script?  And do you approach these roles differently?

Kate Mulgrew:  Well certainly they're approached differently.  And no, I would not say that I necessarily prefer one to the other.  Great writing is great writing.  It's as simple as all that. When I read "The Royal Family" last night by George Kaufman and Edna Ferber, I mean, this is great, right?  Now there is no question that I would do it in a second for nothing, as opposed to a very bad television pilot, because what's the point?  So no, the approach is the same.  The elegance and the quality – the talent is always in the literature.  I start with the word and I base everything on that.  It doesn't make any difference to me. 

Totally Kate:  This is kind of the same.  Do you use a different preparation process when you play a fictional character as opposed to a 'true life' character?

Kate Mulgrew:  Of course.  Of course.  You're dealing with evidence.  Forensics. I had so much to work with on "Tea at Five".  And I had 32 books and about 40 movies. And television interviews.  One approaches it with a greater – much greater sense of responsibility.  We are talking about someone who has lived.  It must be honored in every respect.  The fictional can take any kind of channel - according to the actor's marriage to the character.  You can – it's a different kind of dance.  There's much more license. 

Totally Kate:  Was it easier to do Katharine Hepburn since you had all the films to watch than when you did "Time for Miracles" and Mother Seton.  You couldn't see her?

Kate Mulgrew:  In a sense it's harder.  In a sense it's harder because when you can see over and over and over again - the part of you that became an actor when you were a little girl wants to go immediately to the impersonation.  This is easy – oh I can borrow that or I can feel that or I can do that.  But in fact I had to do with Hepburn what I did with Elizabeth Seton, which is you have to go into the deepest part of who that person really was.  So pictures or no pictures, movies or no movies, documents or no documents, if you're dealing with a real person, you take the bare bones of these facts and you flesh out this body as best you can.

Totally Kate:  Carol LaPlante has a question.  How do you balance the ritual/discipline which you observe while performing in the theater (especially in a one person play like "Tea at Five") with the practice of being "in the moment" or present while on stage?

Kate Mulgrew:  She's saying how can you be so disciplined and then let go.  But that's the whole point.  It's a very good question – a very smart question. When I was in acting school – and I studied under the best - I studied under Stella Adler, who was the only acting teacher in this country to have studied personally with Stanislavski.  The whole essence of my craft is – your discipline must be so complete – the work must be so thought out – the preparation so rigorous – that by the time you hit the stage, you can let it go.  If you can't let it go there will be no magic.  The two are absolutely married. Her question is a very good one for a civilian! And this is what every actor wishes to do.  When you walk on the stage the audience should never think for one moment that months of work, trepidation, tears, fears all have gone into this.  And it should be as light as a feather.  And you should be absolutely present.  And generally speaking, you're lucky if it is. 

Totally Kate:  Barbara has a question.

Kate Mulgrew:  Barbara?

Totally Kate: Barbara.  I don't know Barbara's last name. The question I would like to ask Kate - but I am too nervous to ask when she is 'live' on stage! - is what type of music does she like to listen to which helps her to relax after a hard day on the stage?

Kate Mulgrew: I'm not famous for listening to music at night.  I'm a reader by in large. If you want to know what my process is, I go home, take a shower and get into bed and read. And I can read for four hours.  I can read four or five books a week if I want to.  So music is not usually the thing.  However it is of late.  After my father died, my brother, whose passion is music, cut a CD for all of us, called 'In Memory of Dad' and everybody got their own photograph.  And I listen to that at night.  And it's all jazz and blues.  It's Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald.  It's 'Summer Wind', 'Fly Me to the Moon', 'Danny Boy'…  And I listen to that.  And I get down on the floor and I…. I do what I do.  And I do what I do.

Totally Kate:  And we would like, on behalf of the lists and Totally Kate to offer you condolences on the death of your father.

Kate Mulgrew: Oh thank you.  Yes.  Thank you.

Totally Kate:  Fayola has a question: I'd like to know, of all things she did in her life until now, what makes her feel most proud?

Kate Mulgrew:  My capacity for love. 

Totally Kate:  Bina has a question:  I've read someplace that were she not an actress she would have liked to be a writer. Another place, when asked what other things she would like to do in the future in addition to acting, she said she would at some point like to teach, and to write a book about her time and experiences on "Voyager". Any plans?

Kate Mulgrew:  I'm doing all that stuff.  I've been writing about "Voyager" and "Tea at Five" all these years.  And I'll take my journals apart and I'll try to construct it.  I would like to… I would like to write this book, but I want to write it my way.  Everybody wants to sort of help me and have a hand in it.  I know what I felt about "Voyager" and I know what I feel about "Tea at Five", and this is going to be my book and my journey.

Totally Kate:  I'd buy it!

Kate Mulgrew:  I will work on that and… As for the teaching – I enjoy it, and there may come a time, but it looks like I'm busy. I'm going to go back to work. Yeah.

Totally Kate: You've mentioned that you consider yourself a 'technological midget'!  But since this is an interview for your website, we have to ask…Do you use the internet at all?  What are your feelings towards the 'net these days?

Kate Mulgrew: I can't believe that I ever said that!! I have complete control over the computer now!!  I take the mouse and I push the button and I go to Microsoft Word … and I type away!  And I take the mouse…

Totally Kate:  You type?!

Kate Mulgrew:  I can type like the wind! I taught myself to type when I was a little girl.  Now as to the rest of it – I'm learning, right.  We're going to get a laptop. 

Totally Kate:  Have you ever been to the website?

Kate Mulgrew:  I have visited the website one time. Because I feel… imagine if you were doing that…

Totally Kate:  Yes, it would be very hard to look at all that stuff about yourself. 

Kate Mulgrew:  I said to her (referring to her assistant) when she brought up all my credits… You know what I said – I've done all that?  It's a little shocking.  Because really, fortunately for me, I don't think of myself that way.  I never have thought of myself that way. I’m always startled when it happens.  So I … no I don't look at it. 

Totally Kate:  Mary had a question:  There has been a lot of talk about what questions we'd like to ask Kate.  So imagine this for a moment -- all of us in a room with her asking her this question and that.  What do you think Kate would like to ask the people on the Totally Kate lists?

Kate Mulgrew:  What is it about my particular career, or me, to which you respond in a way that would lead you to me, and not to another actress?  This is very interesting to me.  Is it just Captain Janeway?  Is it because you sense something else?  Is it something personal?  Is it philosophical? Because I always feel… I suppose this is… my ego, but I don't think so… I always feel that it sort of transcends just the work.  I get that sense, that it transcends just the work.  That it's more about an interior conversation.  And I want to know if my instinct about that is correct. 

Totally Kate:  It's more than Captain Janeway. 

Kate Mulgrew:  Yeah.

Totally Kate: It's… your presence. It's hard to explain.

Kate Mulgrew:  Something that would excite or stimulate a friendship.  That's… that's what I would ask.  And in return I would say that the great sorrow of life is that it's very short, right? 

Totally Kate:  What is the best advice you ever received?

Kate Mulgrew:  Love and do what you will.  That's Saint Augustine, in fact, but my mother used to say it all the time.  It's perfect, isn't it?

Totally Kate:  What talent do you wish you were born with?

Kate Mulgrew:  Music.  The piano in particular. If I could walk into a person's apartment or house at night for a nightcap – let's just say I'm just being invited for a nightcap, and say, "Oh, you have a baby grand, how sweet" (Kate made piano playing motions).  I wish that I had an ear for music and had been encouraged.  But it was never, as a kid.  So… yeah. 

Totally Kate:  Lots of people wanted to know what your responses would be to the ten questions that James Lipton asks at the end of "Inside the Actor's Studio".   So… What's your favorite word?

Kate Mulgrew:  My favorite word… oh that's so hard… what's my favorite word.  Hope.

Totally Kate:  What is your least favorite word?

Kate Mulgrew:  Hate.

Totally Kate: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Kate Mulgrew:  Ideas.

Totally Kate:  What turns you off?

Kate Mulgrew:  Lack of ideas.

Totally Kate:  What is your favorite curse word?

Kate Mulgrew:  (long pause) Probably f*&k.  Regrettably.  It probably is.

Totally Kate: What sound or noise do you love?

Kate Mulgrew:  Children laughing.  Really laughing. You know when you get a bunch of them together?  That age – 5, 6.  Infectious laughter.  That's an amazing sound.

Totally Kate:  What sound do you hate?

Kate Mulgrew:  An infant crying.

Totally Kate:  What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Kate Mulgrew:  Writing.

Totally Kate:  What profession would you not like to do?

Kate Mulgrew:  Lawyer.

Totally Kate:  If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Kate Mulgrew:  All will be well.

Totally Kate: You're late, and twenty minutes from your house but you realize you have to go back because you forgot to bring something, and you would be lost without it.  What is the item?

Kate Mulgrew:  (long pause) There is no item that is that important to me that I would back track twenty minutes to be late.  It is more important to be on time, and forget the item.  I just don't think there is an item.  You could say money, but no, I could still find a way, right?

Totally Kate:  What do you always forget to do?

Kate Mulgrew:  What do I always forget to do?  Nothing.  I never forget to do anything.

Totally Kate:  If you could keep one household appliance, what would it be?

Kate Mulgrew:  One household appliance!?  Coffee maker!  Cleaning woman!!?

Totally Kate:  Something we'd be surprised to know about you.

Kate Mulgrew:  I'm very naughty!  You have no idea!  Do they?

Totally Kate:  I think that might be what appeals to a lot of people – it comes through.

Kate Mulgrew:  I'm really very naughty.  And I can 'get down', can't I, and laugh? Yes.

Totally Kate:  Certainly, that's something that came through – maybe you didn't want it to – with Janeway…

Kate Mulgrew:  And I'm so glad it did, because I was determined.  You know I can't… you can take the girl out of Iowa, but you can't take the …  I'm from a big, raucous, loud, dramatic, funny, fun Irish Catholic family.  When I get 'get down'…!

Totally Kate: Favorite guilty pleasure?

Kate Mulgrew: Favorite guilty pleasure?  I'll just say wine! 

Totally Kate: Wine?

Kate Mulgrew:  Wine.  I don't have a lot of guilty pleasures. And I drink wine.  But I don't do anything else that's bad!  No.  That's it.  I mean I hate sweets, and I don't over eat and I don't do any of that stuff.  It's wine and… no.

Totally Kate:  What quotation best fits your outlook on life?

Kate Mulgrew: What flirtation?!

Totally Kate:  Quotation!! Quotation!  Too much wine!

Kate Mulgrew:  Crustacean!? Yes, we've had wine!  What quotation. I would quote, I think, King Lear.  But interestingly enough, you catch me in a moment when I was just reading in the New York Times Book Review the latest book on Sir Walter Raleigh, which evidently is quite marvelous.  And do you know that one hour before he was taken to the block, Sir Walter Raleigh wrote a poem. And I thought it was so beautiful that I copied it in my journal and I've memorized the first two lines, so they just come to my mind.  Imagine writing something like this one hour before you were beheaded? "Give me my scallop-shell of quiet, my staff of faith to lead.  And savage pilgrimage to bring me joy." That was pretty good.  Pretty good.

Totally Kate:  One word or short phrase that best describes you.

Kate Mulgrew:  Trying.  Trying.  Not trying as in 'She's trying'. I'm trying. Yeah. Yeah.

Totally Kate:  What's one thing you've always wanted to do but never have?

Kate Mulgrew:  Aside from playing the piano?   And learning all of the languages that I've wanted to learn?  I have a long list of things I need to do, Connie. I would like to learn at least five other languages.  And perfect the ones that I speak badly now.  I want to write these books.  I would love to try to sing again. Which means that I would like to take singing lessons quite seriously when I get back to New York.  I would love to take a philosophy course at Columbia University.  I would love to go to Barcelona.  I would love to attend the bullfights and the running of the bulls there. I would love to do all of Hemingway's Spain. I would love to do my … my trip to Kenya… my…

Totally Kate:  Safari?

Kate Mulgrew:  Safari. With my sons, before I die.  But not fancy.  Just us.  Two jeeps. The whole thing.  The Ngoragora Crater. 

Totally Kate:  With a guide.

Kate Mulgrew: A guide.  That's it.  I would like to see China.  I would like to see South America.  I would like to see the poor countries – India - and spend time there.  I would like to understand other philosophies and other religions. Beyond just this endless lip service that I give it.  And there is no time for any of this.  I've tried myself physically, and I've tried myself a bit intellectually.  I would like to try myself philosophically and spiritually for the remainder of my life.  And that means I'm going to have to start to…   really meditate on this stuff.  That's going to be very hard. But that's true.  That's what I'd like. 

Totally Kate:  Something that always makes you smile.

Kate Mulgrew:  You!  In fact that's true.  Generosity. This kind of friendship.  This kind of support always makes me smile.  I'm always amazed and delighted by it. That makes me smile.  The give and take of it. 

Totally Kate: Favorite movie?

Kate Mulgrew:  I'm torn.  I've seen "Dr. Zhivago" 28 times! But "Out of Africa" is a close second.  "Dr. Zhivago".

Totally Kate:  Last movie you saw?

Kate Mulgrew:  I just saw "Something's Got To Give" and loved it.  Did you see "Monster?  She is amazing.  But " Something's Got To Give" was terrific.  Fun.

Totally Kate:  Last play you saw?

Kate Mulgrew:  I saw Marian Seldes in the Albee play, just before I left.

Totally Kate:  Actor or actress you'd like to appear opposite.

Kate Mulgrew: My dream is about to come true, Marian Seldes. Of course I'd die to play with  Meryl Streep.  Robert DeNiro.  But first and foremost if he would come out of his cave, Marlon Brando.  Just one scene. 

Totally Kate:  Film or theatrical role for the opposite sex I would most want to play.

Kate Mulgrew:  What does that mean?

Totally Kate:  A man's role that you would like to play.

Kate Mulgrew:  Come on!  They're myriad.  That's not fair!  All of them.  All of them. All of the Shakespeare…The whole canon. 

Totally Kate:  Greatest fear?

Kate Mulgrew:  (Long pause) Failure.  To be honest, I suppose so.  Although that's changing, but I would say it's still true. 

Totally Kate:  Favorite book?

Kate Mulgrew:  "War and Peace".  Or "Remembrance of Things Past".  Proust. And I mean that.  Between Tolstoy and Proust … they're both … fabulous.  Fabulous.  Those two. 

Totally Kate:  Books you're currently reading?

Kate Mulgrew:  Well I just read five, back to back.  I read all of Ian McEwan – I made (referring to her assistant) her go to the bookstore and get me everything and somebody gave me "Man Crazy".  Now I'm reading the life of the Barrymores.  I read a lot of books.  I'm not being very disciplined.  Ian McEwan is a wonderful writer but it's easy.  Novels are like chocolate.  I usually am very disciplined in my reading.  I prefer biography, autobiography.  But right now I was in a mood after Dad died just to take it easy, so I'm reading light novels. 

Totally Kate:  Your idea of a romantic evening?

Kate Mulgrew:  Bed!  Never get out of bed.  Dinner in the bed.  Champagne in the bed. Talk in the bed.  Lovemaking in the bed. More talk in the bed. A romantic evening is ten hours in the bed!  With my husband.

Totally Kate:  Good answer!

Kate Mulgrew:  The key word is bed!  Yes!

Totally Kate:  Now I have to ask one most important question!  There was a lot of discussion on the list about this.  What's your shoe size!?

Kate Mulgrew:  What is my shoe size!!!?  Are you kidding?!  7 ½ medium!

Totally Kate:  7 ½ medium. 

Kate Mulgrew:  That's fair about the foot size. I'd like to know that too!  Very basic, 7 ½ medium.

Totally Kate:  Those are all my questions!

Kate Mulgrew:  You got 'em!

 ©2004 Totally Kate
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