The original version of this article in Italian appeared in the official Italian ST magazine.
Thank you to Gabriella Cordone, the vice-president of "STIC" for permission to use the article. Thank you to my transcriber for her editing. Please do not repost or reproduce without permission.
A Captain with Italy in her heart
The actress playing the first
woman captain in Star Trek is in Milan, guest of the Telefilm Festival!
Could we miss the chance to meet and interview her on your behalf? Of course
The STICCON was to start a week after the Telefilm Festival, and we were working on the preparations for that, but we couldn’t miss this opportunity, so on May 5th we left for Milan!
The meeting was on Saturday morning in the big halls of the Apollo Spazio Cinema in Milan; all the people attending the event were queuing to enter in the halls for the most interesting previews.
In the bar we saw our favorite woman Captain, and we waited our turn to interview her. While we waited, we spoke with friends, and without disturbing her, we watched the actress while she was being interviewed by several journalists, sometimes with the help of interpreters. This lady, who is fifty years old, seemed so calm, but her eyes shone with fire flames and her smile, filled with personal strength, was the one we were used to seeing while she played the character - Kathryn Janeway.
When we sat down to interview her, she looked in a strange way at the recording equipment we put in front of her. Then she stared at me, waiting for my questions… or maybe she wanted to understand my feelings. She was sincere, straight and funny, but she looked a little bit tired…
How much of Captain Janeway is there in Kate Mulgrew, and how much of you is there in Janeway?
“I always said that it is a very happy marriage. It just happened to be a very serendipitous and perfect match!
You have the rank of Admiral... How did you feel about the fact that you’re higher rank than Captain Picard?
“Beautifully! To be a woman and outrank a man...”
We laugh at her joke and the conversation became more friendly and relaxed. I read on your official website, www.TotallyKate.com, that you are fond of one of our greatest Italian actresses, Eleonora Duse. How come you are interested in her?
“I would think that anybody who has studied acting and the theatre, and the history of the theatre would think that Eleonora Duse was probably the finest actress of the modern theatre. Although she was far superior to anyone else, I think she’s an extraordinary model for reality. She was an intellectual and I believe that is very important.”
I also read on your website... oh, by the way - do you think Internet is a good way of conveying news?
“I don’t think we have much of a choice. This is the way of the future; this is the way it is. I’m not crazy about it. I like to correspond with people, and I’m afraid it will destroy the discipline of corresponding. It is too fast, too lazy. You can say in an e-mail what you can say far more beautifully in a letter. But the letter will die, books will start to die and I’m worried for that.”
Confidence is growing and the interview changes into a chat. You like to cook... Did you ever try any Italian recipes?
“I do love to make pasta. I love it. We were talking yesterday, I prepared it... I love a good ragu, Bolognese, carbonara, amatriciana... But most of all I like to eat!”
And did you find good food here in Milan?
“Much! I’m not used to eating that much... But... wonderful! And wine! This is why Italy is a wonderful country.”
Beside the wine, what do you like about Italy most?
“Any country that has this kind of history, which is so diverse and rich - you can have a conversation of quality with almost any Italian.”
And this is not happening in the United States?
“We’re too young! We have no history! They don’t know how to have a meal for three hours in the United States. You eat running, you try to make money... There is time here! The Italians have learned that everybody dies, it all passes away, so you better live, and it’s better to live beautifully. It’s a very good lesson for Americans.”
What is the one thing that you’re most proud of in your career? And in your life?
“I’m very proud that I raised children doing Star Trek:Voyager for seventy five hours a week. It was almost impossible, but they are very good men now, and maybe they watched me and maybe we learned from each other. But there were times when I thought ‘we’re not surviving this’.”
Because of the long hours...
“Ecco! You work eighteen hours, you come home and then you have to be a mother. And then you have to study for two hours and go to bed and get up at three. I started to think that I was going to go insane. But children are very smart, and if they respect you, they watch you and respect you, they’ll follow you. They’ll test you! They didn’t like me going away so much, they hated Star Trek - my son still hates it! We won’t even talk about it.”
It kind of “stole” his mother from him...
“But that was my life: work, and on the weekend my sons. But I’m proud!”
And in your career? Which role you still feel in your heart? The most beautiful, the most involving?
“I can’t say, because... I’ve been acting for thirty two years. It’s a long time! I’ve done about six or seven series, maybe fifty or sixty plays, ten movies. When you’re doing it you’re just engaged. I can tell you the one that I don’t care about... But you know, I played Ibsen, I played Shakespeare, I did Kathryn Janeway and... it’s been wonderful...”
Among the various way of acting... theatre, TV, movies... Which one is the one that you like the most?
“The one that comes most naturally for me is the theatre.”
Because of the contact with the audience?
“I don’t know! The chemistry in person I don’t really have on the screen. I have to really work with the camera, I have to go up to the camera and say: “Buongiorno. Tutto bene?” But the audience right away comes at me. The camera is hard: stop, start, stop, start... I don’t like it, it’s hard.”
Because it has no continuity?
“No, I could be in the middle of the best performance... “cut”. I like to go straight through.”
What would you like to do, as an actress, that you haven’t done so far?
“Cleopatra. But I have to be that fast! Before I get too old! A lot of Shakespeare and a lot of classics. I’d like to do more Ibsen, now, that I am of age. I played Hedda when I was younger, but I was too young to understand her... And Chekhov, Turkanian... all the great ones... But this time, better!”
Do you wish to redo something that you have done in the past?
“Hedda! I would do Hedda again! Now I can do it - from very far away - the audience wouldn’t know!”
So age is an issue in acting...
“Are you kidding me?”
No! Age as... experience. Is it important to play a role?
“Yes, but then it’s too late! All roles are for all young and beautiful women, who don’t have experience. So you wait until you’re forty-five or fifty, then you have experience but you’re no longer... right! So it’s all screwed up. But that’s Hollywood!”
But acting is pretending...
“The camera doesn’t pretend! The camera doesn’t pretend that a twenty-five year old man is gonna wanna make love to a fifty year old woman. Vero?! But the world is intoxicated with sex, I understand that, that’s how the world goes on. But one day - I’ll be dead! The world will be very interested in the passages of time, and how all of these chapters of our lives are steering, not just shagging.”
The interview is going to an end, but before we take a picture with her, we ask another couple of questions…
What about fandom? What do you think of fans you’ve met in the US, in Italy?
“If there were no fans I would not work. I think this is a partnership. Some of them are marvelous... No one has ever been disrespectful because this is the way of my point of view: if it wasn't for them I wouldn’t have what I have. It’s two ways all the way. So, if you extend that, you always get it back. My fandom’s gracious, generous, smart, very respectful. I’ve been very, very lucky.”
What do you think of the other side of acting? Interviews...
“Not much. It’s part of the deal! I do it because I have to do it, so I try to do it nicely, with some intelligence, but would I rather be doing this or acting? I’d rather be acting! But I also resent, I really hate actors who have some celebrity who dismiss the rest of it. No, don’t do it, because that’s biting the hand that feeds you.”
Kate Mulgrew’s willingness was amazing and she didn’t deny us when we asked her to sign a couple of (autographs) inside. Her smile when she said farewell was warm - maybe a little bit tired - but truly spontaneous.
After the interview for the ISTM, the next time we met Kate Mulgrew was on stage, where we sat next to her representing the whole STIC, but we stayed quiet. Our Captain’s red hair looked good with her gold dress and she laughed and joked in a good Italian – she practiced it when she moved to Florence for love when she was young. The meeting with the audience went smoothly. Kate is really good on stage, with great irony and a wonderful stage presence. She was unforgettable, and when it was time for the pictures, when all the photographers from many newspapers went under the stage and she struck a pose (in a theatrical way), made funny angry looks, blinking towards the fans, as if she wanted to say: “Look what I have to do to make them happy!”
Between one Italian joke and another, Kate Mulgrew sat on the arm of the sofa, dominating the stage and the audience, and since many people were able to understand English, the classic crosstalk of questions sometimes became a friendly chat with quick jokes and laughs in English and Italian!
When she was asked what she thought about the new Star Trek series, Enterprise, she answered frankly that she had never seen it. “I guess it wasn’t very good, because it’s over, right?” And still, talking about Star Trek… “How did I feel to be the first female captain in the history of Star Trek? How do you think I felt? It was terrific! The privilege, the honor... Ma il lavoro! Por favor! That’s why they had men before; it’s not in the constitution of a woman, of a female, to stand up on her feet for eighteen hours a day. Babies we can have, we love to cook and we can work like dogs! But to stand... is mayhem! Perché... l’anatomia... So they watched me very closely for weeks; is she going to fall down? I fooled them! So the first thing that I was proud of was my strength, the second thing that I was proud of was that I never complained. And the third thing I was proud of was that I did not sleep with a man in space... I waited ‘till I got home! And I made sure I was not going to have a love affair. If there are young men watching me, and they are going to respect me, I can’t be saying “red alert, commander come into my ready room”... right! So I sacrificed that and I think I did the right thing!”
During the event, young Lisa (the daughter of Paolo Attivissimo’s, who everybody knows as an interpreter at the STICCON) asked her, in English, which was her favorite book when she was a child. Mulgrew wanted to hear the question again in Italian and Lisa translated the question. Kate, excited, said: “I want you!” Immediately Paolo answered: “She’s yours!” Kate Mulgrew and the audience started to laugh, but the Captain was hypnotized by the sweet Lisa, to whom she answered: “Laura Ingalls Wilder, I think, when I was your age, ‘Little House on the Prairie’. You’re only seven or eight years old...” she stopped, she looked again at her and shaking her head little bit, she said: “But she is beautiful! Look! Isn’t she beautiful?” And then she asked Lisa if she could speak other languages besides English and Italian. Lisa, a little bit shy, answered that she is learning French, and Kate challenged her to ask her the same question in French. But Lisa preferred not to do it, telling Kate she knows French just a little. So Kate finished her answer, “As soon as you can, darling, I want you to start to read the Greats - the Brontës, Jane Austen, the English classics... that will really stimulate your mind. Your parents are going to kill me, and so is everybody here, but if you have to choose, there is no choice: always read! Television... arrivederci!” Lisa’s dad Paolo decided to joke again: “Except Voyager!” Kate nodded and said with irony: “Except Star Trek: Voyager!”
Kate loved to play in the series, but she was honest about some of the ideas she considered not so realistic... like turning Janeway into a big lizard in order to mate with Tom Paris, or the scene with Q in the bathroom. When Elena Attivissimo (Paolo’s wife) asked her if it was her idea to have Leonardo da Vinci in the series, Kate answered: “It was my idea. And you saw, madam, did you not, that it didn’t last very long. Not only was it my idea, but it was even an...exalted idea. And it was my thinking that the audience would like to see Janeway get away from her science, the great love of her life, una passione tremendo, and try to marry it with art. Who better to represent this than the greatest of them all, Leonardo da Vinci! I think we had three or four episodes, then they took me up flying and we crashed, and the rest is history. But it was a good idea, wasn’t it?!” Elena said that she asked this question because she thought that this idea was too intelligent for American writers. Kate Mulgrew thanked her and then she looked at the Attivissimo family and said: “I’m taking this whole family back with me!”
Kate’s passion for Italy does not end with the Leonardo da Vinci reference in Voyager, but it goes from food to culture, from the cities of art... to love; she told us that when she was young she lived three years in Florence, with a footwear designer, and it was for this reason that she learned Italian. At that time she could speak it fluently, but now she would like to brush it up again because she cannot remember all the words... Many years have passed, but the Italian spirit, the way we live, the Italian calm way of living are still in her heart.
The autograph session, on the stage where she spoke, started immediately and it went on longer then the organizers expected. That was because there was also a kind of photo session: in addition to an autograph, the audience was able to have a Polaroid taken with her.
Captain Kate Mulgrew smiled and wrote dedications
to everybody. She seemed to feel comfortable and she didn’t want to stop!
Those people were there for her and the warmth she showed them with her
hugs was more then real.
Photos - Page 2