Maryland Public Television
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
|Rhea Feikin: If ever an actress merited
the title legend, it was the late, great Katharine Hepburn. Few actresses
so dominated the silver screen the way she did, and even fewer have left
such an indelible mark on America’s cinema. To even portray her has to
be daunting. But our next guest has done just that. And actress Kate Mulgrew
should be very pleased with herself. It is a fabulous one-woman show
that arrives next week at the Hippodrome, and I was really lucky enough
to chat with her recently.
(To Kate) You have gotten such incredible reviews. I have to read a couple of them – they’re wild. ‘Kate Mulgrew’s performance is unrivaled perfection’. ‘Two Kates, one Hepburn equals a performance you don’t want to miss.’ I like that one, I like this one: ‘The legend is Katharine Hepburn and the actress is Kate Mulgrew who gives a thoroughbred performance.’
Kate Mulgrew: I like that one… yeah…
Rhea Feikin: That’s pretty heady stuff…
Kate Mulgrew: Mmmmm….
Rhea Feikin: Now you…
Kate Mulgrew: Only you know it never goes to one’s head.
Rhea Feikin: It doesn’t…
Kate Mulgrew: Uh uh. It never quite makes it to the head!!
Rhea Feikin: (laughing, along with Kate)
Kate Mulgrew: I keep wanting … no, it’s a funny thing. It’s always such… a constant reminder of the gift.
Rhea Feikin: Uh huh…
Kate Mulgrew: And I never, ever take it to that place.
Rhea Feikin: That’s wonderful.
Kate Mulgrew: I figure that would be deadly.
Rhea Feikin: Um huh. I’m sure it would.
Kate Mulgrew: You know - a terrible trap, which I’ve managed to avoid, by the grace of God.
Rhea Feikin: Well… I know you’re going to keep avoiding it. The play is two acts. The first act you’re Katharine Hepburn at age thirty-one, and the second act at age seventy-six, and I read somewhere that being seventy-six Katharine was easier for you than thirty-one Katharine.
Kate Mulgrew: I’d agree. And don’t ask me to break this down or articulate it with any eloquence, but I think that I can say that my age leans more to the younger Kate, but I think that my inner life lends itself to the older Kate. So her mannerisms - certainly her speech, and I think the well-spring of her being visited me much faster in Act Two than it did in Act One. Also there’s an ardor in Act One. There’s a grueling aspect to the physicality of Act One. You know her dexterity was unparalleled. This is an athlete. I’m of an age now where … please, let’s just walk across the room with some success! But she’s bounding over the furniture with – with infinite grace and I have to – every night, you know – really limber up and prepare myself for that. And her… she was in the hard palate in Act One, you know (in the younger Hepburn voice), very high when she was young (in the older Hepburn’s voice) and it goes deeper, it’s easier in Act Two. I don’t know why – it’s a funny thing. It’s a mystery.
Rhea Feikin: Let’s take a look at a little tiny clip from age 31.
Kate Mulgrew: You look, and I’ll bury my face in my hands…
Rhea Feikin: And now, seventy-six. And that was easier for you. And the second act of the play primarily deals with her relationship with Spencer Tracy. Is there a lot of that in there?
Kate Mulgrew: Yes, but not until the end. Matthew Lombardo, the playwright, was very smart. He kept the best for last.
Rhea Feikin: ‘Cause we all want to hear about it!
Kate Mulgrew: He keeps you going. And some nights when I say, “Oh you all want me to talk about Spence”, I get an audible response. Yes! But he builds beautifully. He talks… lets her talk about her brother.
Rhea Feikin: Uh huh…
Kate Mulgrew: This was very defining for Katharine Hepburn, the death – early - very early death of her beloved brother Tom. I too have an older brother Tom. Isn’t it funny, the parallels…
Rhea Feikin: I know there are. We’ll get to that in a bit, but I do want to take a look at the second clip that we have.
Kate Mulgrew: Right.
(A clip from Act Two of “Tea at Five” is shown.)
Rhea Feikin: You did say that you thought two keys to her character were her vulnerability and her need for privacy.
Kate Mulgrew: Uh huh.
Rhea Feikin: And, are you like that?
Kate Mulgrew: Yes, I think I am. And I find it continually surprising as I age. I … I don’t know what it is. It’s as if I’m seeking a sternness within that privacy. Maybe because I never had it, you know I’m one of eight children. I had the same sort of background that Hepburn did. And as for the vulnerability, I think it’s the key to everybody’s capacity for love.
Rhea Feikin: Uh huh…
Kate Mulgrew: And certainly defines their character.
Rhea Feikin: Well, you did say something that was wonderful. You said you did this play to… and this role to honor her and I think that is such a tribute to her, and to you.
Kate Mulgrew: Thank you. I wouldn’t have it any other way
Rhea Feikin: I’m sure. And I think it’s so interesting that you started out being compared to her, not liking it, then growing into being her on the stage…
Kate Mulgrew: And having a real love affair with her.
Rhea Feikin: That’s right. And learning so much about her. And letting us have a chance to know so much about her. So we’re all looking forward to seeing you on stage at the Hippodrome.
Kate Mulgrew: Thank you. Thank you very, very much.
Rhea Feikin: It’s going to be glorious.