Totally Kate talks with Kate Mulgrew!

Please note: Due to time constraints, this interview was conducted in two separate segments on November 11th, 2006 at Creation's 40th Anniversary Convention in New Jersey.  As always, Kate was warm and gracious, and once again I would like to thank her for taking the time to provide Totally Kate with another wonderful interview.

Many thanks to my transcriber for her help! 
Interview copyright Totally Kate. Please do not repost. 

Totally Kate: You've been working on the Black Donnellys?

Kate Mulgrew:  The Black Donnellys.

Totally Kate:  The Black Donnellys.  How's that going?  Can you tell us?

Kate Mulgrew:  It's great. Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco.  They won the Oscar last year for Crash. And they're incredibly hands on.  They've written it. They're producing it.  And they're directing it.  And I'm not in the pilot, because they couldn't find the mother at that time.  And they shot it a year ago. So I guess they were going to go ahead – it's sold for thirteen to NBC, Thursday nights at ten – without the mother, when they called me in on my way to the airport to bury my mother. And I didn't want to go in, and I did. Reluctantly.  I was in a … bad mood. And a very clear one.  And I told them not to screw around with me, that I was in no mood for it, and they offered me the job.  (laughing) I was so honest… I should be that way more often!  And I liked him immediately.  He told me that I reminded him of his mother.  And so I'm the mother of the four boys, around whom the whole thing centers.  And they're about twenty-five, twenty-four, twenty-three and twenty-two.  And it's the story of the Irish mob on the west side of New York, and how they trounce the Italians.  And some people say it’s the Irish Sopranos. But it's young boys.  They're trying to vindicate their father's murder. The father was murdered by his own, as well as the Italians.  So the oldest boy, Tommy, who is played by Jonathan Tucker, is really the person responsible for dragging the other boys down. But I fight, of course, for their lives.  Especially the baby, who I want to go back to school.  But she's a tough, edgy, deeply feeling, but very Irish woman of the working class, which I've never played before in my life.  And I'm thoroughly enjoying it.  It's like being back in acting school.  Moresco's tough.  They don't let me get away with anything.  And I love the kids. All the best actors in New York are working on it.  And it's recurring, which for me is delightful.

Totally Kate:  Right.

Kate Mulgrew:  I don't have to carry it.  And I can live my life.  So I can do this play all spring while it airs, and we'll see what happens after that. 

Totally Kate:  So this obviously isn't… you wanted to do a more vulnerable character, you said, and she is?

Kate Mulgrew:  Yes.  But it's…. this role demands that I find the absolute truth of a certain part of me.  That I've been unwilling or unable to tap into in my career.  So it's… it's wild.  You know…

Totally Kate:  I'm looking forward to seeing it. 

Kate Mulgrew:  Thanks.

Totally Kate:  Hopefully it's going to get on…

Kate Mulgrew:  Yes.

Totally Kate:  I think there was kind of a schedule change…

Kate Mulgrew:  There was, because ER was brought back.

Totally Kate:  Right. 

Kate Mulgrew:  I don't know what's going to happen now. 

Totally Kate:  We'll just keep our fingers crossed.

Kate Mulgrew:  But they'll find a good spot for it. 

Totally Kate:  You've mentioned you're writing your book, which I can't wait to read!

Kate Mulgrew:  I'm writing a book, yes.

Totally Kate:  And it's turned into a memoir about your mother.

Kate Mulgrew:  It is essentially about… all memoirs have a major dramatic question in them, which I've learned in my studies.  I've been going to… I've been taking writing classes now for two years. Intensively.  I went away this summer.  A major dramatic question is: you can't just write a memoir ad hoc about your life – it's not interesting that way. There has to be a theme.   And I find as I let it go, it seems that the relationship with my mother has definition of self, and how it shaped almost every decision that I've made.  And what it's meant to me. So I don't know what's going… now it'll be on hold with this play, because these rehearsals are going to be… it's going to be really exacting.  So I might have to … 

Totally Kate:  And we can't mention that yet in this interview!

Kate Mulgrew:  You can't?

Totally Kate:  (Kate's assistant) said we couldn't…

Kate Mulgrew:  Yes you can.  It's been released. 

Totally Kate:  Oh, good!

Kate Mulgrew:  Yes you can.  Of course!

Totally Kate:  So how do you find… how are you like your mother?

Kate Mulgrew:  How am I like my mother? 

Totally Kate:  Uh huh.

Kate Mulgrew:  I'm not really very much like my mother. That is not the right question.  The question would be, how was I shaped by my mother?  And I was shaped by my mother because my mother had no mother.  She was orphaned at the age of three. And when I was born - to this very sophisticated, unwitting, hapless New York girl, who had moved to Dubuque, Iowa, she… I think, decided that I was going to be the mother that she never had. So at a very young age, I was old. Which is not a good thing. It's very double edged. You spend your life, catching up then with your childhood. And I'm still there.  And I'm fifty-one years old.  So I think that when my mother died in July, I buried my mother, my daughter and my friend. Very complicated relationship.  Hence the memoir.  Most people don't feel the need to write about their mothers unless it's as deep as this.  So it's complex. But I adored her.  You'll meet the other one…

Totally Kate:  Your sister.

Kate Mulgrew:  My baby sister.  She's having a real struggle with it. 

Richard Arnold:  You've got about two minutes. 

Totally Kate:  Two minutes – okay. 

Richard Arnold:  By the way, is that the title?  "My Mother, My Daughter, My Friend"?

Kate Mulgrew:  No.

Richard Arnold:  Sounds great.

Kate Mulgrew:  That's good, isn't it? I haven't finished… I haven't figured the title out yet.  It'll come. 

Totally Kate:  If you could ensure that your children would have one experience that you've had, what would it be?

Kate Mulgrew:  One?  Just one?!

Totally Kate:  You can have more than one!

Kate Mulgrew:  One shot at a great friendship. And I've been really blessed. Because I have four.  I would wish them one… one great profound and enduring friendship.  All the rest, they can get. This is really up to God.  So I would wish them that.  Yes.

Totally Kate:  So what is your … what do you think your best quality is as a friend. 

Kate Mulgrew:  I'm really a very, very good friend.  I'm an excellent friend.  I treat friends like I do lovers.  Only (laughing) with greater loyalty! How terrible!  If you're my friend, you're in forever. I'm deeply generous. And I get hooked. It's real love.  So… I'd say that.

Totally Kate:  Okay, we're probably going to have to wind it up, but can you … anything else about the new play you're doing?

Kate Mulgrew:  It's called "Our Leading Lady", by Charles Busch.  A new play.  I don't know if you know who Charles Busch is? Very interesting character…

Totally Kate:  Allergist's Wife?

Kate Mulgrew:  "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife".  And Lynne Meadow, who runs the Manhattan Theater Club, is directing it.  And it's about Laura Keane, who was a great actress/manager of the nineteenth century.  The reason it's fascinating is because it's a backstage glimpse at the egocentricity of actors.  And hers was so great, that when Lincoln said he wasn't going to come to see her perform because his duties prevented him from doing so, she wrote him a letter, and she said, 'it's unacceptable as the President of the United States - you must be here for my first night.  I am the greatest actress/manager of my time.'  Well he came, and Booth shot him.  So she was responsible. And it's how this night changes her life. And they needed a real… I guess, (laughing) show-off, so they hired me!  But I'm very excited about that.  That's going to be great.

Totally Kate:  I can't wait to see that. 

Kate Mulgrew:  That's going to be great.  I go into rehearsal in January and we open first week of March.  And then play… indefinitely. 

End Segment 1.

Kate Mulgrew: (To her young niece, Isabel (age 8), explaining the Totally Kate website)  … She's in charge of it.  She designs it and she does it and she does a wonderful job. 

Isabel: Oh, I love interviews.

Kate Mulgrew:  You like interviews?

Isabel:  Yeah.  On Hilary Duff's website, they don't have interviews, they have her diary. 

Totally Kate:  (To Kate Mulgrew)  Hilary Duff has her diary …

Kate Mulgrew:  Oh, I see…

Totally Kate:  … on line. 

Kate Mulgrew:  Oh well… I can't compete with that! 

Isabel:  Hilary Duff has like seventeen different websites…

Totally Kate:  Maybe your aunt should have a diary on there!

Isabel:  I don't think she has a diary. 

Kate Mulgrew:  Well maybe you should talk to Connie about … maybe you could design something for me, what do you think?!

Isabel:  Okay!

Kate Mulgrew:  Totally Aunt Kate!  Okay!  (Laughs) (To Totally Kate) Shoot! We just finished talking about the play.

Totally Kate:  Right!  What was the first theatrical performance that you remember seeing?

Kate Mulgrew:  In my life?

Totally Kate:  Uh huh.

Kate Mulgrew:  Oh it was community theater.  It was "Bye, Bye Birdie", at the local girl's college. And I was knocked out – I thought it was great.

Totally Kate:  And that's … so that's the first one that would have really awed you.  That knocked you out. 

Kate Mulgrew:  No, that would be New York – "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof".  I was seventeen. 

Totally Kate:  With who? 

Kate Mulgrew:  Elizabeth Ashley.  It was just remarkable. That was it.  I thought, 'that's where I want to be'. 

Totally Kate:  Are you looking forward to Thanksgiving?

Kate Mulgrew:  I am.  I'm having Thanksgiving with this little chicklet. I'm going to cook.

Totally Kate:  You once told me it was your favorite holiday.

Kate Mulgrew:  I love Thanksgiving.  I love to be with my family. 

Totally Kate:  What's your special Thanksgiving…

Kate Mulgrew:  I really love cooking all of the dishes. And you know I love to cook. 

Isabel:  She always cooks for my family!

Kate Mulgrew:  Uh huh.  I go down, and my sister pours me a nice glass of wine and then I get to work.  Right Isabel?  What's my best thing that I cook, do you think?

Isabel:  Meatballs.

Totally Kate:  Meatballs!

Kate Mulgrew:  Well we can't have those for Thanksgiving?

Isabel:  Why?

Kate Mulgrew:  I could stuff the turkey with meatballs!  That would be a new take!

Isabel:  (giggles)

Kate Mulgrew:  All of it.

Totally Kate:  All of it.

Kate Mulgrew:  Yeah.

Totally Kate:  Okay!  Since you're one of eight children, you've mentioned that you took the stage early – you had to speak up for attention. 

Kate Mulgrew: Uh huh.

Totally Kate:  How do you think that influenced you as an actor?  Would you be a different actor – a different type of actor if you had been an only child?

Kate Mulgrew:  No – there's no question about it.  It's a good question, too. I've thought about it a lot.  Which isn't to say that I'm going to have any kind of an articulate answer for you.  But I think that I've been aggressive as a result of my position in the family, and having so many siblings.  And I think I've been outspoken in a way that I'm not sure is absolutely genuine, but it's something that I learned how to do very young. In order to survive in a big family you have to be outspoken.  And you have to demand your parents' attention. So the way we did it in my family was, if you were amusing, or if you could do an imitation or if you could tell a story – which is of course very hard when you're little, because we are by nature shy when we're that little.  But I… I remember very much that I had to do that.  And so I think that's what shaped that part of my personality.

Totally Kate:  If you could have witnessed any moment in history, what would you choose?

Kate Mulgrew:  Any moment in history?

Totally Kate: Uh huh.

Kate Mulgrew:  The crucifiction of Christ.

Totally Kate:  Interesting answer.

Kate Mulgrew:  Uh huh.  Uh huh.  That says it all, doesn't it?

Totally Kate:  Yes.  Okay… what time period would you have liked to live in, or at least visited?

Kate Mulgrew:  I would have been very good around the turn of the Twentieth Century.  The early Twentieth Century.  Victorian, into the Edwardian era.  Both would have suited me, I think.  It was romantic. It was also a time of renaissance, particularly in this country.  And it was a time when women, believe it or not, were making great, great strides and still very much allowed to be deeply feminine, which I've always loved.  I don't know.  There's something old-fashioned, I think, in my deepest psyche. 

Totally Kate:  … the old-fashioned…

Kate Mulgrew:  It's funny, isn't it, because we've talked about this, because Kathryn Janeway is very future oriented, but I don't think Kate Mulgrew is.  I'm more and more present to my life, though. And as I am more and more present to it, I see that none of this matters at all except the very moment that we have right now.  Yeah. 

Totally Kate:  What's the smartest thing you've ever done?

Kate Mulgrew:  Smartest?

Totally Kate:  Uh huh.

Kate Mulgrew:  My kids.   I guess. No.  The smartest thing I've ever done is the choice of a career at a very early age. Because it saved me from – and I've said this to you before – all kinds of sadness.  And probably all kinds of dementia. Because I've had some interesting knocks in my life. But when you're focused, and you're in love with something, you want so very much to do it that nothing… nothing gets derailed.  So it saved me.  My passion has saved me. Yeah.

Totally Kate:  So what advice – if you knew now if you knew…

Kate Mulgrew:  If I knew then what I know now?

Totally Kate:  Yes! Yes, that's the question!

Kate Mulgrew:  Take it easy on yourself. You can be passionate.  You can be disciplined. But without all the harsh self-judgment.  Time is very short. Be as present as you can.  I would not only endorse that, but I would try to practice that so much more if I could go back.  Which mercifully, I can't!  There you have it!

Totally Kate:  All right.  Thank you!

Kate Mulgrew:  Thank you. 

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"Q&A" transcript