Art and life, the personal and the professional, are intersecting for Kate Mulgrew.
As they often do. As how can they not?
The Iowa-born, New York -trained actress is discussing her role in "The Royal Family," the George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber comedy about the lives and loves of an ultrafamous clan of actors in New York. But somehow the discussion finds a way of circling back to parallels within Mulgrew's own life.
Julie Cavendish is a creature of the stage _ born and bred to uphold a family tradition, and she's raising her daughter, Gwen, to take the same course. But there have been consequences.
"It's the ongoing dilemma of the actress, which is why we get a bad rep as women," says Mulgrew in that bourbon-y bass that makes you understand why an award-winning play about Katharine Hepburn was crafted with Mulgrew in mind. "Her daughter is having the same problem: Should she go into the theater? Should she marry the businessman? Are we capable of both? In this play, the answer is yes and no. It depends on the actress."
Can Mulgrew relate? Oh yes she can.
A student of Stella Adler, Mulgrew made her professional stage debut at the American Theatre at the age of 17. She has appeared in numerous films and TV guest spots as well as a major run in a certain TV science fiction franchise. She spent 19 years in L.A., raising two sons with her first husband, director and former Center Theatre Group administrator Robert Egan.
Then toward the end of her seven-year stint as Capt. Kathryn Janeway on UPN's "Star Trek: Voyager," Mulgrew married an Ohio politician and moved back to New York to reconnect with her stage roots. She estimates that she and her husband, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Hagan, see each other every two weeks.
"I grant you, it's very unorthodox, this marriage, and very unconventional. We're often separated," says Mulgrew. "But my happiness _ and it's stated in this play _ my happiness is as much a creative thing as it is a personal thing. I can't separate my love of acting from my love of him. They have to somehow work together and he knows that. And for a politician, I think that's very rare indeed."
Married to the stage
Julie Cavendish, as it happens, faces a dilemma of her own. She is romanced by an old flame, Gilbert Marshall, who the senior Cavendishes chased off several years ago assuming he could never give their stage-bound daughter the life she needed. Now with the Cavendish dynasty having reached a turning point, Marshall returns _ a millionaire _ intent on taking a possibly willing Julie away from life in the theater and to South America.
"The intriguing part of this play is Julie's need to be a woman," says Mulgrew. "She's a consummate actress. Even as she's protesting, she's acting. She adores her mother, her daughter and this bizarre living situation of which she has become so fond. It's really the story of a family."
The Mulgrew/"Royal Family" links run deeper. Where her original program biography noted that neither of her sons, Ian and Alec Egan, "are in show business," Mulgrew now says she has to "retract that." Elder son Ian was recently accepted to the Lee Strasberg Institute and plans to take some acting classes.
"They're writers by disposition," explains Mulgrew, "but they were raised in the theater and I don't think it would be surprising should one of them reveal himself to be an actor. I've never discouraged it. I think it's hard to have a mother who's not only passionate about her craft, but has some small celebrity attached.
"That's tough on boys. It's in their nature, primitive as it may sound, to want their mother to themselves in a very private way. So I tried to honor that as much as I could over the years, which is where I differ from the Cavendish family. So here he is at 20, the one I thought the least likely of the two. The dark horse decides to take a shot at it. And why not? Is he not to the manner born?"
The Cavendishes are thought to be based on the Barrymores, particularly Julie's skirt-chasing brother Tony, who is modeled after John Barrymore. If there are roots of Ethel Barrymore in Julie Cavendish, the actress wasn't necessarily flattered. Ethel Barrymore was offered the role in the work's premiere and, appalled, turned it down, according to Mulgrew.
Not that Mulgrew had much time for research. She closed the Hepburn show, "Tea at Five," on a Sunday in Florida and was on a plane for Los Angeles the next day for rehearsal. Her decision time on the production was just as quick. Mulgrew had been given 24 hours to consider the offer. Even though she had spent four months in a solo show and was looking forward to some quality time with Hagan, the lure of returning to an ensemble for the first time since "Voyager" proved too strong.
"So many things have happened," says Mulgrew. "My father died in January. It's very lonely doing a one-person show, I find. It certainly isn't in my nature."
Director Tom Moore, who had long known Mulgrew but never worked with her, altered the rehearsal schedule in order to cast her.
"We have a very special collaboration," says Moore. "We think a great deal alike. She's played so many dramatic theatrical roles that I think people have forgotten she also does wonderful comedy. And she's got this fantastic laugh. This extraordinary deep-throated laugh."
Where no woman has gone
There wasn't, admittedly, a lot of time for levity on "Voyager" _ galaxy oversight being a fairly serious affair. Nor during those seven seasons was there much time, Mulgrew says, for anything else. Hiatus projects? Mulgrew laughs at the thought of it.
" 'Star Trek'? The captain? Are you crazy?" she says. "Those were 16-, 18-hour days. No, there was no time to do anything during those seven years except shoot and try to see my kids."
Asked for a life lesson from her years on the bridge, Mulgrew considers and says, "I'll tell you the truth. Why not? I can work, baby. I can work hard. I can work as hard as any man, and I did. And they didn't think I could do it because it's constitutionally incredibly demanding for a woman to stand on her feet for 18 hours a day. All those stunts, all that technobabble day in and day out, all the press. It's the hardest work I've ever done in my life or ever will do again."
Once "The Royal Family" wraps, Mulgrew will return to Hepburn and "Tea at Five," possibly even taking the performance on a national tour. And of course she'll watch with interest as the second generation of her own royal family enters the business.
"You say to yourself, 'My God, if he loves
it as much as I do, what a life!' " says Mulgrew. "I told him it's always
about the process, never about the result. Although we long for the result,
it's the process that brings us joy. It's the old Joseph Campbell thing
about following one's bliss. If you can be sparked by the discipline of
it, you'll be fine, and I can't stress that enough."