15 years, ‘Star Trek’ star Kate Mulgrew returns to emcee ‘Best of the Rep’
By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic
Long before she put on a slinky jumpsuit and
took charge of the Starship Voyager, Kate Mulgrew commanded the Seattle
Repertory Theatre stage in classic dramas by Shaw and Moliere. That period
in her life now feels like light years away to Mulgrew, the honey-haired,
reedy-voiced star of TV’s popular “Star Trek:Voyager” series. Portraying
the intrepid officer Capt. Kathryn Janeway, she has found new worlds to
conquer —and inherited a daunting throng of die-hard “Trek” fans.
But the Seattle memories are bound to flood
back when Mulgrew returns here to emcee “The Best of the Rep,” a fund-raiser
for the theater’s educational programs. The gala benefit, at 8 p.m. Monday
at the Seattle Rep, also stars singer-actors Keith Carradine, Roz Ryan
and Freda Payne.
Mulgrew’s heralded return is clearly the prime
bait, however. Speaking from the Brentwood home she shares with her two
young sons, Ian, 12, and Alexander, 11, the actress said she will participate
because she’s “crazy about” Rep artistic director Daniel Sullivan. (“Between
us the humor is very Irish, and very dry.”) And she recalls her 1980s sojourn
in Seattle as an important phase of her life.
“I was in New York, and came to Seattle in
1981 to do just one show at the Rep,” she says in that authoritative, aged-in-
wood voice. “At least that was the plan. But then I spotted this handsome
fellow at rehearsals for ‘Another Part of the Forest,’ and I asked someone,
‘Who is that man? And is he free?’”
The man was Robert Egan, the Rep’s associate
artistic director. Mulgrew learned “he had a girlfriend of quite long standing,
but it was no deterrent to me. Not when I was that age!”
Mulgrew, now 40, cackles at the boldness of
her youth. “I flirted outrageously with the poor guy. He didn’t stand a
After some cross-country “back and forthing,”
and Mulgrew’s Rep stints in “Major Barbara” and “The Ballad of Soapy Smith,”
she and Egan agreed to wed. The gifted young star of stage and TV (“Ryan’s
Hope,” “Kate Columbo”) moved to Seattle, and in 1984 was pregnant with
She laughs robustly at the memory of Sullivan
“casting me in ‘The Misanthrope’ when I was actually quite pregnant. He
went for it, but it was pretty funny — here I was playing this great femme
fatale, and by opening night I was ready to pop!”
Mulgrew won raves from local critics and audiences.
In his review of “The Misanthrope,” Seattle Times critic Wayne Johnson
described her as “one of the nation’s most sought-after actresses,” and
a “gorgeous” and “electrifying” presence in the Moliere play.
But Mulgrew says she never warmed to Seattle
during her yearlong, full-time residence here. “The move was a cultural
shock for me for many reasons. It’s a beautiful place, full of marvelous
people. But I was lonely.
“After being in New York for 11 years, and
having a pretty textured and rich career, suddenly I’m pregnant, it’s raining
every day, and it seems like it’s all over for me.”
Relocating to Los Angeles, “where I could
work in front of a camera again,” eased Mulgrew’s blues. She toiled in
several short-lived TV series (e.g., “Heartbeat,” “Man of the People”),
and had roles in Ibsen and Shakespeare productions. Egan found a satisfying
job there himself, as resident director at the prominent Mark Taper Forum.
Discussing her divorce from Egan two years
ago, Mulgrew speaks with typical ease and equanimity. “Bob and I still
have a very good relation ship. We’ve both tried hard, and he is really
an excellent father and a good friend.”
A self-described workaholic, Mulgrew was stuck
in something of a career slump in 1994 when the role in “Star Trek: Voyager”
came her way. When original star Genevieve Bujold quit after two days on
the job, Mulgrew eagerly jumped on board.
At the time she knew virtually nothing about
science fiction or the “Star Trek” phenomenon. But she now places Kathryn
Janeway right up there with Shakespeare heroines in terms of acting satisfaction.
“I will be hard-pressed to find a role I’ll
ever love more than Kathryn,” insists Mulgrew. “I’m spoiled now, in the
best way an actor can be spoiled.
“I love Kathryn’s passion, her commitment.
I love her levity and her compassion. I love her whole dynamic, which is
very complex. She has lots of layers. Her struggle is the human struggle.
But she has a little more guts and nobility than most of us. She’s a captain
for good reason.”
To fans of the United Paramount Network show,
which airs Monday nights but will move to Wednesdays next fall, Mulgrew
projects a blend of empathy and authority one would crave from a liberated
starship exec. She also radiates a mature sexiness, both earthy and patrician,
that recalls Katharine Hepburn — another blunt spoken, high-cheekboned,
Yet Mulgrew adamantly rejects suggestion of
her Kathryn having an active sex life on the air. The closest the character
has come so far is this week’s episode, in which she enjoyed a chaste intimacy
with First Officer Chakotay (Robert Beltran) when the pair was quarantined
on a deserted planet.
“It’s one thing for a man to have his galactic
amours, and it’s another for a woman of childbearing years in a position
of authority to do it,” Mulgrew states flatly.
“This show is not a soap opera, but a morality
tale, and I want to be very proud of it. I’ve asked the writers to not
put Kathryn in the kind of terribly vulnerable situation where she could
make a great emotional mistake, and so far they’ve agreed.”
Though she does her share of publicity for
the series, Mulgrew has not beamed onto the worldwide “Star Trek” convention
circuit (her appearance at a Seattle convention last year was an exception).
“I’ve been pretty well-protected from a lot of that stuff by my schedule.
The captain works often.”
But she recognizes the power of the show’s
fans. “The Trekkers are very key. It’s their letter-writing and the magnitude
of their presence that has kept this franchise going. And most of them
are so erudite about science fiction. They write scripts for us, and they’re
on the Internet talking about us.”
The killing 10-month shooting schedule for
“Voyager,” and the demands of raising two boys, also have kept Mulgrew
away from the theater recently. But if she gets her wish to spend another
three to four years as Janeway, Mulgrew hopes to squirrel away enough money
to support her theater habit.
“A lot of Shakespeare’s great ladies are coming
up,” she muses. “I’d love to get my hands on Lady Macbeth, or the nurse
in ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
“I think we’re always so proud of our actors
who stay passionate and centered and tough about who they are, and dedicated
to their craft. I don’t think we really admire people who just skate into
TV, and never pay their dues in theater. You know, my acting teacher Stella
Adler did not want me to do things for power or greed or fame alone. And
I think I’ve learned that.”