The Seattle Times
Friday, May 17, 1996


Nick Gunderson
In her stint at Seattle Rep in the 1980s, Kate Mulgrew starred in "Another Part of the Forest," left, and "The Misanthrope," above, in which she played a femme fatale despite her pregnancy. 
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Many THANKS! to a Totally Kate! contributor for the article.
After 15 years, ‘Star Trek’ star Kate Mulgrew returns to emcee ‘Best of the Rep’ fund-raiser

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.

Some Irish humor

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 chance.”

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 Ian.

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.”

An eager replacement

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, Irish-American star.

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.”