With the final curtain looming for Star Trek: Voyager, it’s natural for the show’s actors to be taking stock. For Kate Mulgrew, a.k.a. Captain Kathryn Janeway, that means examining how her character has changed and, in some respects, taken on a life of its own. Paul Simpson and Ruth Thomas quiz Mulgrew about her seven-year voyage of discovery, and find out about the uncharted waters the actress is sailing into.
A member of the command crew of the U.S.S. Voyager is dying, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. The camera is on Captain Janeway as she reacts to his last words — and the director calls, “Cut!”
Scene over, the actors exit the set on Stage Eight at the Hollywood studios of Paramount Pictures, the tension dissolving into an air of jovial banter. As they walk past us towards the craft services table, Chakotay makes as if to throttle Janeway — but Robert Beltran throws a Cheshire cat grin our way to make it clear it’s all for the benefit of us visiting writers. It’s a classic example of the good atmosphere on the Star Trek: Voyager set.
Later, Kate Mulgrew is keen to know what visitors make of the set, and the show in general. Through out her seven years on Star Trek: Voyager, Mulgrew has listened to the fans and answered criticisms when they’ve been presented. In some ways, this sounds like a description of her character’s command style. So how much of Captain Kathryn Janeway comes from Mulgrew?
“A funny thing is happening,” she muses. “I think last year and the year before, I would have said to you that I thought I was bringing a great deal of myself to Janeway. But now I see that the evolution of the character has been far more...” She pauses, considering how best to describe it, and finally decides on, “. . .mysterious, than I could have imagined. Now I see that in fact it was Janeway pushing through for Janeway all the time, and using Mulgrew only very discreetly.”
What sort of things specifically? “Relaxation and confidence,” she explains. “I think those are probably more trademarks of Kathryn Janeway. She would steal from Mulgrew a demeanour, a sense of energy, occasionally a sense of stillness, if it were important. I’ve certainly endowed Janeway with Mulgrew’s humour, although I’ve had to confine myself, because in the end her humour is different from my own. She’s a very different woman.”
And where would Mulgrew like to see this woman travel during her final year on screen? “One could easily say that I’d like to see some of these loose ends tied up, but life being what it is — and by that I mean messy — I suppose many of them won’t be. However, I would like to see, certainly by the close of this season, all of the emotional underpinning brought to the fore and shared; how deep [the crew’s] allegiance to one another really is on an emotional as well as a scientific and diplomatic level. I would like it to be illustrated how poignant my love for each of them is and how specific each relationship is. I don’t know if there will be time for that, but that’s a pipe dream.”
In previous interviews, Mulgrew has questioned what has happened to the rest of her command crew, since, from her perspective, the stories seemed to be emphasising some characters, possibly to the detriment of others. “That has now restabilised,” she says gratefully. “That’s re-stabilised beautifully. But you’re just asking me. If I were a kid in a candy store, I wish I could have an episode with each of my senior staff, all of whom I love. That would just put a fine point on it.”
In fact, she goes further — she would like to see episodes featuring just two characters: Janeway and another member of the command staff. “I really would,” she acknowledges. “I think that would be marvellous.”
Of course, the obvious first choice for such a head-to-head would be Janeway’s first officer. But Mulgrew thinks the time has passed for anything romantic to happen between her character and Robert Beltran’s. “Even if we dared to revisit that notion, it’s so late in the day that we couldn’t complete it with any grace, so it would be too frustrating, I think.”
With the show coming to an end, does she have any regrets about the route it’s taken? Are there any avenues that have been closed off to Janeway or Mulgrew?
“I don’t have any regrets,” Mulgrew states firmly. “I think that it’s spinning my wheels to have regrets. I’ve been so consumed in doing it every day that I certainly don’t think in that way. However, I guess I wish that Janeway had been a little more confrontational in the last couple of seasons — a bit more emotionally confrontational — but I understand the basis, because she is the Captain. Nevertheless, there could have been a little more throwing down the gauntlet emotionally, kind of revealing herself on a deeper level.”
She certainly had an opportunity to do that during the season five cliffhanger Equinox. “That was great fun to play,” she offers. “I loved it.” And Mulgrew particularly enjoyed working opposite John Savage as Captain Ransom. “Yes, that’s every actress’ dream. Everything was great. The writing was terrific, the plot was galvanising, intriguing, the foe was intrepid, and the dilemma was, of course, heartbreaking. So when you have all of those components working, you’re just in heaven.”
And there have been a number of equally satisfying episodes recently. “Oh plenty. Many of them I haven’t been terribly involved in, but in every episode, it seems to me, there are one or two scenes that have been really stellar. I loved Counterpoint —I liked almost all of them. There are very few that I did not like.”
One of the strongest instalments for Janeway during the sixth season was Good Shepherd. “Oh, I loved that,” Mulgrew enthuses. “That exemplifies who Janeway is at her finest. She is a mentor, and all the slings and arrows that she withstood in that episode, and her heart, and the hearts of those young people
— the goodness in people, even in the middle of the mess of it all — is what I think is the most thrilling. And most unifying. It’s the tough stuff in life that brings us together. I loved that episode.”
As for the sixth season overall, “I felt very good about it,” she maintains. “I think it was a breakthrough year in terms of my relaxation and my confidence in Janeway. A real rhythm was in place for me in season six, which began in season five, I think, and now it’s come to fruition in season seven. If you inhabit a character for long enough, you really do begin to own them after a while, and then there’s an ease, and a real grace and a real happiness in being able to execute it.”
Have there been any standout episodes so far in season seven? Mulgrew laughs at the inevitability of the question. “I knew you were going to ask me that! I know it’s very difficult for fans to believe this, but when you do as many as I’ve done, I cannot remember the titles of the episodes. They fly out of my brain; if you tell me what it is, I could have a comment...”
Well, there’s Critical Care, in which the Doctor takes a stand over socialised medicine. “That’s a very good episode, but anything Bob Picardo does is wonderful. He’s a marvellous actor. I loved all that stuff. There’s a two-parter about the Hirogen and the holograms, Flesh and Blood, Parts I and II. It’s an interesting concept - very high-tech — and Janeway is very, very much on the bridge. Trying to understand the mentality of a hologram is no simple feat, let me tell you. And of course the emphasis of the story is the Doctor, who has empathy towards them [the holograms], because he is himself a hologram, so of course, as always, the dilemma is a moral one. I’ve always found that more compelling than any other aspect of this show.”
In Issue 72 of STAR TREK Monthly, Robert Picardo stated that he thought Janeway has had problems in her relationship with the Doctor, and Mulgrew agrees. “She has a little bit of an edge about the Doctor. Because she is a scientist, she recognises him, first and foremost, as a hologram, but now of course that has been obfuscated by her growing fondness for him as a person.
“I think Janeway is confused by her own ability and her own willingness to allow this hologram to endow himself with such humanity” she continues. “She’s very drawn to the Doctor, but at the same time she knows scientifically that all she has to do is push a button and he’s gone. That’s tough, right?! Let’s say we get back to Earth, that’s what’s going to happen. He’s going to have to return his mobile emitter, and download his program. It’s going to stir up no end of very difficult feelings and dilemmas for Janeway... Then there’s the Maquis, and the Borg, and the Kimgons... all of us!” Maybe they’d all be better off staying out there in the distant reaches of space? “I think so!” Mulgrew laughs. “Find another Quadrant!”
Although the fate of the Borg children is dealt with very early in the seventh season, Mulgrew agrees their involvement added something extra to the dynamic. “I don’t have a great deal of interaction with them,” she admits. “I think that they’ve been there to texturize Seven of Nine’s humanity. I think children are always good. Children are always a reminder of hope, new life and innocence, and it speaks well of this ship and this crew that we have not only welcomed them, but we have learned from them and through them.”
And the question of B’Elanna possibly being pregnant? “Rumour has it! That’s the funniest thing, you know, because Roxann had to stagger through season four pregnant, and we spent months trying to conceal it. If they’re going to get her pregnant, they’d better hurry up!”
Time isn’t on the side of anyone wanting to make changes in the set-up: in television terms, ST:VOY is definitely on the home straight. “I think we’ll finish in April,” Mulgrew says. “We started late - we didn’t start filming ‘til the end of June, and then we’ll have lots of stuff to do to really wrap it all up. We’re going to have to do all the second unit work and all the post-production, so I can’t see it being completed until the middle or the end of April.”
Does she know what Janeway’s fate is? “I have no idea. I say that with absolute ingenuousness. I have no idea. ”Would she like to know, or would it inform how she plays the Captain now? “I think it might inform it, so I don’t really want to know. Of course, I want to know if I don’t like it,” she laughs, “but then beggars can’t be choosers, so best to leave it alone. I think Rick Berman and Brannon Braga know where I stand, but ideally I’d like to see a very poignant ending. I don’t think this one should have a red ribbon on it. I think it should be unprece dented and bold, and rather stunning. What that means I do not know, but I don’t think it should have a fluid ending.”
The actress is keen to hear what rumours are circulating about the end of the series, and is pleased to hear that there is strong support for Janeway going down with her ship. “Attaboy. That’s the truest to the entire story, and that’s the way it should be. I hope that we don’t wuss out. It should have a very strong, stunning ending. The viewers have invested in the characters, and it’s payoff time.”
Being the sole Star Trek show these days, it might be reasonable to wonder whether ST:VOY is produced differently now that it has no companion Star Trek show. “Not that I could tell,” Mulgrew says flatly. “Of course I’m so immersed in the work that whether DS9 was across the street or not was beside the point to me. I suppose that it’s quieter. I suppose we’re getting more of a focus, but the standards have remained the same.”
In that light, and with the advent of the new Star Trek series, is there a feeling of winding down, or is there a sense of excitement about the future? “I do think that we have a sense that we are coming to an end,” she admits. “I don’t think anybody’s giving much voice or thought to what will come after us. Which I think is appropriate. We don’t know what that is going to be, and that will have a life of its own, and it will have nothing to do with us, so being the self-centred human beings that we are, we’re just concentrating on our own last few months.”
Would Mulgrew like to come back and revisit the character after the end of this season — assuming, of course, that she survives? “I haven’t even thought about that, so I couldn’t possibly give you a fair answer!”
Is there any item she’d like to take with her from the 24th Century? “The tricorder, without question,” she says immediately. “The most evolved, sophisticated and consummate piece of technology that we have at our disposal in the 24th Century. It scans, it assesses; often it can conclude. It is a tool of engineering, a tool of diagnostics — absolutely indispensable.”
In fact, it does everything except make the coffee... “It could probably do that if we configured it right!” she jokes.
As for Mulgrew’s own future, her husband is heavily involved with the US Presidential Elections (which will have been decided by the time this issue hits the stands), and the actress attended the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles in August.
“I’m fascinated by his work,” she explains. “It’s a world that I’m slightly familiar with, since my father was a politician when I was young, but I think that my husband’s global knowledge is really intriguing. It’s like learning an entirely new language, and I have the best possible mentor in him. If I thought the world of entertainment was intriguing, it’s nothing compared to the world of politics! So he’s keeping me entranced. More than a politico, my husband is a public servant, and he has a lion’s heart, so he’s trying to teach me diplomacy in the best possible way. Which,” she adds slowly and thoughtfully, “is a lesson I think I need to learn.”
In terms of acting, Mulgrew certainly wouldn’t be averse to climbing back on the treadmill of episodic television at some point in the future. “I would have to say, because I’m not stupid, that never say never, and never say die! It’s absurd to be definitive about anything at any point in life, because life changes, but I am certainly hoping to take a break, to spend a lot of time with my husband and my sons, and spend some time in the theatre, which is my first and great love.”
“I’m looking at a play called Betrayal by Harold Pinter, whom I’m crazy about. Maybe I’ll do that in the American Touring Theatre. Everything about that has yet to be confirmed, and hopefully it will be in the next few months.”
That’s a very different sort of drama. “Yes, well, I’m making up for all the personal life I left on the ship, right?!”
Looking back and placing Star Trek: Voyager in context within her career is still difficult for Mulgrew, since the experience isn’t over yet, but she is forthright about how she currently feels.
“It’s been the one that challenged me most on every conceivable level, both as an actress and as a human being,” she reveals. “It’s been not only a role, it’s certainly been a way of life as well, and you have got to understand that that’s something that most actors never know. The world of Star Trek is very far-reaching, and the Captain has been very influential as a role model. She has been extremely challenging as a character for me as well, so it’s been an all-consuming undertaking from Day One.”
And no regrets?
“No. Heavens, no!”
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