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Meredith Porte: I'm Meredith Porte and welcome to ArtStreet. Actress Kate Mulgrew is most loved for the long running television series Star Trek: Voyager in which she played Captain Janeway. She has recently made the transition back to the theater with a play which was especially written with her in mind. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Kate Mulgrew, who portrays Katharine Hepburn in Tea at Five at the Cuillo Centre in West Palm Beach.
Kate, you have been on tour now for, I think, about a year and a half – something like that – with this show, and it's gotten wonderful reviews, you've gotten awards… What has it been like to be doing a one-woman show based on the life of Katharine Hepburn?
Kate Mulgrew: That's a big question, Meredith. It's been… fascinating. And continually challenging. In a way that I could not have marked initially. I understood when I got this play – which was written for me by Matthew Lombardo – which is in itself a pretty remarkable, I think, privilege, that it was a remarkable construct, brilliantly conceived - the polarity of her life – when she's thirty-one and when she's seventy-six. This is the play. I understood immediately the excellence of this piece and I wanted to do it very badly. I did not, however – I could not have presupposed the kind of odyssey that has unfolded as a result, beginning with Hartford over a year and a half ago, and now here…
Meredith Porte: In what way…
Kate Mulgrew: In the sub-tropics!
Meredith Porte: In what way?
Kate Mulgrew: And I'm not complaining about that!
Meredith Porte: Did you not expect to continue? Did you think that this would be a run that I'd do for maybe three months and that's about it and then I'll be done with it, or…
Kate Mulgrew: I think I wanted very much to play New York – which we did, of course, and had a wonderful time. I think I was a bit startled at the wings that this piece sprouted, and at its reception, which has been pretty categorically warm not to say upon occasion very supportive. I think that I… I just feel some things in life are serendipitous, and this is one of them. I went from playing Captain Kathryn Janeway, of all iconic characters on television to have the luxury of playing – to this icon. And I think that some things in life you just don't play around with.
Meredith Porte: Interesting. Is there a parallel between the two?
Kate Mulgrew: Well both…
Meredith Porte: Strong women we're talking about right?
Kate Mulgrew: Yes, but we're talking…
Meredith Porte: Totally different. Totally different and yet…
Kate Mulgrew: One is real and one is not.
Meredith Porte: Yes. For sure.
Kate Mulgrew: To play someone who actually lived…
Meredith Porte: Right…
Kate Mulgrew: Someone as extraordinary as Katharine Hepburn was, is an ongoing challenge. And I think that what has been most compelling for me, and what has demanded the greatest discipline is finding what it is about her that is genuinely and deeply compelling. I was so concerned in the beginning that this would be regarded as an impersonation and I really determined from the onset to make it much more than that. I was going to transcend that or I wasn't going to do it. So I had to find the hook…
Meredith Porte: Hmmm….
Kate Mulgrew: …In Hepburn that would allow me to do that. And often this is a very difficult dance, particularly in the rehearsal process. Can the actor find this… this dynamic in the character that will bring the full marriage of the actor and the character to fruition? And I did, happily. And it was her vulnerability.
Meredith Porte: Hmm…
Kate Mulgrew: About which people seldom speak because it is not her… it is not her direct persona.
Meredith Porte: It's her toughness really that came through…
Kate Mulgrew: And her stridency…
Meredith Porte: Exactly.
Kate Mulgrew: And you think of the maverick Kate, and you think of the Yankee Kate and you think of True Grit and all of this is very true.
Meredith Porte: How did it manifest itself? And how does it manifest itself in the play – her vulnerability?
Kate Mulgrew: This is a girl who was defined by sadness. Whose very early death of her beloved brother Tom shaped her for the rest of her life. Whose grief formed her into what I like to call the silver arrow that she became. She shot herself into Hollywood.
Meredith Porte: Hmmm…
Kate Mulgrew: What you see when you talk about the Kate that broke the boys club in Hollywood… the Kate who upset the apple cart as it had never been upset before… the Kate who did The Philadelphia Story, Alice Adams, Bringing Up Baby… You're talking about a girl who had to reach down into the absolute depths of her being to find the courage to overcome what I think was a profound sadness.
Meredith Porte: And you feel that you are able to bring this across?
Kate Mulgrew: That I guess. I have often found in my life that people who are exceptionally accomplished are usually very funny, very bold unconventional people - they like to break the rules - and Hepburn was fond of saying she liked to break the rules – are often, as their taproot – quite marked by pain. This is just the way of a great life….
Meredith Porte: Very interesting. So they created a wall around themselves – a shell to protect themselves…
Kate Mulgrew: Beyond which of course, we don't see. But we can feel. And I think it's subcutaneous in her case – just under the skin. You look often at the eyes – they're watery. When she talks about love you can see her face transfused with the feeling. Well that's very directly connected to something that's just under the skin.
Meredith Porte: So it touches all of us when we…
Kate Mulgrew: And she's always, I think, moved by it.
Meredith Porte: I really get the feeling that you have been very impacted by her as I sit here and I talk to you. How has she influenced or changed you as a result of this role? If at all?
Kate Mulgrew: Well – that's a difficult question, isn't it? So much of what I'm doing is private – a secret that even I could not articulate. It's my job to interpret, but it's also my job to go as deeply as I can. It's impacted me in many ways. In many, many ways. I would have to say that I carry with me a certain kind of … a weight of her sadness. And her capacity to overcome it. Now I don't know if we share this – if I borrowed this – this is territory I don't really want to get into because I don't want to go that far.
Meredith Porte: Right.
Kate Mulgrew: So much of this is just visited upon me. And then it just… it happens. But the great luck was the alchemy that took place between she and I. Did not expect to love her. I went in sort of resistant.
Meredith Porte: You're taken by her now, aren't you?
Kate Mulgrew: Very. Very.
Meredith Porte: Do you feel that you grow as a person with each part that you take? That you evolve as a person? I'm not talking about as an actress, I'm talking about as a person – with every part.
Kate Mulgrew: I hope so, or it's all futile. That's really all there is. I think it's wonderful that I… I…. I get to act every night in a play that I love. I think it's just terrific that after thirty-two years I'm still doing what I love so much.
Meredith Porte: It's a blessing, it really is.
Kate Mulgrew: It's a blessing – but it's nothing – nothing at all and it could be quickly discarded and thrown away and should be…
Meredith Porte: Could you?
Kate Mulgrew: If I have not improved as a human being.
Meredith Porte: If tomorrow you were told that there would be no more acting, do you could still be happy or fulfilled as a person?
Kate Mulgrew: Certainly. It's who I love that makes me who I am. And how well I love them. And talk about blessings – I mean that's been richness of my life. And I would say in this – I'm looking over here at the stage manager – the great joy of doing something like this are the friendships that one makes. And they're profound. Because it's a tiny circle – we're like a little traveling circus – and there's an imposed intimacy here that has really taken root. So I find a great reward in that. And… I think that all of us would agree this particular band of people who are around me – it's really all about how we've come to know one another.
Meredith Porte: Everything is really all about our relationships, isn't it?
Kate Mulgrew: It's all about people.
Meredith Porte: I mean the people that we connect with… sometimes… you know I often say myself that I don't believe it's about the job or the role, it's often just about the energy and the relationships…
Kate Mulgrew: Well what else is there?
Meredith Porte: What else is there. In the end what else is there in life, really. But it's nice to talk with you, who I can see really understands what is important and I can see that it's got to come through in this one-woman show that you're in.
Kate Mulgrew: Well I certainly hope so.
Meredith Porte: And I look forward to seeing it now that I've heard so much about it…
Kate Mulgrew: Please do come…
Meredith Porte: I have heard a lot about it…
Kate Mulgrew: Yes…
Meredith Porte: And I really loved getting to just chat with you – it was short but yet very powerful.
Kate Mulgrew: It was my pleasure.
Meredith Porte: To hear what you had to say.
Kate Mulgrew: Thank you Meredith.
Meredith Porte: Thank you.