Out in America Website

August 8, 2002
A Brand New Voyage
Actress Kate Mulgrew trades in the Delta Quandrant for Hartford, Connecticut

by Andy Scahill, Out in America Editor

In Star Trek: Voyager, Kate Mulgrew's character Captain Janeway led a group of lost explorers on an "Odyssey"-esque journey to find their way home. In its seven and a half year run, Mulgrew garnered widespread acclaim for portraying a brash, authoritative character tempered by compassion and warmth.

But in her latest undertaking, Mulgrew boldly goes where no woman has gone before--on stage, that is. In the daring and multi-faceted one-woman show "Tea at Five", Mulgrew portrays screen idol Katharine Hepburn--first at 31 after Hepburn has been labeled "box office poison" and later at 76 after Hepburn's debilitating car accident.

Gay playwright Matthew Lombardo says that he began to draft the show after seeing an episode of Star Trek: Voyager and marveling at Mulgrew's "Hepburnesque" qualities. The show was fast-tracked to production and opened in February, 2002 at the Hartford Stage in Connecticut, incidentally near the town in which Ms. Hepburn, now 97, currently resides.

This month, Mulgrew takes her show to Ohio, where her husband, Ohio gubernatorial candidate Tim Hagan, continues his campaign to gain votes across the state. To support this effort, Mulgrew will be hosting a fundraiser effort August 24 in Cleveland, featuring the entire cast of Star Trek: Voyager and special guest William Shatner.

Kate took a moment from her busy schedule to talk about her one-woman show, her time on Voyager, the lack of gay characters on Star Trek, and the countdown to her husband's election day.

Andy Scahill: Your show's opening up in Cleveland this month--is it considered "on tour" or is this a limited engagement?

Kate Mulgrew: No, no... I'm hesitant to articulate this, but I would say it's probably a Broadway try-out. The producers are taking a close look at it--some of them are. We just wanted to implement some changes in Act One. The play was very well received in Hartford, but the playwright, Matthew Lombardo, is a total perfectionist. A slave driver. [laughs]

AS: Are you a review reader?

KM: I don't read reviews. I'm too old for that. I understand that they were very nice to me.

AS: Understandably.

KM: Well, they haven't always been, darling. Believe me, I've had some devastating... y'know, they write it and they have no clue how they've just ripped your heart out of your chest. And stomped on it.

AS: Right, because you've put all your time and--

KM: --everything that you have into it.

AS: Has the show evolved since it first opened in February?

KM: Oh sure. Well, once you open, you have to stop. Particularly in a one-person genre of this kind. You couldn't possibly juggle those changes on top of everything else you're doing at night. These text changes, which we'll get to this afternoon. It's hard work-he's written three or four successive drafts, and I'm sure we'll get to all of them today. He's enhanced the emotional life of Hepburn in Act One. Act Two is pretty golden as it stands.

AS: Would you consider the first act to be a setup, or exposition for the show?

KM: You could call it a setup. There is exposition, but now the exposition is supported emotionally. By her vulnerability, by her agitation. Everything that defined her at 31.

AS: Because at that point she's just suffered a major trauma to her career.

KM: That's right. She's just been labeled "box office poison". She cannot get a job. And it's amazing for us to think watching it that such a day ever came in Hepburn's life. In fact there were many of them. It's wonderful for an audience to see just how hard those lives were-we see the great icon, the public personality, the fabulous movie star. She fought hard, Andy, make no mistake about it, with everything she had in her being, to become the "fascinating" (as she puts it) personality that she became.

AS: Was there any trepidation on your part playing not only a complex persona, but also over a span of 40 years?

KM: Do I strike you as having less than working-grade talent? [laughs]. Yes, there was. Of course. But there always is. You're asking is it more daunting because she's still alive and we're talking about a real person?

AS: That's definitely a question I had.

KM: Absolutely. I approached her as a character. And I had the extraordinary good luck of having all of this research at my fingertips. All of her films. The extensive literature that has been written about her.

AS: Am I right that this is the first play that has been performed about her life?

KM: This is the first play. Many, many years ago there was a miniseries done on the young Hepburn and my friend Tovah Feldshuh played it, and I though that was so odd… Tovah is very Jewish-playing this incredible Yankee.

AS: What would you say was the most difficult part for you making the transition into this role?

KM: Total concentration. And then letting go of it. Do you understand what I'm saying to you? My mentor used to say this to me: "You can work like a dog. You can do all the research that the world provides. You can knock your head against the wall. But if you're not ready to let it all go, when the queue light goes up… you're screwed." And that's the job of the actor. At that moment, when the red light goes off, you better take wing. Because the audience is very smart-they're not going to take the journey with you if you're not taking it yourself. I learned that a long time ago.

So it's a great discipline, in a time in my life, Andy, when there are many other disciplines going on. My husband is running for governor of Ohio. It's a very busy time. I'm a little more fractured than I'd like to be. But all of that will be over this afternoon and I will be completely concentrated.

AS: Now this show is your first stage show in eight years-and you decided to take on a one-woman show.

KM: No small statement there. When I got the play, I recognized it right away. I've read so many scripts in my life that I have a sixth sense about excellence. And I saw it there. I knew what I was undertaking; I'm not foolish. But Janeway was not a walk in the park either. That's not my nature--I don't like walks in the park as much as I do walks in the jungle. Also, I'm at an age now-I'm 47 years old-and to play both acts with equal dexterity, and believability, I have to attack it right now.

AS: You have a cast reunion of sorts coming up on August 24th as a fundraiser for your husband's campaign. Is this the first time that you've been together since the close of the show?

KM: This is the first time ever that we've all been together. They're doing all this for Tim, on their own dime and on their own time. And if you want proof as to what those seven and a half years in the trenches bore--this is the fruit of it. And I can think of no greater tribute to our tenure together than this kind of friendship.

AS: And to their affection for you and your husband.

KM: That's right. And their real commitment to his race. Because I don't work with, nor do I kiss, anyone who isn't a liberal Democrat.

AS: With your role as Janeway, the first female Star Trek captain, were you concerned with Hollywood's tenuous relationship with women in power?

KM: Yes, how you can't have the independence without the bitch. I transcended that with Janeway. And nothing gives me greater pleasure than to say that I believe I was the only actress doing that on prime time. Her humanity, her warmth. I've often used the expression, "I did not 'drop trou'." I had no intension of doing so. And I don't think I ever lost my whimsy, my compassion. My deep love for the crew.

AS: Is that something you had to campaign for--that balanced portrayal?

KM: No. This is inherent in the concept of Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry had conceived. Though I'm sure--Gene Roddenberry was quite the womanizer--and I'm sure he never imaged a woman in the captain's seat. So my hats off to the brass at Paramount, they had a lot of money to lose. And they changed the course of television history with that move.

AS: But they still seem to be lagging behind in gay and lesbian portrayals. They have yet to have a regular gay and lesbian character on any of the series or films.

KM: That's right--I've been quite outspoken about that. That'll be the last thing to go, the last bridge to cross.

AS: One would think that the producers of a progressive, forward-thinking show would be more open-minded.

KM: Well, one would think that Hollywood would be more open-minded at this point, since essentially the whole town is run by the gay community. It makes very little sense if you think about it. No, Star Trek is very strangely by the book in this regard. Rick Berman, who is a very sagacious man, has been very firm about certain things. I've approached him many, many times over the years about getting a gay character on the show--one whom we could really love, not just a guest star. Y'know, we had blacks, Asians, we even had a handicapped character--and so I thought, this is now beginning to look a bit absurd. And he said, "In due time." And so, I'm suspecting that on Enterprise they will do something to this effect. I couldn't get it done on mine. And I am sorry for that.

AS: Well, God love ya for trying. I saw a documentary a while back called Trekkies, in which you talked about the amazing support you found in the Star Trek "trekkies" fan base--

KM: --"trekkers" they like to be called. You gave yourself away. [laughs] Yes, yes... Denise Crosby hosted it. But it ended up being kind of an indictment of their love for the show, though, don't you think? Shame on her-biting the hand that fed her so gently. But yes, I am continually amazed and honored at the love I receive from Star Trek fans.

AS: Do you want to talk about your husband?

KM: Alright, let's talk about my husband. Have you seen him lately? Because I haven't.

AS: Busy time for both of you.

KM: Yes. We're down to crunch time now because it's hovering around 90 days.

AS: I'm picturing a huge clock looming in you kitchen with a countdown.

KM: That's exactly what it is. Tick tock. At 100 days, it just becomes chaos. But not complete chaos, just extraordinarily rigorous. Because he's so committed. Now that the race has turned and caught fire, he really feels compelled to hit all 88 counties three or four times, to speak at every rally, to hit every labor union hall, to have his voice heard. He's going to win this race, I have no doubt. I'm always catching my breath at just how much I admire the man that I actually married.

AS: What's the biggest challenge you see ahead in the next 90 or so days?

KM: Managing time, measuring ourselves. You know, we were attracted to one another because of our absolute appreciation of whimsy and absurdity. Philosophically, we were attracted. And life is now so structured, so scheduled. I think what I'd like what I'd like to do when he becomes governor is to bring some of that ease back into his life and some laughter.

AS: Do you have any political aspirations yourself?

KM: Not I, said the cat. Put that in bold print. Everybody asks me that--why do they ask me that? Why would I want to be a politician--I sleep with one! Believe me. I could be much more helpful with my own pursuits and my own career, believe me, than I could if I were to assume a different kind of mantle. Which I have no interest in doing.

Which is not to say that I'm without a social conscious, it's very much alive. But I can help the state in my own way without running for office, I should hope. Andy, there's still about 40 plays that I want to do before I call it a day!