She's been portraying the down-to-earth character of Katharine Hepburn in the one-woman play, "Tea at 5." It opens Friday at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Mulgrew was nominated for an Outer Circle award for "Tea at 5" and received Broadway.com's Audience Award.
Speaking by phone during a rare moment at home in New York City, Mulgrew said she prepared for the role by immersing herself in the text of the play and by watching all of Hepburn's movies.
She took an active role in what went into the play. She wanted controversial subjects to be verified by three sources, especially anything surrounding Hepburn's relationship with Spencer Tracy.
"I want documentation. I don't think speculation serves her. It was such an extraordinary life," Mulgrew said.
Hepburn is remembered in this play with wit and poignancy by Mulgrew; playwright Matthew Lombardo, who won an IRNE award for the work; and director John Tillinger. Among Tillinger's Broadway directing credits, which include four Tony nominations, are "Say Goodnight Gracie," "Judgment at Nuremburg," "The Sunshine Boys" and "Inherit the Wind."
Although critics have noted Mulgrew's sometimes uncanny portrayal of Hepburn, she said it is not an impersonation. "I can't be her," she said.
The most compelling moments surround the suicide of her brother and the complicated relationship with Tracy.
"Her vulnerability was something she protected with absolute ferocity," Mulgrew said. "It was a life of self-sacrifice. . . . And I think the cost was very high, but . . . she loved her popularity, and she loved being the queen of America's imagination."
"Tea at 5" runs Friday through Oct. 2. $31-$58. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. (626) 356-7529 or www.pasadenaplayhouse.org