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Pete Wilson: … It's funny, I was scribbling some notes just before we came out of the break before news, and the door opened up and I heard this voice… this voice… and Kate Mulgrew walked into the studio. I should have recognized it – actually I did recognize the voice immediately. How are you?
Kate Mulgrew: I'm very well, thank you. How are you?
Pete Wilson: You have one of those… I'm just, I'm just fine! So you were born and raised in what we used to say in southern, what we used to call in southern Wisconsin, Dub-e-que!
Kate Mulgrew: Is that what you called it? (both she and Pete laugh) How terribly chic of you! Dubuque! Home of the free and the brave.
Pete Wilson: The home of the free and the brave and …
Kate Mulgrew: Built on a bluff and run on the same principle, as my father used to say.
Pete Wilson: Well, of course you've had an extraordinary trip since then – Ryan's Hope and Mrs. Columbo and countless TV and stage appearances, and then of course the Star Trek series, the Voyager series …
Kate Mulgrew: Yeah.
Pete Wilson: … the first captain, the first woman captain in the Star Trek series, congratulations for breaking that barrier…
Kate Mulgrew: Thank you very much for acknowledging my gender.
Pete Wilson: But this new… this new thing just fascinates me, and I saw some clips last night – some promotional clips last night, and it stunned me. Now explain to people what exactly you're doing.
Kate Mulgrew: This one-woman show?
Pete Wilson: Yes.
Kate Mulgrew: It's the life of Katharine Hepburn. It was written for me by Matthew Lombardo over three years ago now. And it was serendipitous as all good things are in life. The liaison was my then best friend, Nancy Addison, who has since died. But she was sitting with Matthew Lombardo looking at an episode of Star Trek: Voyager and he said, "I don't know who that woman is, but she should play Katharine Hepburn." And Nancy said, "You write it and I'll get it to her." So he went to Miami and wrote it in three days. And she sent it to me. And I instantly recognized it for what it was.
Pete Wilson: The one-woman or one-man show really isn't that old, in the theatre. I mean it's been around in the monologue sense for years, but it got going, I think, in the American theatre when Hal Holbrook did Mark Twain back in the sixties to enormous success and now it's become… it's become huge, but many actors and actresses say it's intimidating. Now in your case, you're looking at an individual who was a force of nature, and it's very difficult to make yourself into that person, isn't it?
Kate Mulgrew: Yes, of course.
Pete Wilson: Yeah.
Kate Mulgrew: As it should be. Very daunting. The terror has subsided …
Pete Wilson: (Laughs)
Kate Mulgrew: … thank God.
Pete Wilson: Was there terror?
Kate Mulgrew: Oh, of course. There always is, it doesn't matter if it's a one-person show or not. But I think that my… my great concern was that this not be anything remotely resembling an impersonation. That it needed to transcend that, so that's been the work.
Pete Wilson: They have to know it's her, but it doesn't have to be an exact impersonation…
Kate Mulgrew: Well of course not.
Pete Wilson: … as such. It has to be …
Kate Mulgrew: The beauty of the interpretive arts, which is what acting is, is that we, we find the pulse or the heartbeat of the character we're playing and that gives the secret message to the audience. Much more important than any physicality.
Pete Wilson: Unlike the famous lover in her life, this is an actor who told us who she was, repeatedly. She wrote about herself, she talked about herself in some extraordinarily open ways over the years, especially later in life. Did that make it… does that make it easier? We sort of know who she was.
Kate Mulgrew: I don't think we know who she was.
Pete Wilson: You don't. She disagrees.
Kate Mulgrew: She wrote what she wanted to write about herself.
Pete Wilson: Yeah. Sure. Of course.
Kate Mulgrew: And what she wrote about herself was, I think, very amusing. Often self-deprecating. How revealing was it? I don't know. But I think this piece that I'm doing is… is intended to be quite revealing of the inner life of this extraordinary person.
Pete Wilson: Well as she said, "Tea at Five" is written by Matthew Lombardo and we'll tell you all about how to get the tickets. A one-woman show by the way. Runs through June 19th at the Marines Memorial Theatre, which is a terrific venue for something like this. From the standpoint of doing research, you have to be so careful. You don't want to sit down and literally start looking at all the films from the thirties on through the …through the eighties and so on, with her – yes, it was that long. So how did you do it? How did you approach it?
Kate Mulgrew: Well, I did in fact do that. Of course. And all the documentation and all the literature that I could find.
Pete Wilson: Uh huh.
Kate Mulgrew: But most of it's very quiet, and deeply personal, and sort of a secret between the actor and the character … and a negotiation between the actor and the character, which is an … an unspoken thing. It's very, very difficult to articulate. Was she going to let me in? Was I going to be able to grasp the nuance of this woman?
Pete Wilson: Uh huh.
Kate Mulgrew: Was I going to be able to find the heartbeat – the main artery. And slowly, in the rehearsal process that… that unfolded.
Pete Wilson: Is that process anything like anything else that you've done? I mean I realize that the preparation process is similar, but have you done anything like it before?
Kate Mulgrew: No. I think it's singular. And I… I think it's very hard. And I would say that without question, it's lonely. We're trained in the theatre to work with our partners. Acting is reacting - you know, that's the famous cliché. And that's what we're … we're sort of anticipating all the time. In this case I'm all alone. And the partner is my audience. So there's an entirely new dynamic introduced, and it's very interesting.
Pete Wilson: During Voyager, did you do any blue-screen acting? Because of the special effects you had to do a lot of it, didn't you?
Kate Mulgrew: I reinvented the blue-screen! Not to mention the green-screen!
Pete Wilson: What we're talking about is the… is… the blue-screen acting that I referred to is the special effects acting, where an actor is essentially on their own in front of a blue screen, pretending that the screen is filled with all sorts of instrumentality and background and so on, and it's… it's terribly difficult. So in a way, this is kind of like that. You're into a life, and you have nobody to refer to.
Kate Mulgrew: There's nothing quite like the technical acting required in a series like Star Trek – in science fiction. When you talk about something like blue-screen, which is very smart of you, because most people, I don't think, are familiar with it, you're talking about something that's demanded of the actor, and it's sometimes just excruciating.
Pete Wilson: Uh huh.
Kate Mulgrew: Within a quarter of an inch, your movement, or you know… really quite impossible to… to… to do… very well. So no, there's no comparison.
Pete Wilson: It's funny, because you … because we're just viewing the last of the Star Trek movies, and of course he really, along with you, invented the blue-screen notion, and it's really destroyed a number of great actors in that series. You can see the difficulty they had in trying to do this. You look at Neeson, for instance, and a few others, and they look at a loss in something like that.
Kate Mulgrew: Well the confines are so… unbearably restrictive. I mean you're told that you're fighting Species 8472, but you've got only six inches on the right, three inches on the left, and nothing overhead. And if you turn a quarter of an in… I mean it's just highly exacting technically. Which I found very challenging.
Pete Wilson: This is different than hitting your mark on a stage.
Kate Mulgrew: It's not unlike that – aren't you good about this! It's not unlike that, especially if you're carrying the camera with you. I mean, the great virtuoso acting in episodic television is really technical. And how they manage to marry that with some semblance of humanity is extraordinary.
Pete Wilson: Kate Mulgrew is the guest. If you have quick question for her, by all means give us a call at 808-8010. And when we come back, I want to find out a little more about "Tea at Five". Where it goes, the parts of Hepburn's life that it includes. It's all coming up. The Pete Wilson Program on KGO.
Pete Wilson: I remember… Kate Mulgrew is our guest in the studio, who is of course, the star, the one and only person on stage in "Tea at Five", though she would like you to think that that's Katharine Hepburn up there – maybe a little Kate Mulgrew. I remember Hal Holbrook saying that… that he had a hard time leaving the character alone. But he did it so much. I mean he literally …
Kate Mulgrew: He's been doing it for forty-five years…
Pete Wilson: He just kept right on doing it.
Kate Mulgrew: And he's back on Broadway right now.
Pete Wilson: Yeah.
Kate Mulgrew: But as he said to me – I met him at a cocktail party a few months ago – actually, it was a year ago - heavens, how time flies. He said, "The beauty of my doing Mark Twain is that I can… I can finesse and fix it…"
Pete Wilson: Sure, yeah.
Kate Mulgrew: "… adjust as I like." I mean he can bring in political commentary and satire as he wishes. I do not have that license.
Pete Wilson: No.
Kate Mulgrew: So, I must be faithful to the text every night.
Pete Wilson: How much of the text is taken from things that Hepburn said or things that are known about her? I mean how …
Kate Mulgrew: A great deal.
Pete Wilson: A great deal.
Kate Mulgrew: A great deal. In fact, no statement is made without three sources of verification in this piece. I demanded that. Because of great importance to me was that we absolutely respect this woman…
Pete Wilson: Uh huh…
Kate Mulgrew: … for the extraordinary life that she lived. And I have no interest at all in … in highlighting what could be the negative aspects of her life. What I'm interested in is the further investigation of her inner life.
Pete Wilson: Uh huh… I mean again, over a fifty year period, she had at least three separate, maybe four separate movie careers.
Kate Mulgrew: She did indeed.
Pete Wilson: Massive stardom careers, and then she'd go away and then she'd come back… it was just amazing.
Kate Mulgrew: She'd go off and do Shakespeare in Australia.
Pete Wilson: Whatever she had to do.
Kate Mulgrew: Oh, you bet!
Pete Wilson: Or felt like doing, for that matter.
Kate Mulgrew: Yeah.
Pete Wilson: I think that was always the key to the character. In terms of the content of the play, tell us a little bit about where you want… where it goes. What's the arc of …
Kate Mulgrew: Well that's, I think, what was most compelling to me in the first place, because Matthew Lombardo has constructed it in such a way that it's … it's intriguing. In Act 1, she's thirty-one, having just been labeled box office poison. And we see her in the living room of her family cottage in Fenwick, Connecticut, and she's extremely agitated. She's lobbying for Scarlett O'Hara – we all know how that turned out. But she feels that this will make or break her career. She's on the outs with Howard Hughes, and we see her in this very confined and confining area. And we see how much it cost Hepburn to achieve what she achieved in those early years. In Act 2 she's seventy-six, following a very serious car accident. And it is in Act 2 that much is revealed to us.
Pete Wilson: Uh huh…
Kate Mulgrew: About the greatest reflections on the sorrows of her life. Her brother's suicide. Her relationship with Spencer Tracy. Her relationship with her father. The arc of her career, and what, in fact, she sacrificed to achieve what she did achieve. And I've tried to go very, very deep with the lightest of touches, if such a thing can be said.
Pete Wilson: I think back to the … to those first three or four Hepburn films – you just talked about it – and she, I think for choice reasons, caused some difficulty for herself. There were critics who said she acted in a very narrow range, that she was always the same. I mean it went on… was it Dorothy Parker that made the nasty comment…
Kate Mulgrew: A to B.
Pete Wilson: A to B.
Kate Mulgrew. Ummm…
Pete Wilson: I can't remember whether it was her or Gregory Peck she said that about – maybe both of them.
Kate Mulgrew: No, it was Dorothy Parker about Hepburn.
Pete Wilson: It was Hepburn. But … but then somehow she pulled herself back up. But when I've heard people talk about the "Gone with the Wind" idea, it's always occurred to me - that would have been a terrible mistake.
Kate Mulgrew: Well, I mean, everybody wanted that role.
Pete Wilson: Sure they did.
Kate Mulgrew: You think Bette Davis would have been any better suited to it?
Pete Wilson: Oh yeah. No. No. But she went ahead …
Kate Mulgrew: Ginger Rogers?
Pete Wilson: She did…what was the other one she did. She did "Gone with the Wind" anyway, but for Warner Brothers, and it was called… what was the character called? Oh, I'll think of that, too. Anyway…
Kate Mulgrew: Everybody tested for it.
Pete Wilson: Yeah, right.
Kate Mulgrew: Of the whole lot of them, I think she really sort of had a good shot at it. It's a good thing she didn't …
Pete Wilson: Uh huh…
Kate Mulgrew: Vivian Leigh was too delicious for words. And as it turned out we got "Philadelphia Story" and on to the next, as you just said.
Pete Wilson: And it wasn't bad!
Kate Mulgrew: Not bad at all. And very defining for Hepburn.
Pete Wilson: And defining for other people.
Kate Mulgrew: But going back to your original question, which was, was she narrow in her range? You know the critics will always hit on the one thing that I think they're frightened of. And if she was narrow, she would not have been the icon that she was. She may have had to constantly learn and educate herself, but as you could see by the end of her life she was indeed… indeed an actress of considerable range and power.
Pete Wilson: Uh huh… Take a look at a bad movie some time, called "Rooster Cogburn"… it's a not bad movie, it's okay…
Kate Mulgrew: Ahhh… I think it was sweet.
Pete Wilson: But the two of them together…
Kate Mulgrew: …Mmmm….
Pete Wilson: It's an absolute delight watching two complete professionals, which Hepburn talked about….
Kate Mulgrew: A great 'click' you know…
Pete Wilson: And they absolutely somehow… it works, and it's really fun. It's Wayne and Hepburn. We'll be right back. Some final words with Kate Mulgrew.
Pete Wilson: "Jezebel". Not "Dark Victory", "Jezebel". I was trying to remember the Bette Davis version of "Gone With the Wind". She plays a southern belle screwball in "Jezebel". Kate Mulgrew is the person cackling in the background with that wonderful voice. We only have a minute or so. For tickets to "Tea at Five" now through the 19th at Marines Memorial Theatre, call 415-771-6900. Do you mind putting the headphones on for me real quick …
Kate Mulgrew: No, no…
Pete Wilson: …and we'll just talk to Jay, she has a question or a comment. Jay, go ahead.
Jay: Hi. Miss Mulgrew, I just wanted to say, I saw the show on Sunday, two days ago, and I was just so completely stunned by your performance. I've always loved Kate Hepburn and I've always loved you, and I went with great trepidation because I just was terrified. And I sat there waiting for you to hit a false note, and you never did. And I just wanted to tell you how completely stunned I was. And also ask you, please, you know, give yourself a little more time on stage for the applause at the end because you were on and you were gone and I was devastated that you gone so fast. I…
Kate Mulgrew: Ohhh….
Jay: … really needed to express how much I loved what you had done.
Kate Mulgrew: What a nice thing to say.
Pete Wilson: Jay…
Kate Mulgrew: You've made my day, Jay. Thank you.
Jay: Thank you so much.
Pete Wilson: We'll record that entire conversation. By the way, we talked about you not doing an impression, but the publicity photo – this publicity photo – of you in the Kate Hepburn pantsuit, is a little scary.
Kate Mulgrew: Laughs.
Pete Wilson: I mean the angle, everything else. There's a whole lot of… it's…
Kate Mulgrew: Yeah.
Pete Wilson: … very similar. Quickly, Charles in San Francisco. Charles, if you keep it brief, please.
Charles: Yeah, hi Kate, hi Pete. I was wondering if there was going to be a Voyager movie.
Pete Wilson: Good question.
Kate Mulgrew: I don't know, Charles. And my agent hasn't heard anything about it either!
Pete Wilson: This is the first season that there hasn't been a Star Trek show on in like thirty years…
Kate Mulgrew: I believe Enterprise has been cancelled so…
Pete Wilson: Yeah…
Kate Mulgrew: I think if the brass at Paramount feel that it would be profitable, they… they will. I'd like to. Would you like to see one?
Pete Wilson: He's gone.
Kate Mulgrew: Oh, he's gone. Okay.
Pete Wilson: And that's my fault.
Kate Mulgrew: Oh, okay.
Pete Wilson: But I'm certain that people would like to see one. That is the nature of Star Trek fans…
Kate Mulgrew: Right.
Pete Wilson: But their opportunity now is "Tea at Five". Katharine Hepburn by Kate Mulgrew and … and by the way you play a lot of Kates in your…
Kate Mulgrew: Isn't it strange…
Pete Wilson: Katharine, Kate, Kate, Kathryn…
Kate Mulgrew: And here's an interesting little thing in the … it's always another name. But they change it to Kate.
Pete Wilson: Yeah.
Kate Mulgrew: I don't ask them to change it. They change it! Very interesting, isn't it?!
Pete Wilson: It sure is. Thanks a lot!
Kate Mulgrew: Thank you, Pete.