Sunday Today
March 9, 2003
HEADLINE: Kate Mulgrew discusses role portraying Katharine Hepburn in off-Broadway play, "Tea At Five"



For seven seasons, actress Kate Mulgrew commanded attention for her role as the Captain  Kathryn Janeway on the television series "Star Trek: Voyager." Well, now she's landed on the New York stage to portray another Katharine. This time she is living legend Katharine Hepburn who looks back at her life and her career in the one-women show "Tea At Five."

 (Clip from "Tea At Five")

O'BRIEN: Kate Mulgrew, good morning.  Nice to see you.  Why don't you like to watch?  You're going like this (covering her face and ducking). You're putting your--why?

Ms. KATE MULGREW ("Tea At Five"): And it gets harder as I get older.  I don't know.

O'BRIEN: You get standing ovations.  The show I saw, standing ovation. The show our producer saw, standing ovations.

Ms. MULGREW: Oh, you came.  You didn't say that upstairs.

O'BRIEN: I didn't tell you?  Well, I loved it.

Ms. MULGREW: I'm so glad, yeah.

O'BRIEN: It was terrific.

Ms. MULGREW: Yeah, but you still can't watch yourself.  I could never watch myself on "Voyager" either.

O'BRIEN: Really?

Ms. MULGREW: Yeah.  You know, it's one of those things.

O'BRIEN: How much of pressure is added when you're portraying a living legend, so everyone knows her--her actions, and everyone knows the voice, and everyone knows her, and she's still alive.  How much pressure is that?

Ms. MULGREW: Pressure is an interesting choice of word, which does not really apply in this case.  Perhaps it did initially, Soledad.  I'll be honest with you.  When I opened this thing in Hartford, Connecticut a year ago...

O'BRIEN: Her hometown.

Ms. MULGREW: Yes, yes.

O'BRIEN: Katharine Hepburn's hometown.

Ms. MULGREW: And I felt that I was under enormous scrutiny there, you know. But as it has evolved, so has the love affair.  And I've really fallen in love, not only with this character, but I must say I have developed a certain affection for Ms. Hepburn that surprises me.

O'BRIEN: Did you talk to her at all before?

Ms. MULGREW: No, I have never spoken to her.  I have never met her.  And I've been often asked how do I feel about that.  And I think in the end it has stood me in good stead.  This characterization, this thing of my imagination, is my own as much as it is hers.  And I think, perhaps, that is better under these circumstances because this is not a vanity piece. This is very much a--a reflection on her life and the history of this extraordinary woman.  So I want it to be a tribute, but I also want it to come from my imagination and the page.

O'BRIEN: How difficult is it to do a one-person show?  There's never anybody else to turn to.  If you forget a line, if you forget where you're going, there's--there's no one else to help you out.

Ms. MULGREW: That is correct.

O'BRIEN: (Unintelligible)

Ms. MULGREW: That--it's a little scary.  It's hard because it's lonely. Part of the joy of the theater is the--the partnership you get to enjoy on the stage, the ensemble.  I am alone, but my partner is the audience. So I put great faith in them.  And it's like flying without a net.  A first for me in my 30 years as an actress, and I--I'm not entirely sure I would do it again, but I am delighted that I took the risk this time. And I want to really play it to--to its limits, if I can.

O'BRIEN: Tell me about the voice because Katharine Hepburn, of course, is so well known for her voice.  And you're talking to an audience of people who, obviously, are her fans, as well as your fans.  Did--did it take a lot of work, did it take a lot research to--to nail the voice?

Ms. MULGREW: No.  Strangely enough, the act two voice of the older Kate, she's 76 in act two, came to me far more naturally.  She just sort of came, you know?  Act one was the challenge.  Thirty-one, that sort of high, very patrician, very Yankee sort of total Hepburn, "Philadelphia Story" voice was the harder to capture. As you know, we--we are very familiar with her at 76. We've seen her a great deal.  We know how she talks.  And it--vocally it's--it's very doable, that voice.  But act one is the challenge.  She went to Hollywood with that voice. Nobody ever heard anybody talk like that before in Hollywood, you know?  So to capture that is an ongoing challenge.

O'BRIEN: What do you want audiences to go away knowing about Katharine Hep--well, feeling about her?

Ms. MULGREW: I want them to know that this is a tribute to a woman that I have come to admire deeply.  I want them to know that she was very brave and that she was very fine, deeply vulnerable, and had the true grit that makes this country the great country that it is.  In a time of such turmoil, I want them to leave and say, 'That's our girl.  That's what it's all about.  We're proud of that woman and proud of the fact that she was a great American actress and icon.'

O'BRIEN: I think that's what audiences are saying about you as they all give standing ovations after every show that you have done.

Ms. MULGREW: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And it's nice to have you this morning.

Ms. MULGREW: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Kate Mulgrew, thanks very much.

And we'll be back in just a moment.  But first, this is TODAY on NBC.

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