Laura Johnson, Ben Masters and Kate Mulgrew are the leading cast members of ABC's Heartbeat.
By STEPHANIE DuBOIS
ABC's Heartbeat series, which debuted last spring and ran for six episodes, returned in January on Thursdays at 10 p.m., with new storylines, new writers - and a new attitude, says series star Kate Mulgrew.
She says the show about a medical clinic run by and for women is now trying harder to explore the Heartbeat characters.
Former Cagney & Lacey producer Allison Hock and several of the show's writers were brought in to revamp the series.
"They wanted to make the show a bit grainier," says Mulgrew. "... a black and white photograph as opposed to Kodacolor. That would be my preference, too, as long as it's handled delicately. "
"Black and white isn't attractive when it gets too tough and we're dealing with women. I don't want the feminist thing - butchy women or tough broads."
Kate's character (Dr. Joanne Halloran, who heads the clinic) struggles to balance a demanding career with a personal life, and "stands for every woman in this predicament. She is strong, yes. It can be riveting when you're watching a tough broad fight for her life, but it's much more viable to watch her vulnerability under fire. Hopefully they'll go for those contrasts."
"When women are under stress, a lot of down, dirty humor comes out. I'd like to see more of that ... more of them making fun of themselves, dishing each other. It shouldn't be 'Aren't we important and aren't we serious?"'
Kate believes strongly in sharing her ideas about the show's direction with the producers and writers and says she's sometimes perceived as being difficult because of her penchant for being outspoken.
She says "I've heard that (comments about being difficult) and it always amazes me."
"It's not being difficult, it's being professional. I'm the one who has to play the part. I can't just be a vessel anymore. I'm 33 years old. I've been at it for almost 15 years professionally. I've read a lot and lived a lot. Give me a little credit for that."
Mulgrew is an interesting dichotomy. A first impression of her might lead one to think she epitomizes modern woman - strong, aggressive, independent. And she is all of those things. But beneath those characteristics are surprisingly traditional underpinnings.
Like her Heartbeat character, Kate struggles to balance her career with her personal life. Off screen, that struggle includes satisfying the needs of her husband, Robert Egan, and their two boys, Alexander, 4, and Ian, 5.
One of eight children, Mulgrew is Irish Catholic and suffers from the contradictions of believing a mother should be home with her children and a compelling need to work.
"If I didn't love acting as passionately as I do - and for me it's life's blood - I would stay home with my children."
"I had them to be their mother. That's the trip. That's the adventure. Do I really want to turn around when I'm 80 and say, 'You know I had two kids. I don't know why they're so screwed up, but did I show you my latest review?"'
Kate believes "it's a mortal sin to put a mother of small children in the marketplace if it's not necessary. What often happens is a woman's got two or three small kids, the husband marches off to work every day, her friends are bank tellers or running little boutiques. They're saying 'What's your problem?' She starts thinking she's deficient because she doesn't have a job. It's much harder work to be at home with two children. Every housewife in America realizes that."
How does she compensate for the time she must be away from her children?
"I repress a lot of my guilt. I need to be with my children, but I also need to act."
She says her husband makes things a little easier.
"I have a great husband and he does more than his share. The only true great thing I've ever done in my life was to bite the bullet and get married. I got the last of the great Irish-Catholic guys, believe me."
Mulgrew was engaged to marry someone else when she first met Robert.
"We were going to be married in November and I said to my agent, 'I'd like to do one more play.' Off I went to Seattle to do Another Part of the Forest. We were sitting around a table, waiting to start the first read through, and the artistic director said 'Let's give it a few more minutes. My assistant is chronically late.' Then I saw him walking down the hall. I was drinking a cup of coffee and the coffee spilled. I looked at him and I thought 'This is the guy.' I knew it in a second. He didn't."
"It was the only time in my life that I schemed. My friends were saying 'How can you? It's the '80s, we don't play games with men anymore. We're straight with men.' I said to them, 'Are you married? You got a man?"' She continued to scheme, to game-play, to lay the bait for Robert, because, she says, "he was unwilling to get married. He was 33, very handsome, very bright, had a lot of girls. Why would he bother to get married? So I had to make it worth his while."
Kate says the turning point came when the game playing ended and, tired of waiting for him to make a commitment, "I left him."
"I said 'I never want to see or hear from you again and I mean it.' He was livid. I'll never forget it. He turned on me and said "You'll regret it." I got on a plane and went back to New York.
"Destiny works in a lot of ways," she continues.
Shortly after she returned to New York, Mulgrew was raped. "Robert heard about it - and was on the next plane."
And they've been together ever since.