TV ZONE #128
July 2000
Kate Mulgrew
Queen For A Day
By Dan Ranger
Actress Kate Mulgrew takes us around her lovely home from home….
FOR A MOMENT, it seems that we’ve walked in on a Hello! magazine interview. Kate Mulgrew, star of Star Trek: Voyager, is giving us a tour of the titular ship of the show for all the hoards of vulture-like journalists flocking around her. She takes great pains to show off the detail of the control consoles, and is obviously enjoying showing off what the creative people who built Voyager produced. As she points from station to station, identifying where crewmembers sit, someone asks the obvious question: where’s the bathroom, then?

“This is the 24th Century,” she jokes. “We don’t go to the bathroom.”

Kate Mulgrew has been playing Captain Kathryn Janeway for six years, commanding UPN’s flagship vessel through weekly adventures and dramas. A theatre actress by training, Mulgrew stepped into the role of the first female leading Trek Captain at the very last minute, but has made great pains to make the role her own over the previous couple of years. After being thrown in at the deep end with her first episode — she took over from Genevieve Bujold after production had already started — it took a while to get comfy with the character and the series as a whole. How did she endure that initial process of settling in?

“By the seat of my pants! For the first season and a half. Then I slowly started taking breaths. I think initially that I felt so scrutinized.

“Genevieve Bujold initially took this job. She quit and it was nervous because a lot of jobs hung in the balance. Was I going to pull this off? So my great concern for at least a season and a half was ‘would I be able to inhabit this command to their satisfaction?’ having been preceded — very successfully —by two men. And after a year it became obvious that that was going to be all right.

“Then I got to the business of Janeway.”

Married to the Part

It’s obvious from the affection in her voice that she feels genuine fondness for the somewhat maverick captain initially stranded 70,000 light years away from their home, Janeway has led her mis-matched crew through the domain of some of the most dangerous creatures — including the much feared Borg — and come out unscathed. Now only 30,000 light years from Earth (not bad in just over half a decade), it seems that Janeway’s luck may have run out. In the exciting season finale, Janeway finally faces the one enemy that never gives up when she goes head to head against the Borg Collective once more. The episode is entitled Unimatix Zero, and involves a fight against the Collective from within, and giving a startling twist on Janeway’s individuality. With this new development, one has to ask Mulgew whether she’s happy with Janeway’s evolution as a whole.

“I’m very happy,” she states. “You know, it’s like a love affair: you don’t know who’s serious, who’s not, who’s going to take the risk, who’s going to make the first move. Then you’ve established that it’s mutual, then someone says ‘will you many me?’ and you’re married. And we’re married now.”

She moves around to her chair, and motions to where the viewscreen should be. At present, it’s blank. Totally blank. Where there should be a glittering starscape is a piece of wood — actually the back of the mess hall set just across the way. Mulgrew takes it all in her stride.

“I’m often talking to an alien here, and I’m seeing exactly what you’re seeing. So the great challenge as an actress was, ‘What am I going to do looking at this?’ Lumberwall. That was the real dilemma for the first season. But now I have that under my belt,” she admits with a smile.

Walking about the bridge set it’s very easy to suspend disbelief that this is all made from metal and plastic, and that pushing a certain button wouldn’t make the whole thing go. Mulgrew commands the show easily, and it’s difficult not to snap to attention when she orders you through a door. We move off the bridge into Captain Janeway’s sanctuary.

“My Ready Room. I love this room,” she says, as we move into a room somewhat smaller than you expect. “It’s hell to shoot in because it’s very confined,” Mulgrew adds.

Pointing out of the window, this time the star field is in place. Stars shine from what seems light years away, but for once, Mulgrew seems content to spoil the illusion due to a certain amount of trouble that backdrop has given her in the past.

“Now the problem is there are wrinkles in this very heavy and detailed velvet curtain. If those diamond studs are out of alignment, or a wrinkle shows, we’ll have to cut and do the whole thing again.”

At the incredulity exhibited, Mulgrew simply completes the thought: “Because the Trekkers attention to detail in Space is fastidious. I can tell you, there have been times when I have got to the end of five or six pages [of script] in here and they say ‘Cut! Print! That was great!’ And you hear the conversation ‘The operator says there was a wrinkle in the curtain’. If there is even a question of a doubt, you have to do it again.”

Despite the trouble it has given her, you can hear the pride this attention to minutiae gives her in her voice.

Smooth Running

As a programme, Voyager’s run hasn’t always been smooth. Initially derided for being the more conformist offspring of the popular Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was even accused of mimicking it a little too much. After the removal of Bujold from the chair, people were looking for it to fail. When it didn’t, and actually grew under pressure, the more ‘carnivorous’ fans were left with egg on their face.

The show changed direction for it’s fourth season with the inclusion the Borg Seven of Nine. The same fans now had a new target, and much was made of apparent hostilities between Jeri Ryan (who plays the cybernetic siren) and Mulgrew. Both actresses have dismissed this as being nonsense, but further fuel was added when Mulgrew announced that she might be leaving as soon as she could. Mulgrew nods in acknowledgement of the statement she made, but divulges the reason to be of a more personal nature.

“That’s because I was falling in love and about to get married. And I was preoccupied. And that’s fair in life, isn’t it?” she challenges.

“I have never had a lack of motivation for her [Janeway]. I have never driven… maybe once when I was sick, but I have never driven to this lot and thought anything but ‘This is going to be a good day. Today I’m going to crack something new. Today there will be surprises.”

Playing the matriarchal figure on a ship lost almost 30 years from home would, in all honesty, present oneself with a daily surprise or two. But one can’t get around the fact that this really isn’t a role that you can rehearse for. You can’t call up Starfleet and ask to sit in on a few missions in order to get the feel of captaincy. You are, in essence, learning a part that doesn’t exist. Of all the things that came associated with the part, Mulgrew dealt with this angle with surprising ease, and has found inhabiting the domain of Science Fiction has given her a taste for science literature.

“Right now I’m reading Dr Findman, who is enlightening me no end. And I’m reading Phantoms in the Brain. So it’s piqued my interest in a curious way.”

Just like Janeway and her part-time mentor Da Vinci, it seems that life is imitating art once again. Casting all this science in with the Science Fiction, how does Mulgrew hope that this will inform her performance?

“Greatly,” she confides. “Scientists are by their own admission curious, eccentric people with wild imaginations and often idiot savant. Janeway, although she is a scientist, I believe first and foremost is a captain. So I try and take that channel of authority and endow it with the eccentricities of a scientist, the deliberate intentions of a humanitarian, and the rest is just what it would be like to be a woman in command in the 24th Century.”

The End of the Voyages

With templates set by Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, it has become a tradition that Trek franchises run for seven years. With the recent announcement that next season of Voyager is to be the last, soon the voyages of Captain Kate and co will be at an end —whether they’ve reached Earth or not. Mulgrew confirms this.

“Seven years is the lucky number. It’s good for the franchise — there’s another show in development.” Pre-empting questions, she states, “I don’t know anything about that!” What about Voyager movies, moving onto the big screen like successful sibling The Next Generation? How does she feel about that prospect?

“I think my philosophy about that is let’s wait and see what happens. Take each day at a time.”

Her short-term plans are simple, though: once Voyager has shut down the warp core for the last time, Mulgrew hopes to head back to the theatre — something she’s somewhat nervous about after all this time. She finds the feel of stage over screen more epic, something that you’re not able to do with a camera. Although, she says, warming to the theme, Star Trek is more epic in nature than most television.

“Patrick Stewart said that the writing of Star Trek had a Shakespearean foundation. It’s highly stylized, very difficult, with technobabble. You have to have a strong, retentive discipline. You have to have a wonderful physical constitution. I mean, I’m on my pins for hours — in four inch heels to boot!”

We’ve moved from her office, and along the corridor — all the time she’s showing off details in the manner of a 24th Century estate agent. Stopping the interrogation at a door, she indicates that these are her quarters on Voyager. “Come on in and see where I live!” Beckoning us into the inside of her residence, she points through to where you can just about see a bed.

“That’s my bedroom in there — which is never used,” she adds, mischievously.

Welcoming the Crew

Gradually the room is filling up with fellow crewmembers. Garrett Wang, who plays Harry Kim, wanders over and says hi, and badgers Mulgrew into getting him a promotion past that of ensign. She laughs it off, and the two of them hold a mock argument over it, demonstrating the easy rapport between them. When he meanders off to talk to more journalists, Mulgrew is asked what she will miss the most about the show once it is over.

“These guys,” she says, gesturing to her co-stars and crew who are milling about the set. “There’s no question about that. After six years, we know things about each other... We often joke — Friday night until two, three in the morning, jokes and sadness and the sharing of lives because when you’re with people for 16 hours a day, you don’t really have a choice. And I think that the great luck here is that we’re so genuinely fond...” she trails off, then admits, “it’s love here.”

With almost predictable timing, the question comes up. Mulgrew has obviously thought long and hard about the answer, and gives a remarkably informed response. She doesn’t even grit her teeth when the question most asked of her in interviews comes up. So, does Voyager get home by the end of the show?

“Absolutely,” she states firmly. “And I would say the sooner the better. I would try and do a full season in Federation space, as there are so many problems. The Maquis are criminals, Tom Paris is supposed to be in jail, Seven of Nine is a Borg. It’s an endless thing. What happens?”

And then, we come to the end of the show. As the final star curtain is lowered on the final act, Kate Mulgrew will have to step out of the high-heeled shoes of Captain Kathryn Janeway for the final time. A role that has been a constant surprise to her for over six years. But what has been the most surprising part of taking on the role of Voyager’s guide? Mulgrew ponders for a second, then responds: “How it is that I, so far removed from any figure of authority, let alone a Starfleet captain of the 24th Century can utterly believe that when this set is lit, and the camera is rolling and someone says ‘action’, that I am no one other than Captain Janeway. I now feel completely relaxed.

“I will miss her.”

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