Sue Henley, Kate Mulgrew's Stand-In

by Michelle Erica Green

Visit the Star Trek Voyager set and you're likely to encounter a woman in a Starfleet uniform with four pips on the collar. She's a redhead, about 5'5", 110 lbs. No, she's not Kate Mulgrew. She's Sue Henley, Mulgrew's stand-in.

"I look a lot like Kate," Henley agrees. "It's very bizarre. [I saw] a picture of Robert [Beltran] and Robbie [McNeill] playing stickball out on the lot, and you can see me in the background in uniform with Kate's hairdo - when I first looked at it, I thought I was Kate."

It's Henley's job to play Mulgrew playing Janeway - not just to mimic her poses and practice her walk so that the lighting and sound technicians can prepare for her shots, but to remember where Mulgrew's hands were during rehearsals and whether Mulgrew started walking or talking first in any particular scene. "I've gotten to the point where I can guess where she's going to put her hands. But's part of my job to remember the details from scene to scene," Henley explains. "If she says 'Go to red alert' and then starts crossing the bridge, I have to remember what order that happens."

It's hard work. Stand-ins have to do much of the same physical performance as the actors, with just as many repetitions as the numerous takes on camera, yet without getting screen time or credit. But Henley says that working on Voyager is a real joy, mostly because of Mulgrew.

"I love her to death, she's helped me so much," Henley says of the actress she doubles for. "Kate cares deeply for everyone around her, and the feeling is mutual. I, for one, have never stood in for anyone like her before and seriously doubt that I ever will again! I've stood in for a lot of actresses - I don't want to name names, but some of them are not very nice. Kate is a dear friend to me. She is fantastic."

How did Henley get the job as Mulgrew's stand-in? "I was working on Deep Space Nine, and I interviewed to be Genevieve [Bujold]'s stand-in," she laughs. "Thank God I didn't get it!" Originally cast as Janeway, the diminutive, dark-haired Bujold left the show during the first week of shooting. Henley, who appeared as a Dabo girl on DS9, heard from a friend across the street - "that's how we talk about the distance from the DS9 to the Voyager stage" - that the new Janeway had red hair. After inquiring about the job, Henley was invited to stand in on Mulgrew's first day, and has been there ever since.

Henley does primarily two types of performing in front of the cameras. When she works in background, Henley appears as unnamed crewmembers (like in "Scorpion Part I," where she can be seen pushing equipment while the crew prepares for a Borg attack). When she works as Mulgrew's double, Henley's hands or feet will appear in a scene as if they were Mulgrew's (like in "Coda," when two Janeways appeared in one scene). Though the resemblance helped her get the job, Henley says it's more superficial than specific. "Kate has a much stronger, chiseled face than I do - mine is more mushy. She has a very strong chin."

As Mulgrew's double, Henley gets an occasional moment of glory onscreen. "Those are my hands shooting pool," she gloats of the first season episode "The Cloud." But she admits that Mulgrew did the "8-ball in the side pocket" shot herself: "She didn't think she was going to make it, and everyone applauded when she did!" Mulgrew also personally got clubbed over the head in "Time and Again," which earned her Henley's admiration - and gratitude.

Though she is not required to do stunts, since stunt doubles are unionized and stand-ins are not permitted to perform risky moves ("Thank you God,"), Henley cracked her ribs last year filming "Basics Part II," after she tripped while running down a hill in the high-heeled boots she must wear to match Mulgrew's. The National Star ran a story about the incident, claiming that the actress had saved her stand-in's life.

The truth, Henley laughs, was much more mundane. "I was running on the side of a hill, fast, in three-inch heels. Being the highly coordinated person that I am, I promptly lost my footing and began rolling down the incline. Kate was standing at the top of the hill, and yelled, 'Someone stop her!' Finally, near the bottom, either it leveled off and I slowed or someone stopped me. They called the paramedics, and the rest, as they say, is history. Embarrassing history, at that!" She adds that Mulgrew laughed later when she saw the Star article. "A few points in it were a tad iffy," Henley smirks. "[But] she has saved me in one way or another many times since I started this job, so I don't mind her getting credit for this one!"

As a general rule, doubles only do falls or punches in very slow motion for lighting angles. Mulgrew does most of her own stunts, though Henley claims that the most taxing physical work "would be running up and down those darn Jeffries tube ladders again and again...and again."

For much of the first season, Henley did little background work because she looked too much like Kate with her hair up. When she did, her hair had to be covered with a "hideous black dead-rat-looking wig." Recently, however, she has been allowed speak to the Doctor in the turbolift in last season's episode "Darkling," and to play Seven of Nine's roommate in an upcoming fourth season episode, "The Year of Hell."

It is rare for extras to get speaking parts, and Henley is unsure why she was selected for the honor. "I have [assistant producer] Merri Howard and [executive producer] Jeri Taylor to thank for that chance, and thank them I do - I am sure Kate said something also, which of course she denies emphatically," Henley shakes her head. Though she fantasizes about getting to play one of Voyager's legendary Delaney sisters, she has little doubt that her character, Ensign Brooks, will be killed off eventually. "One moment of glory I would like my ensign to have would be to somehow save Janeway's life on my way out, then have a small farewell in sickbay in a scene with Janeway," she sighs.

Speaking actors are paid according to the Screen Actors' Guild's scale, making them more expensive to employ than non-speaking parts. This is one reason so many characters are "red-shirted" - killed off after just a few speaking appearances. Henley says her job is actually more secure the less speaking she does as any one character. Still, she says that Star Trek's producers have been exceedingly generous to have given her a speaking role at all, and adds that their treatment of stand-ins is far superior to any other job she's had.

"There is a hierarchy on a lot of the sets on the west coast," she explains. "On the east coast, work is work, and you are treated with respect whether you are background or star. On the west coast, background artists and stand-ins are rather low on the totem pole, and are mostly treated as such. I don't really understand the mentality of it. I know that I will not be returning to stand-in or extra work when this show is done unless it is for the Star Trek people - I am not willing to go back to shows with the other mentality."

Because Voyager is a science fiction series, Henley has gained some experiences rare for doubles on nighttime dramas. In addition to working in front of many blue screens, "there is also the fighting with aliens that aren't really there, as in 'Macrovirus' when Kate and I had to fight with the air while the computer effects were put in later."

Although she sometimes walks in her footsteps, Henley claims that she could never fill Mulgrew's shoes. "I watched Kate do that scene in 'The Phage' in the transporter room, five or six times, and every time she did it there were tears in my eyes - and in Kate's eyes. That requires so much talent. You can see the control behind it - that Janeway wants to cry and can't let herself do it. I couldn't do it. Kate is just a fantastic actress."

Filming last season's "Coda," in which Janeway was supposed to be dead, was difficult for Henley. She played Janeway both standing next to Chakotay and lying on the ground when she was dying on the planet. "Standing next to Chakotay so my legs could be Kate while she was lying there dying was not easy," Henley shudders. "I have never seen Chakotay too emotional, so watching him cry at her death made me cry. I had a hard time watching that."

Still, "Coda" contained the scene Henley says she most wishes she could have done in Mulgrew's stead: "Mouth to mouth with Chakotay!" Apparently many women on the lot have crushes on Chakotay or his alter ego, actor Robert Beltran. Still, Henley adds with a laugh, "after watching him pound on Kate's chest so many times, maybe I wouldn't [have wanted to] receive CPR from him. That looked like it hurt!" Henley didn't get liplocked with Beltran - or his stand-in - because the angle of filming would have revealed her face to the camera.

Still, admits Henley, there was a moment during the shooting where she came close. "I was laying there on the ground waiting for the camera set up. I had my eyes closed, resting - if you haven't noticed, the captain seldom lays down or even sits for long on the show, so I take my rest where I can get it! Robert quietly said, 'Sue.' When I opened my eyes, his face was less than an inch from my own, which took me completely by surprise as I thought we weren't doing that shot! He smiled the famous Beltran mischeveous smile, and he and Kate laughed before I punched him!"

Henley credits Beltran and the entire Voyager crew with making the long hours enjoyable. "Robert does Sinatra and Brando imitations...a lot...a very, very lot. His Brando is not bad, though, even hearing it seventy-five times. Robbie and Garrett Wang have this 'Running Boy' joke - Garrett will say, 'Do the Running Boy!' and they get into this pose like someone just starting to run. John [Ethan Phillips] is funnier than anything. He purposely leaves his pants loose till he gets to the set, and then suddenly bends over towards the camera and everyone else. He chooses the most quiet, inactive moments to do this famous mooning bit."

Mulgrew has reportedly engaged in a battle of practical jokes with Tim Russ, who plays logical Tuvok on the series. Mulgrew revealed to a convention audience that Russ taped photos of his naked derriere all over her trailer to punish her for stealing his clothes. "I have indeed been witness to the practical joke war between Kate and Tim - I'm sorry, Kate, but I would have to say Tim is ahead at this point!" Henley giggles, adding that Mulgrew's theft of Russ' clothes backfired, since it gave Russ an opportunity not to wear clothes which he seemed to enjoy. Her stand-in reveals, "I can always tell when Kate is planning an attack. She quietly calls people to her and whispers and they leave with sneaky smiles on their faces, and the next thing you know, Tim has been had."

Henley readily admits that she's a fan of the show as well as the actors. "I grew up with Star Trek, I've been a Trekker since I was two," she proclaims. "One of the times when they were going to cancel the original series, when I was in junior high school, I wrote to my school newspaper asking people to write in to save the show." So it's a special thrill for her to work on a Star Trek series. Though she has her own Starfleet uniform, which stays in wardrobe with the cast's costumes, she's also been fitted into one or two extras "so they can tear them up and get them dirty."

Henley usually has to arrive before crew call at 8:30 a.m., but when they're on location or when she's going to appear as an extra, it can be much earlier - sometimes as early as 5:00 a.m. "I can't imagine playing Quark or Neelix and having to get there three hours earlier every day," she marvels. "I usually have to arrive a half hour after the actress gets there. She goes into makeup and hair, and I wait for the first rehearsal to begin. On Voyager, Monday mornings are usually early, 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. Then, as the week progresses, the start time gets later, as does the finishing time."

On a typical morning, Henley will watch the rehearsal of a scene with the actors - "very closely!" After rehearsal, the actors go to finish hair and makeup, while the stand-ins match the performers' moves exactly for the camera and lighting crews to set up the shot. "Each DP [director of photography] I have worked with has wanted different things," Henley explains. "Some want exact moves down to the hands, head turns, etcetera. Others have wanted just for me to hit the general spot." After the lighting is set up for the shot, the producers call for the "first team," the actors (stand-ins are "second team"). Unless there is a shot that changes and has to be re-lit, the stand-ins can take a break during the shooting.

One of the hazards of a stand-in's job is the Kraft Services table. "They feed us, and feed us, and feed us!" Henley reveals. "There is always food on the set, there is nothing more dangerous to a girl who wants to keep her figure. I have almost had to glue myself to my chair a few times in order not to head for the munchies every minute." Though she is responsible for her own makeup unless the director decides to feature her in a close-up, one of the professionals usually does her hair. On location shoots, which often begin very early, she brings preparations ranging from warm clothing for the cold morning air to sunscreen, hats, and bug spray for the scorching afternoons.

"We shoot from sunup to sundown, which can make for a long day," Henley confesses. "The last location we were in a bit of a windstorm, with dust and dirt blowing in our eyes. Outdoor locations can be tricky. The lighting crew has to either harness the sunlight or block it out, which can take time. It is definitely a challenge!"

The climate on the set has changed a little with the departure of Jennifer Lien, who played Kes, and the arrival of Jeri Ryan, who plays Seven of Nine. Ryan, whom Henley says "fits in very well" and "is a great person [who] became one of the family from day one," has gained a lot of attention from the large part because of her skin-tight costume and heavily padded bra, which UPN hyped shamelessly in the weeks before the season premiere. Does Henley personally feel that the treatment of female bodies on the show is sexist?

"The only comment I will make on that is, I wish I looked that good in a catsuit...yes, that is a cop-out, absolutely 100%!" What about the Bathing Beauty holoprogram with the women in bikinis - will we ever see Henley in one? "Honestly, I didn't mind the half naked men," she admits, adding that she "didn't really understand where they were trying to go with that program." As for the bikini, she yelps, "Me? Surely you jest! No, no, no. You have seen me in a rather revealing dress, but not if you happened to blink, thank God!"

What, then, would she like to see happen over the rest of the series? "It would be interesting if the ship did get back to the Alpha Quadrant...I kind of enjoy all our new aliens, though, and I don't think we'd get to have them back there." She likes the costumes and sets of the holonovels, and says that if she could write a holodeck program for Janeway, "it would be one where she could let go of all her command responsibilities, all her personal hangups and worries. Even though I would write it for her to relax and be a normal person, I have a feeling that somehow it would turn out to be something like Xena anyway, because Janeway simply has to be one who does all the saving. She can't help herself!"

Does Henley think Janeway should have a love life, like all the previous Trek captains? "I think Janeway and Chakotay should get together," she says, echoing a sentiment popular with fans since Chakotay's "angry warrior" speech from the romantic second-season episode "Resolutions." Though she recites Kate Mulgrew's frequent demurral, "I don't think they should get together in the sack," the stand-in quickly confesses, "Okay, maybe I do want that, just a little." But more importantly, "they should sit down and have a real discussion about how they truly feel about each other, not just a 'warrior story.' Spell it out!"

As for her own love life, Henley reveals that Mulgrew recently played matchmaker for her. "She went over to a guest star I had mentioned I found attractive, and asked him if he felt the same about me. Then she told him, 'Time's a-wastin'!' Needless to say, we went out that weekend!" Henley says Mulgrew was extremely generous even before they knew one another well, giving her pep talks and extremely thoughtful gifts. Mulgrew also went to bat with the producers for Henley when she was unsure about the status of her job.

Mulgrew heaps praises upon her double in turn. "Stand-ins are the unsung heroes of film-making," the actress observes. "Professional, courteous, reliable and extremely vigilant, a good stand-in can make a significant difference between a day's work and an extraordinary day's work. My personal stand-in brings with her the additional assets of charm, humor, intelligence, and a sense of her own worth - the value of which is inestimable, in my opinion."

The youngest of four children from Billings, Montana, Henley has been a fan of Mulgrew's since she played Mrs. Columbo - "I loved her voice and her strength." Along with Star Trek, Kate Loves a Mystery was one of Henley's favorite shows. Henley initially moved to California to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but she was interested in performing long before that. According to her father, Bud, she was acting from the time she was old enough to walk.

"In the second grade, after she'd seen Thomasina, Sue went about finding homes and giving away Thomasina's kittens to her classmates - who didn't know she didn't even own a cat, let alone Thomasina!" Bud Henley crows. "And at junior high dances, she'd go out on the floor and dance and mime all the time, waving her arms about like in ballet. Her older sister Lori used to get so embarrassed!" Bud, a science teacher, always had animals around when Sue was growing up. Now his daughter has two cats, an albino pigeon which she rescued, and a lizard.

Henley says that her real goal in life is to open a wildlife sanctuary. "I'd like to start in northern California, there's lots of land and the weather's great, but I really want to go to Australia." She adds that she hopes to get a part on a national commercial - not so much for the exposure, but to put the money towards her dream. "Acting has kind of gone by the wayside," she says of a resume which includes industrial films on nursing and improvisational shows on CableVision.

Still, Henley has several other pressing ambitions. In addition to her desire to work with animals, she is getting a license to run an herbal company, and she recently completed a first draft of a novel. "I haven't really told many people about it; it is pretty scary and involves a love interest," she says mysteriously, adding that she is working on polishing the story and finding an agent.

In the meantime, she really seems to enjoy her job. "The whole cast is very open and friendly and warm," she says. "We laugh all day long. You couldn't ask for a better group of people than the Star Trek people."

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