AN INTERVIEW WITH KATE MULGREW
This was over the telephone for KMAS on Aug. 21, 1995, so I can't tell you what kinds of faces Kate was making. I am extremely grateful to all the people who sent in questions.
NV: Hi Kate, this is Michelle, Now Voyager's editor.
KM: I love this newsletter! I get such a kick out of it. It's disconcerting to
me but it's absolutely delightful.
NV: I'm glad you like it! Why is it disconcerting?
KM: Well, that anybody should have a newsletter dedicated to them--it's quite
amazing. But it's wonderful. I lose myself in it, yes. I especially love how you
have rated on some sort of scale how often and whom I touch.
NV: That seems to be everybody's favorite feature. We keep agreeing that we're
going to stop the innuendo in the newsletter because kids read it, but everybody
wants more dirty jokes.
KM: How odd! How did it come into existence?
NV: Wait, I get to ask the questions! OK, in a nutshell, it came into existence
because I just assumed you already had a fan club and I put a little note on the
Internet, and I made the mistake of wording my query "Kate Mulgrew Fan Club
Anyone?" And apparently people thought that meant I was running one, and I got
about 150 messages in three days saying, 'Do you run Kate's fan club? I love
KM: Well, it's great. I love the way you all sort of...I mean, things are very
thoroughly analyzed, aren't they?
NV: It might be kind of scary, I guess, since you haven't been involved in Trek
all these years and you didn't know...
KM: No, I haven't.
NV: ...those of us who have just take this for granted.
KM: Well, you're all passionate about it as a hobby, right? And why not?
NV: So, do you want to talk about you first or Janeway first?
KM: I'd much prefer to talk about Janeway, of course.
NV: All right, then. If you, Kate Mulgrew, could sit down and talk to Kathryn
Janeway, what would you want to ask her?
KM: I probably would ask her--that's an excellent question, by the way--my first
question to her would be, 'Why science? Why science, and how did you fall in love
with it? And tell me the story of your odyssey as a scientist.' I'd probably
ask her a million questions about her background.
NV: I know that Janeway's entire history hasn't been written yet, because Jeri
Taylor's writing the book, but do you kind of have it in your head?
KM: I have my own. And it's interesting that you should say that, because Jeri
and I will have to sit down one day and see if any of these historical ideas are
matched. I believe she is an only child. And I would place her in Boston. I
think that the love of science grew out of her father--association thereof--it
has been determined and established that he was an ardent scientist, a very
NV: Her mother too, wasn't she?
KM: Her mother not so much, but this is me speaking about what is important to
me in the development of my character. I think her mother was a total human
being. I see her mother as being rather patrician, slightly arrogant, highly
intelligent, and deeply loving.
NV: So you think the career came from her father and how she acts in her career
came from her mother?
KM: I think that Janeway has a remarkable level of self-esteem, born out of what
clearly must have been not only a sound but extremely compelling family history--
I think that those dinners at that table must have been rich in ideas and dreams,
she's a dreamer.
NV: You think her parents supported her decision to go into Starfleet?
KM: Absolutely. But I think that her father must have been rather tough on her-
-and that her mother was no pushover either. I think that even in that house in
the future, when the issue was raised regarding a Starfleet future and
discipline, I think that there must have been one or two raised eyebrows--'Are
you sure you want to do this, Kathryn, do you know what this means"--and that her
curiosity, her deeply inquisitive mind and soul could lead her in no other way,
so that finally I think her parents accepted this and then embraced it
NV: I don't even know if you think about this, but I was sort of wondering: do
you think that Janeway is conscious that she's a woman commanding men, or a human
commanding aliens, or do you think any of those distinctions even matter to
KM: I think the human element matters. When I'm dealing with an alien
confrontation, absolutely, because this is above all a tale of morality, Voyager,
and the interesting philosophical question that rears its head is, it is very
human to even have a moral center or discourse, most of these aliens do not
understand what morality is, or if they do they call it by another name. So In
would say the most provocative element of Voyager, aside from the fact that 150
people are lost in space, is that in dealing with these aliens it is Janeway's
ultimate challenge to find the juncture at which they can meet and understand one
another, ethical and even sociocultural questions notwithstanding. Do you
understand what I'm saying? She has to transcend who she is and still hang on to
NV: Prime Directive aside, do you think she has personal politics, do you think
she secretly walks around with an agenda?
KM: I think she's strongly opinionated and I hope that that will be explored
more and more, so I think she does, yes.
NV: Are you at a point where you can suggest storylines to the writers or say,
'Kathryn Janeway would never say this line"?
KM: I haven't felt that yet. Perhaps I've asked for a couple of corrections--god
knows I've made some mistakes...
NV: I hadn't noticed!
KM: Oh yes, we've had some reshoots because sometimes I go to far or I take a
chance that backfires, but I mean to keep that up, because I think the only way
to learn is by trying. If this is indeed the brave new world it's heralded as
being, it's up to me to continue to make rather bold choices. The only way we're
going to know if they succeed or fail is if we shoot them. So very often--well,
not very often, but it will happen that the producers will not be in sync with me
regarding an acting choice. But this is like a love affair--you know, a
passionate love affair is a volatile thing, so I think that we just make our way
slowly and we give ourselves as completely as we can, and we end up in bed
together at the end of the day.
NV: Did you have specific role models for Janeway, did you observe women in the
military or women in the space program?
KM: No, I didn't have time. My quick sketch of her was mine utterly, and is an
original one, and then as the season wore on and I had the opportunity to meet
women who could have been like Janeway--who could be like Janeway--women from
NASA, the First Lady, I had marvelous opportunities last year to meet
extraordinary women--I stole things from them without hesitation or
embarrassment. But I would say that my palette was almost completely clean.
NV: So who were you drawing from from your own past? Who were your role models
as a kid?
KM: Oh, probably my mother.
NV: Does she watch the show? Is she into the role?
KM: Of course! She just adores it. She thinks Janeway's terrific. And my
mother is a highly critical person, but she's also a great artist, I would say an
original and provocative thinker, so I took a lot of that from Mother. But I
have never, myself, idolized another actress.
NV: So all those Katharine Hepburn comparisons...
KM: No, no, no, those are interesting to me because I don't see them. Which I
think all in the end lends itself to the development of a pretty interesting
character. Someone new.
NV: So how Janeway walks and speaks, that's all you?
KM: All of that evolved...well, it's not all me, because the actress, if you
really want to create an interesting character, the character has to deviate from
the person. So I have indeed endowed her with characteristics and components
that I myself do not possess. For instance, that walk. A certain stature. I
would say that I am constantly challenged by her intelligence, daily--not only
intelligence, how would I put it to you--the work on the bridge, the work on the
ship, the technobabble--I view that as one of the great things.
NV: Do you try to figure out what it means, when somebody hands you a script--
you know what a polarized ion burst is and all that...
KM: Oh, it means plenty to me before it comes out of my mouth, no question about
it. And if I don't I spend a lot of time...I never go to work without knowing
what I'm saying. So two and a half hours are given each night to study. The
vocabulary alone could take me 45 minutes if I do a good job of it. And then
another couple of hours to wrap my tongue around it. So that by the time I get
on the bridge the next morning, there is no time lost in "Do you understand what
this technical term means?" The time is given completely to the creative process.
NV: Everybody always talks about the technobabble...you've done medical shows
and such, is it that much different?
KM: It's tough. Because as you speak it--and don't mistake this, you know,
unlike a medical show where mistakes are allowed, mistakes are not allowed here.
It was Roddenberry's idea, I think, or certainly it is the idea of these
producers, there's such a high rate of fluency at this point that there are no
bobbles. She simply is an extremely articulate commander, and beyond that her
science language has got to have a fluidity and a music of its own. So that when
I'm talking about a plasma field or I'm talking about a nebula or whatever I'm
talking about, I know what I'm talking about, and then underneath that I have to
know what I'm feeling about it. So that all of this becomes terrifically
challenging for me.
NV: I was wondering, when you took this part, I don't know if you ever actually
sat down with Patrick Stewart or Avery Brooks or any of the people who have
stepped into captain's shoes before you. I gather they must have warned you,
after what happened with Genevieve Bujold, about the hours you'd be working and
what the fandom would be like and all that...what kind of advice would you give
someone, when Paramount announces Voyager: The Next Generation, about what to
expect, trying to be the captain?
KM: What would I say to someone coming into this position? You'd better be
dedicated, because it's the only thing that will save you. It better be about the
work, or you'll die. It can't be about money and celebrity. It would be
absolutely foolish of me to try to do that at this point in my life. What's
beautiful about this is that I love this character and I love this company, and I
believe it is very possible to raise Voyager to a critical level that Star Trek
has not seen before. So that's what I'm thinking about. And you know, all that
fandom thing hasn't happened to me. Hardly at all.
NV: It's funny, because I get daily feedback about what people think about
KM: But I'm not recognized in public the way I guess the gentlemen were. No, I
think I have a very different persona in public. I mean, it happens
occasionally, but hardly often, and my life when I leave there is my own again.
NV: I've heard you say mixed things about cons: both that you enjoy doing them
and that they leave you completely drained...
KM: Well, I think that there's a danger in them if they're used the wrong way by
the actor. I mean, I don't view myself as a celebrity, I view myself as an actor,
so for me to go to a convention and be paid a rather significant sum of money
merely to be lauded is difficult for me, it's not my background. I sort of feel
like I should do at least a Shakespearean monologue or something. And yet when I
get there it's fascinating and of course it's incredibly uplifting to be
unconditionally accepted like that. I'm used to being so criticized, you see, to
be carried along on that wave of support is very unusual. I think it's very
important to give the fans--these passionate hobbyists, as I prefer to call them-
NV: I don't think most fans view the term 'fan' as an insult.
KM: No, but there should be integrity involved. In other words, when I show up
at these things, I would like to have a very rich and interesting conversation
with the audience and I find that I'm tired at the end of them, and then there's
a Monday morning 4 a.m. call and nine pages to shoot, and for myself I have to be
careful. Others find it very easy, a lot of these guys in the company, it's
nothing to them, but it's a lot for me.
NV: Do you have the most young kids of anyone in the cast?
KM: I'm the only one who has kids, except for Picardo and Robbie McNeill, but
they've got wives. I'm alone. So I have the fullest plate.
NV: Somebody said to ask you what you do in your free time--I sort of laughed,
do you have any free time?
KM: I don't really have much. What I do love to do is read, and I love to cook
and entertain which has been a big part of my life, always. So it's a sorrow to
me not to be able to do that on a regular basis. And it is a tragedy that I
cannot read as voraciously as I once did.
NV: What are your favorite reading genres?
KM: I read biographies and autobiographies almost exclusively, unless some novel
is getting terrific play. Right now I'm reading the life of Evelyn Waugh and this
is a wonderful biography. And the life of Graham Greene--which is fascinating, my
assistant went out and got it for me, actually quite a diabolical person. So I
read a lot, and I value my friendships which are few but intimate and profound,
and of course I adore my kids.
NV: Do you ever sleep?
KM: It's a complete schedule. Sleep takes a back seat. I'm pretty sleep-deprived
by the end of the week.
NV: What do think right now the show is really on a roll with and really doing
well, and what do you think could be improved, the things you go in and say, oh,
we have to work on this?
KM: I always say we have to work on the bridge stuff. That could suffer a bit
from cardboard cutout stuff--everybody at their respective console reacting in a
predictable manner. I don't think it should be predictable. I think there
should be a lot of second-guessing. It should be like a symphony of scientific
thought. And I think that there should be more movement and fluidity on the
ship. The reactions should be quick.
NV: It seems like Voyager is doing that better than the other shows did.
KM: Well, because I think we fight more for it. I'm certainly adamant about
what goes on on the bridge. I mean, these poor directors come in and they've got
their shots lined up, and I say, well, you know, I thought about this, let's try
this. And they very graciously often--not defer to me, but they certainly let me
try it my way and usually I get my way because I know what she would do.
NV: It looks like the shooting on Voyager has a lot less two-shot back and
KM: Yes, we use a lot of dolly shots, we're bringing the crane in, we're doing a
lot of hand-held, which makes the corridor stuff come alive, and I get right into
that too. I'm pretty involved in just about every aspect of this.
NV: Do you have any plans or interest in directing?
KM: No. But I have intense interest on the subjective level, which takes me of
course right into whatever--like the other day there was a hand-held shot, long,
sweeping around many corridors--I get into it, I say, let's try this, let's back
this up, let's do that, let's end here--I mix it up with the D.P. and the
director and we come up with something more exciting.
NV: Do you critique your own work? Do you watch the finished episodes really
KM: I watch the episodes when they air. I'm better than I used to be, Michelle,
I used to be an appalling person in that regard, you know, face buried in the
hand sort of thing, and it's still hard. It's still hard because the joy for me,
the liquid lightning for me, is in the work itself, which is when somebody says
'Action' and then I go. In retrospect it's very hard for me to look and not be
altogether too critical. And not merely on the level of vanity but, you know, why
didn't you do that, you had the opportunity to try that, what's wrong with you? I
can be pretty unforgiving of myself. But I've been pleased with her progress
because I haven't let down. I mean, I put my war paint on when I go in there. I
fight for her. I fight for them. I fight for my relationships with them. And
they're right there, this company's terrific.
NV: I know you told TV Guide that you hoped they were going to deepen Janeway's
relationships with the crew. What exactly did you mean by that? What do you see
changing, or developing?
KM: Well, I see it as a compelling family drama, if I were to use--right, this
is a family on the ship. And what makes it compelling is the interpersonal
relationships. I'd like to see not the friction, not the conflict, but the
essential differences between Chakotay and myself explored and personalized, my
history with Tuvok revealed--why this strong allegiance? Let's have a couple of
episodes delineating the importance of this relationship--so much is unspoken,
let's go back and figure out why that was--I love Tuvok. And of course as a
person I'm drawn to some of them simply by virtue of the chemistry between us,
you know, I cannot be in a room with Ethan Phillips without wanting to go places,
and those scenes have a loveliness about them, I think. I love Roxann, I love
her intensity, I'd like to get in there with her, mix it up with her a little bit
more. But everybody--it should be ongoing, it should always be the B plot.
NV: If I had a criticism of Voyager, it would be that after the second episode
the entire Starfleet-Maquis issue pretty much went away, resurfaced for a minute
in "State of Flux"...
KM: Well, that's what I'm saying about Chakotay. Let's not forget that he is a
renegade and a fierce warrior. I would like to see that part of his nature. I
said to Jeri Taylor, 'What would happen if he countermanded my orders?' Let's
just say I'm indisposed for some reason, Chakotay has a very difficult call to
make, he makes it, but in essence it's countermanding Starfleet orders. What
would then happen? I mean, let's just go for it. So I think in that way it could
be a beautiful and exciting exploration of that dynamic between us. I mean, he's
just not going to stand there smiling and accepting everything I say, certainly
he has ideas and opinions of his own. And he's a lovely actor, Robert Beltran--
what a marvelous presence he has.
NV: There are huge numbers of people in your fan club who are wildly in love
KM: Yeah, I'll bet! There are huge numbers on the Paramount lot who are wildly
in love with him too!
NV: But you don't think he and Janeway are going to run off together.
KM: No. Janeway's not going to cross that line, ever.
NV: A lot of your fans will be very disappointed to hear that, but I'll pass it
KM: I just don't think it would be wise. I don't think she would.
NV: What do you think will happen because on the one hand they know they're
stuck 70 years from home, and on the other hand, half of last season's episodes
were about, well, maybe we could get home this way or we could try this...it's
almost like it hasn't really sunk in that they're going to spend the rest of
their lives out there and die out there, probably.
KM: I think you're going to see more of that this season, those ramifications.
We have wonderful stuff coming up about people falling in love and having babies
on the ship, you know, we have to start thinking in terms of the future of the
ship: if we don't get home, this means loosening up the protocol, this means
changing the rules, this also means I think that relationships by necessity would
take on a different dynamic. If you know the chances are that you're not going to
get home, or if that is truly the dilemma, you're bound to go places with people
that you wouldn't under normal circumstances. So they can be richly explored. I
think you'll see more. You'll also see more investigation--I mean, I'm speaking a
bit out of school, you'll have to confirm this with the producers--but I think
that there will also be a wonderful warrior-like aspect introduced this season
of, well, if we're lost, let's get into it, so that alien confrontations will
take on a new life, a new meaning. What could they teach us that we didn't know
before and vice versa? How can we transcend this small issue or that ethical
NV: You think it will hit a point where the journey and not the destination will
become the focus.
KM: Yes, I mean, I think that this is the most absolutely gorgeous thing about
Janeway--you could actually call this tragedy, but being lost, and being
essentially responsible for the 150 people on that ship, does not daunt her to
the extent that she would give in to it in terms of remorse or depression--in
fact, she says to herself, if this is the way it is, then we're going to uncover
every stone and look into every nook and cranny that this galaxy has to offer me-
-us. She's nothing if not the most ardent iNVestigator. So I think that's always
NV: I realize that this is one of those things where you have your ideas and the
producers may have their own ideas so who knows what's going to happen, but do
you see her as having had a domestic side which she had to give up when they got
lost? What do you think was the biggest thing she sacrificed when she gave the
order to fire on the array?
KM: Oh, I think quickly what went through her mind was goodbye to her lover, the
possibility of having a child, her parents. She's deeply rooted on the earth. But
as Jung says, she's also deeply conflicted. Science is the future, and that's the
decision she makes.
NV: Do you think she has the equivalent of an Indiana Jones-level fear of
snakes, or something that she's terrified of running into out there?
KM: Yes: loss of control. And I think she's ever aware of that possibility. We
just completed an episode where I lose it.
NV: Can you talk about it?
KM: It's called 'Persistence of Vision'--a telepath takes over the ship and he
presents himself to me as my lover, the guy I left on Earth. Overwhelming. And
other people take shape in front of me and I fear that I'm losing control, which
could mean the demise of the entire ship. So it's a very diabolical thing for
Janeway--and delicious to play. I had a couple of reshoots on this one, Michelle!
'OK, that was a little over the top...' [Kate gets warned that we're running out
NV: OK, I'll ask quickly: If you were going to tell one thing to all the young
girls about what you see as the future for women out there, what would you
KM: I would say this: I would say be careful, make the distinction between what
the world suggests you should do and what you know you must do. Be passionate
about whatever it is you choose. Don't buy into the lingo of the world.
NV: Which is what?
KM: 'Come on, ladies, you can do the workplace, you can do home, you can do it
all, go out and get a job, wear a hat, wear a tie, be a guy, be a thing'--I mean,
I think, be careful, remember that the greatest privilege we know is love, it was
ever thus and it shall be ever thus, and the only way to supplement that is with
something about which you are so passionate that you must do it. It's what Joseph
Campbell says when he says, 'Follow your bliss.' Make sure it's bliss you're
NV: It's hard to know sometimes.
KM: It's not that hard to know. [Sound of one of Kate's kids bellowing "MOM!" in
the background] I'm coming, sweetheart!
NV: I'll let you go--I have two very quick questions. You can scream at me if
you want about this one, but several people asked me to find out what time you
were born so they can do your chart. I told them I was not going to ask Captain
Janeway about astrology...
KM: I was born at seven o'clock in the morning on a Wednesday. I think. But you
should ask my mother--my mother knows all of these things.
NV: Thanks! If I ever speak to your mother I'll be sure to bring it up! The
other thing I wanted to ask you was whether we, as your fan club, can do anything
KM: No, I must say that I am so flattered, Michelle, and so delighted to always
get this, and I mean I read this like...well, I lock myself in my trailer. You
give me a lot of insights and you help me understand...I must say that it's a
wonderful voice that you're expressing. And so I thank you for it.
NV: You're very welcome. It's a lot of voices, not just mine. I realize that we
just sat here and talked the entire time about Voyager and Janeway, but there are
a lot of people who have been watching you since Ryan's Hope or since Heartbeat
who call me and say, 'Is there any way to get ahold of those videos...'
KM: Yes? This is completely uplifting to me.
NV: I should say this, before you have to get off the phone: I sent out this big
note on the net, does anyone have questions for Kate [for this interview], and
mostly what we got were statements. Tell her we love her, tell her we think she's
wonderful, tell her we think she's doing a great job.
KM: Please tell them how grateful I am. Just say thank you to these ladies and
gentlemen, whoever they are, and that it's very helpful to me, and very
uplifting...it's a privilege.