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Kate Mulgrew - Voyager's feisty Captain Janeway
What did you know about Star Trek before you started work in the program?
Absolutely nothing. And I think now in hindsight that it stood me in good stead. I was absolutely ignorant of the process.
Of course, I knew of its reality, youíd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to. But I certainly had not researched it and I was by no means a fan. Science fiction was very foreign to me. So Iím fond of saying I was shot out of a cannon, and I think it was the best way for me.
Getting the part of Janeway
Did you do any research before you had your audition?
No. Not really. Since they were introducing a female captain for the first time, I thought that I could be rather unorthodox in my approach. I think it amounted to about four auditions in total before I got it, and you know, I didnít get it originally. Genevieve Buchold got it. She lasted a day. Sheís very wise and Iím very grateful.
You know, it was one of those things, constitutionally, just not her cup of tea. So then they brought me in, and it was very fast. I had about a weekend to prepare.
What were the auditions like?
The word Ďgruellingí comes to mind, but thatís not really applicable. I would say more nerve-wracking than most. I understood right away that there were a set of rules here to which I didnít generally ascribe as an actress.
I had not only to acclimate myself in the audition room, but to find a certain level of confidence which Janeway did not instil in me because she was a Star Fleet captain, and all of this was very peculiar for me. So I decided to imbue here with whatever qualities would stand her in good stead, those being obviously authority, command, a sense of power, a sense of confidence, which I lacked entirely in the moment, and some fun, some humanity. I thought, ĎWhat the hell do I have to lose doing that?í So.
A female captain
What did you think Star Trek fans would make of a woman captainÖ?
Well, I knew it would be controversial because the gentleman preceding me had been so successful. Next Generation, was hugely successful, not only as a franchise but for the actor himself.
Of course, the young male demographic has always been the target demographic for Star Trek, the men ageing fifteen to about twenty-five or thirty, a very tough market to appeal to.
You then introduce a middle-aged woman - I shouldnít say it was middle-aged, I was thirty-eight at the time, Iím very middle-aged now, Iím old now - and I think the great philosophical question which I posed myself before anybody else had a chance was to see a woman in a captainís chair who could anthropologically speaking be their mother, and they would have to make a very difficult - both creative and philosophical - adjustment to find that appealing. So my seduction of that group took, I think, about two to three years.
The women were on board from day one, and their attendant daughters, which has been I think the most supportive factor for myself and for Janeway. So I had no problem there, and I think over the years the men settled down, said to themselves, ĎOh, she is commanding the ship.í
Men and Women
Describe the balance of male and female roles during the course of the series. How did that develop?
Well, it developed in a very unusual way. First of all you had me, right? Unprecedented. Very bold and extraordinary move for Paramount to make, a topical one too, a timely one. Iím very proud of them that they did that.
We had Roxanne Dawson in place as Chief of Engineering, and then the rest were male.
Then they introduced Jeri Ryan at the end of the fourth season, who was of course a very compelling, er, figure - shall I put it that way - for any number of reasons, foremost among them and most obviously her great sex appeal, which unsettled me.
I had hoped to punch through er, by virtue of my own merits and Roxanneís and those of humanity and dignity and honour and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. But Hollywood is Hollywood, and as it turned out they - they drew a wonderful character in Seven of Nine, and Jeri Ryan executed her as no-one else could.
So that was a great addition, it was controversial, certainly in the beginning. We had to say goodbye to Jennifer Ming(?) which was a very uncomfortable situation for myself and I think everybody else. Very tight-knit group, my ensemble, and that factor was upsetting to everybody.
I would say in the end it became a womenís show. Iím sorry to say that in retrospect it became a bit unbalanced. It was Janeway, Seven - Seven, Janeway, and the men were, I think, subjected to supplementing those stories. And that was difficult.
Itís not refreshing where there is confusion or any kind of discomfort in a group that has to work that closely together.
The fact that some of the guys suffered from the feeling of, misuse or under-use, for lack of a better word, did not lend itself to a great sense of ebullience on the set. However, it in no way, you know disturbed what was a very, very compatible and happy group.
Janeway and Seven
How would you describe Janewayís relationship with Seven of Nine?
Well, I think originally it was intended to be a mentor-student relationship, and one could call it that to this day. But it became so many other things. Seven evolved into this really epic character.
I think it was a wonderful opportunity for those writers to illustrate science fiction at its best. What a great idea, here we have a Borgified human trying to adjust to this ship, under the aegis of this extremely human captain, and I think the juxtaposition was just stellar. Thereís no way to er, quite define why.
She has marvellous chemistry with the screen. I was told again and again, we had chemistry together, and the writers, of course, stepped up to the plate, as only they can when theyíre given that kind of food. So, hence its great success. I think that theirs was a poignant story.
Iím not quite sure that we wrapped it up, but we certainly explored endlessly.
What did you think of all the scientific dialogue? Patrick Stewart wrote it on his fingers.
Now youíre going to get a little display of arrogance: I never did that! The technobabble was overwhelming.
Itís as if you gave me three pages of Japanese and said, ĎYouíve got till tomorrow.í Thank God Iím a quick study, um, with very strong retentive powers. It was absolute b.s. I mean I was simply acting in the beginning. Who could understand that terminology? I was at sea, but I punched through, imagining that I was speaking a foreign language.
Over time, curiously, and wonderfully, I understood it, and I understood so well that I found myself just sort of spieling it in a very cavalier fashion, and now I can explain any term you like. Thatís the wonderful thing about it. I learned a lot about - about science.
Do you have any favourite technical lines that you had to repeat quite often?
Oh, you mean little ones like, ĎRed alert!í Or - ĎTake us out. Take us in.í ĎGo to impulse.í ĎIs that a temporal anomaly weíre approaching?í ĎSlow down. Get out. Get up.í
ĎRed alert!í is, I think my trade mark expression.
It does sound cool, doesnít it? Whenever thereís a fluency or a fluidity coming from someone else, itís very foreignness is compelling. Thatís why we love to listen to a lot of people from different countries sitting and having a drink, right? ĎWhat are they saying? Isnít it marvellous?í Well, to them itís not marvellous, but to us itís brand new.
And for these viewers who are hard core fans, itís not brand new. So theyíre watching how well you speak French, or Japanese, and theyíre judging it, and as you gain in fluency I think theyíre with you, they become more supportive. Itís almost like watching a sport.
Finding your way around the ship
How did you feel settling in to your role?
Always had a problem with the holodeck - from a Janewayan point of view, strictly. I thought she was rooted in reality and I argued deeply, interiorly, with her love of fantasy from the beginning. Particularly when I found myself having a love affair with a hologram: then I thought theyíd gone too far.
The holodeck, however, is a very compelling argument for the twenty-fourth century, for this kind of intrepid vessel and for this genre: how would people exercise their imaginations and release themselves under those very difficult constraints? So it - itís - itís a practical as well as a rather intriguing device.
I loved the bridge and everything about the bridge. [It was] really tough learning the bridge, learning every console and every configuration of the bridge. Engineering was tough, they were always dashing and hither andÖ couldnít quite figure that one out .
Is it important that all this advanced technology breaks down?
Oh like, itís crucial. Crucial to the success, to the drama. We lose our warp core, thereís no ship.
All of the greatest dilemmas, I think, in the last seven years have been around the salvation or otherwise of the ship: alien species coming in and taking our warp core, or our organs, as the case may be.
Women in science
Are you proud to be associated with a TV that inspired lots of young people to do a science career?
Inexpressibly proud. I put that at the very top of my list, and certainly young women. Iíve had enough letters and Iíve had enough engagement with them to assure you that that has been the case, and I find that not only humbling, but a very profound warning regarding the power and the legacy of Hollywood. This small pool of entertainment can influence and reverberate both socio-economically and culturally on the profoundest level.
Iíve had young women come to me and say that before they watched Voyager it didnít really occur to them that they could be successful in a higher position in the field of science; girls going to MIT, girls pursuing astrophysics with a view to a career in NASA.
Iím very fond of telling this story because this was my great eye-opener - in the first season I was invited to the White House, women in science were being celebrated and the First Lady was going to speak and I was asked to speak at the Kennedy Center.
I found the whole day so moving at the White House. These women were the heads at NASA, chiefs, engineering, astrophysics, as I mentioned. The First Lady spoke eloquently and deeply on this subject of science, and that night after I had spoken, at the Kennedy Center I was asked to meet a group of young women from MIT who were the most celebrated in their graduating class, and one of them approached me and she said, ĎIím speaking on behalf of my colleagues and myself when I say to you that it was Voyager that turned me around. Both of my parents are scientists, my father in a stellar role, my mother in a less important one, and it was my feeling that I would get into the field of research because that was most accommodating to women. And then I met Captain Janeway, and I said to myself, "She can do it, I can do it."í
The end of Voyager
Is it too soon to feel a bit of a loss for Voyager?
A loss of going to the set every day? Well letís have a Martini.
I donít know if I feel relief. I felt a great sadness when I watched the finale. Strange. I felt Iíd done all that, said goodbye to everybody. Of course it lacked a ritual, there should have been a clearer ritual with which to finalise it. It was very brutal, the end, for me, the lights literally went out on the bridge, and had Bob Carter not come in and embraced me I donít know what I would have done. They were dismantling the set as I walked off. Quite - quite stunning, you know.
But I think it was watching the finale with my husband and my step-daughters and crying - not, obviously, at the episode itself but at the goodbye that was experiencing when I saw everybodyís face on the screen - Robbie, Bob Carter. These are people with whom I was intensely intimate for seven years. This is a very complicated emotional dynamic for me. I think that you donít really say goodbye.
Did you like your costume?
I loved my costume. From day one I loved it. I mean, Iím an odd duck because I donít like glamour, I donít like being touched and fussed with. Canít bear it.
I love to act, this other bit missed me somehow. So shucking myself into that suit everyday was an absolute pleasure. Really was.
They could have done something a little more enhancing with the suit, for those of us whose figureís like a fourteen year old boyís, but the sheer delight of its ease: it was compact, it was simple, streamlined, loved it, loved it. But you could nap in it, it was heaven.
How did you feel about Janewayís hair?
They tried to kill me with the hair. Oh yes. They were so concerned that they had actually hired a woman to play the role that they couldnít quite - and this is also anthropologically fascinating - couldnít quite get to it on a real level, so they targeted the symbol, which was the hair.
Now I watched this with great curiosity because I love to see how men deal with their deepest anxietiesÖ about will this franchise succeed or will it not, with this woman at the helm. ĎWell letís find something that we can all busy ourselves with to such distraction that we go mad.í It was the hair.
They changed it five times in the first season, two, three times in the second. You know, my message to Patrick Stewart is, ĎYou lucky devil.í I mean, it was just constantly a source of anxiety for them, and of course it had nothing to do with the reality.
They should have just left it alone. It didnít come down very often. Had to be real bad war for that hair to come down, and it was down and then it was up and then it was Ö it was a million things. Of very little interest to me.
Working with the camera
How did you get on with the camera and special effects work?
All the effects, I learned to study. There are only two ways to deal with it: you can either become petulant about these things and find yourself grappling with them in a very irritating way, or you can study them, and if you study anything your curiosity is peeked and therefore youíre fully involved.
So I learned about the blue screen and the green screen, I learned about motion controls, split screen, and the more I learnt the more intrigued I became by this beast, which believe me is - a fearsome creature.
The camera is, not objective, you do know that, donít you? The camera is very discerning and can be quite tough and judgmental. If it doesnít like you, it really doesnít like you. But it responds if you respect it. I know Iím talking strangely now, but this is true. I really addressed the camera as I would a human being, chatted with it in the morning, ĎHow are we doing today? Going to get along?í and learned about it. And as I honoured the camera I think, it increasingly honoured me - not a match made in heaven, however.
Tell us a little bit about the emergency medical hologram.
I canít tell you a little bit about Bob Carter. Thatís impossible to do. My adoration for him is profound. This is a man who stepped into a role and fashioned out of a seeming non-existent clay the most riveting character, I think, that Star Trek has seen for many, many years.
Heís an emergency medical hologram. One would think there would be nothing to this. Only Bob could endow it with his extraordinary wit, his charm, his intelligence, his complexity, and finally, his humanity.
This is to me the most intriguing story of Voyager, the Doctor and Janeway, who given her scientific background had no time at all for a hologram. He was a device, and nothing more or less than a device to be used at her will and whim. And over the years there evolved between them, because of Bobís performance and his incredible input on the literary level, this marvellous relationship where in fact he taught Janeway.
I think the most profound and poignant thing that could said about science/science fiction. There is a relationship of respect to be had with a hologram if in fact it is a reflection of your own attributes, foremost among them our empathy. So to me that was an extraordinary journey and he is unprecedented, Bob, I think in his talent.
Have you attended many conventions?
I havenít done a lot of Conventions because Iíve been very busy. In fact I watched with some amazement as the others did the circuit over the years. It takes a lot of energy to attend these Conventions, to organise them let alone execute them.
But now that I am free, I have booked a few. I did one in Pasadena, I did one in Cleveland, Iím going to England, and my level of fascination is very high, as is my energy for them. Iím very curious to see this fan-base in reality, and to thank them personally, because without them, there would be no Voyager and there would certainly be no Captain Janeway.
Responsibiliity to the fans
Do you feel a heavy responsibility to the fans?
It is quite a responsibility and I take it seriously. And I think to show anything less than that is not only extremely undignified and very arrogant, but itís really biting the hand that has fed one so generously and unconditionally, and Iím not about to do that.
I am often fond of saying the Trekkers are passionate about a hobby, their hobby is Star Trek. You and I will go and see a musical, we can honour a group of violinists, we donít have to play the violin, do we, but we understand that itís intriguing and very moving to them. Thatís what I think Star Trek is to these people. They are by and large very imaginative, very intelligent people, and they certainly have been more than generous to me.