August 24, 1995
Many THANKS to Totally Kate! contributors for the video and the transcript. Please do not repost.
Alex Bennett: Wired means high tech and nothing means high tech more in television than Star Trek Voyager, the adventures of the USS Voyager and its captain, Kathryn Janeway played by Kate Mulgrew. Kate, I've got to ask you something. In all the publicity that I've read on you, 'cause they sent me volumes of the stuff and I don't really study a person that much; I want to get to know them, it says that what you like to do when you have to do an interview is to start asking questions of the interviewer.
Kate Mulgrew: Oh, you know me and the more personal, the better.
Alex Bennett: What in you makes you do that?
Kate Mulgrew: I think the size of my original family.
Alex Bennett: Really.
Kate Mulgrew: Now I realize that it's actually very clever in a Freudian sense. It's a way of taking myself off the hook, right, and putting you in the hot seat. It's a way of engendering conversation and, let's face it, if you've only got fifteen minutes, it might as well be good.
Alex Bennett: Yeah, because as you came into the room before we started the interview, immediately you started asking me questions.
Kate Mulgrew: I did? Oh yes, about the internet.
Alex Bennett: Yeah.
Kate Mulgrew: I was told you were a genius, so I knew you'd be good at that.
Alex Bennett: Not much. I'm not a genius. This role that you're doing now is just such a plum. How did you feel the day that you found out you got it? You must have been flying off the walls.
Kate Mulgrew: I can tell you the story. It's a very good one.
Alex Bennett: Okay.
Kate Mulgrew: It's more than a plum, first of all. It's sounding cornier and cornier the more and more real it becomes to me. It's a privilege. She's divine and I am divinely happy playing her. She is a creature of such passion and nobility, who has managed to transcend gender in an unprecedented fashion that I feel, short of calling it a responsibility, a great, great pleasure in creating and endowing this woman with all the levels and magnitudes that I believe belong to her --- that Roddenberry conceived for and of her. And when I got the role, which my son will attest to, who is sitting over there behind the camera, I immediately made everyone get down on their knees and say the Our Father, and I said while you're on your knees you can crawl over there and get that bottle of champagne. (laughter) It was great because I'd had a rather difficult year preceding that. Maybe even two.
Alex Bennett: Yeah.
Kate Mulgrew: Of some pretty serious struggle.
Alex Bennett: How serious?
Kate Mulgrew: Which has been the story of my career. (Makes up & down wave motion.)
Alex Bennett: How serious?
Kate Mulgrew: I was going to sell the house. I was really looking for work in an ardent fashion. I went on tape in New York after I returned from the summer in Ireland with my sons and I was not focused at that point. It was in the pouring rain. It was in Manhattan and my head just wasn't on straight. So I think that I did what I fondly call a mediocre job that day and I looked at the casting director and said this is not good. She said, no, it's fine. I said all right. I walked away and I knew that it was very poor.
Alex Bennett: But let me ask you at this point, things are not good. Things are not going well. You need the work. What was going through your head at this time.
Kate Mulgrew: I was good. Listen to that. I was good.
Alex Bennett: It's always in times when things aren't going well, that we really need something, that it's the hardest time to do well, because you feel the pressure.
Kate Mulgrew: That's almost always true, but I think, under these circumstances, it was almost the opposite, Alex. Something happened to me when I spent that summer in Ireland with my sons. You can call it an epiphany. We Roman Catholics prefer to call it a state of grace. My level of confidence was such that it transcended all nervousness; all fantastic longing to get a job. Any degree of desperation was wiped out in my ability to understand the enormous beauty of this character. The calm that I would have to employ in the audition process and, as I just said to you before, the absolute conviction that it would be a match made in heaven. I really felt it.
Alex Bennett: When I first saw the show, I said it was. When I saw you playing that character, I said this is the first time I've seen a woman being played as a woman of authority that had the authority but was still a woman.
Kate Mulgrew: Yes.
Alex Bennett: You know and what you've pulled off in that character, I think is pretty amazing.
Kate Mulgrew: Do you?
Alex Bennett: Oh yeah, absolutely. The theater is an arena of domination. You're up there chewing up scenery. You're playing to the balcony. You're the master of the domain. Television is an arena of seduction and you seem to bring both those to the character.
Kate Mulgrew: Do I?
Alex Bennett: Obviously Janeway has a very dominant personality and yet a seductive personality, and I think it's your theater and television screen ---
Kate Mulgrew: I think you might be right. The bridge is actually her theater. She's in charge of these guys. Right? So she has to be singularly prepossessing when she walks out onto that bridge. And so I can use my theatrical background, which is to be extremely present. To be --- dramatic is too hard a word, I think. Too colorful a word. But to command, which is something I learned when I trained to be a stage actress. And the seductiveness of the camera is the other trick, and I think the more difficult one. Heather and I were just talking about this the other day (my assistant and I). The camera will not lie. So if you take the theatrical inclination, which is a little big ---"Tuvok, I want"--- and you realize that in that very moment the camera is insisting that you be quiet and completely relaxed, it's almost a dichotomy and it's a constant challenge for me, but if you can sit there and say I've managed to marry the two, boy that makes my day. That's good. That's very good.
Alex Bennett: So you got the part.
Kate Mulgrew: I did? I did.
Alex Bennett: You got the part.
Kate Mulgrew: Okay, yes, I did.
Alex Bennett: Here's the thing, I've always wanted to ask someone who had played on any of the Star Trek shows. They suddenly bring in a whole litany of dialogue of science that doesn't even exist, of things that work that never existed before that they make up names for and now there you are having to memorize these words. How do you do that?
Kate Mulgrew: That's an interesting process.
Alex Bennett: And do you understand what you are talking about when you are saying them?
Kate Mulgrew: I do, but they're a dig. There were nights at two or three o'clock in the morning when you're talking about spatial distortions and plasma fields and that m class planet that interfering with everything. Could I have that small gun you got in your pocket? Let's finish this one up. If you have a good ear, which I do, and good retention, which I do, it's not that hard. It's probably like learning a difficult language. Japanese, for instance. Greek. If you were to give me a script and say I'm so sorry, but the leading lady is Greek, and she's got this three page monologue and it has to be done and it has to be done fluidly and it has to be done beautifully, I would knock myself out to make sure that the next day I get in there and I did it believably. So I, every night, my system is, I take the script, I come home, I go upstairs and I work until it is absolutely fluent. And then I go to sleep. That's usually two and a half to three hours on top of the day. (Waves a fly away.)
Alex Bennett: What do they do about flies on the Enterprise?
Kate Mulgrew: We have no flies.
Alex Bennett: I mean on the Voyager.
Kate Mulgrew: (gasps) No flies.
Alex Bennett: No flies?
Kate Mulgrew: No.
Alex Bennett: Is there any way we can kill that fly?
Kate Mulgrew: I rather like it. It's been here for years.
Alex Bennett: You know what's kind of interesting to me too is seeing you sitting here in your surroundings. All the furniture, all the things around you are everything from Tom Thumb's wedding shirt to paintings that I understand your mother has done ---
Kate Mulgrew: That's right.
Alex Bennett: --- to what is very classic furniture and very classic taste, green being the primary color, because you're completely Irish.
Kate Mulgrew: Right.
Alex Bennett: It really must be a dichotomy to you to leave here, go to the studio and now you are in this high tech surrounding.
Kate Mulgrew: It's heaven. What could be better? I have absolutely the best of both worlds. This is my home. Deeply my home. These are my children. This is cozy. It's warm. It's mine and I've built it for years.
Alex Bennett: What would you say was the roughest time in your life?
Kate Mulgrew: Right just before this happened.
Alex Bennett: Isn't it amazing how sometimes it happens later on in life. You'd think it would be when you were younger. I had a very rough time myself heading toward the age of fifty.
Kate Mulgrew: You're fifty years old?
Alex Bennett: I'm fifty-five, actually.
Kate Mulgrew: God, you look great.
Alex Bennett: Well, thank you, so do you.
Kate Mulgrew: I never would have thought you were fifty-five. Absolutely not. Don't people tell you that? It's true.
Alex Bennett: Sometimes people tell me that.
Kate Mulgrew: So what did that feel like?
Alex Bennett: I think that in any career most people face that at some point later on and that's the thing where you reconnoiter. You get up all the strength and now you go back and you just kill them, you know?
Kate Mulgrew: Well, I think more importantly for me, I don't know, may have been different for you and maybe it's slightly different for men because there's an inculturation here, which is different, but let's hope we know ourselves better.
Alex Bennett: Yeah.
Kate Mulgrew: I'm forty, so when I ---
Alex Bennett: You're forty? You don't look a day over twenty-eight. Thought I'd pay her back.
Kate Mulgrew: Way too much. Way too much. It's a deepening of self. You realize how low you can sink. There's very little to fear and you find out who you really are. And I think you win the day because of that wisdom, not because you say I'm going to go in there and I'm gonna kill these guys. You go in because you say I know who I am.
Alex Bennett: That makes you savor this day all the more. Had you not faced that down period you might go aha!
Kate Mulgrew: Oh, there's no question about it. There's no question. And savor is the word.
Alex Bennett: You know, up until now, in most science fiction, the guys have always gotten the treat of having the affirmation, the role model, and now, all the sudden, women are getting a role model here. Girls growing up are getting a role model. Do you feel that's part of what you are doing here, or do you tend not to politicize it like that?
Kate Mulgrew: Oh, I don't think it's politicizing it at all to say I do feel that. It is not a political thing. This is the responsibility which I referred to earlier that I feel intrinsically regarding Janeway. As far as I know, to the best of my knowledge, which you may have gathered is rather limited (laughs), she is the only leading woman on television who transcends all cultural obstacles, gender, victimization, political problems. She is simply and without question the captain of a starship. This is a most remarkable thing to have a young girl observe because what she is observing is the truth of human nature. That suddenly there is a woman in command and there is no question she is not hearing any problems. Nobody has a problem with this gender, nobody has a problem with the way she speaks; with the way she does.... She is the captain because she has earned her pips and I think for a young girl that is so empowering in the gentlest and serenest and best possible way. She doesn't have to strap on her black leather; she doesn't have to be a ball breaker. She can be a great woman in command and in control of her life.
Alex Bennett: Tell me a joke.
Kate Mulgrew: It came to mind, but it's too bad. I can't possibly. I have boys in this house, do you think I know any jokes that aren't dirty? They're all dirty. I can't stand it.
Alex Bennett: I just want a key to your sense of humor.
Kate Mulgrew: No. I'm not going to do it, because they are all horrible.
Alex Bennett: You can't think of any?
Kate Mulgrew: I can think of about five. I can promise you, everything I just said about being a role model....(laughs)....I have sons.
Alex Bennett: Just a little test. Just wanted to see.
Kate Mulgrew: Yeah. I'll tell you when we're finished.
Alex Bennett: Well, I thank you for spending some of that precious time with us when you're not on the set working, and we wish you --- we don't have to wish you all the luck in the world; you've already got it, right now. Just hope it keeps coming for you.
Kate Mulgrew: Thank you very much.