Kate Mulgrew saunters into a Manhattan diner, all smiles and hugs and small talk, and it dawns on you: she’s barely aged. Star Trek: Voyager blinked off the air nearly a decade ago, and yet Mulgrew looks pretty much the same as she did as Captain Kathryn Janeway in the closing moments of the series finale, “Endgame.” Crazier still, Voyager premiered 16 years ago this week, on January 16, 1995. Over the course of a leisurely breakfast, Mulgrew – by turns serious, wistful, joyous, and always frank – looked back at Voyager, contemplated her place in Star Trek and cultural history (as the franchise’s first series-lead female captain) and updated us on her current projects. Below is part one of our exclusive interview, and visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow for the second half of the conversation.
At its best, what worked on Voyager?
Mulgrew: The relationships. Instantly, Brannon Braga comes to mind, because much of it was his writing. I think the cast was extraordinary. We were a very disciplined group. I was prepared. My stuff with Bob Picardo, I think, probably could not have been much better, given the time constraints. We were extremely capable as a group and could really explore the human aspects of what was happening to these characters. We could do it one on one and in the bigger picture, as a group.
What do you think it meant – to viewers, to kids, to the industry at large – to have a female captain in place on the bridge and on the set?
Mulgrew: I think it was important. Of course, I do. I think it was time. I’ve always felt that Paramount was so very brave to do that because there was a lot of money on the line, and we could have really tanked. If men had chosen to turn me off altogether we could have tanked very quickly, and then they would have had to scramble and get a man to do the whole thing. But enough men said, “Let’s give her a shot.” And that told me it was time, the right time, because that’s how you assess everything in a culture – if men can come along for the difficult part of the ride. And they did. They gave me a tough time for a season and a half, and then they said, “She can do it.” But, definitely, it was time in the history of television and in the history of the world. That’s one of the great achievements of my life, that I got to play Janeway.
We first met Janeway in “Caretaker” and we last saw her in “Endgame.” How would you describe her evolution as a character from the pilot to the finale?
Mulgrew: She grew up. I’d say she grew up considerably. She deepened. She hardened. She got tough in space. The losses she endured both galvanized and hurt her. So that conflict was always in Janeway. Her relationships deepened. She found love in space, and I don’t think she’d ever truly found that before. She loved Tuvok (Tim Russ) and Chakotay (Robert Beltran) and all of her crew very, very deeply. There was loneliness, too. The sharp edges of loneliness, I think, were very much in play for Janeway. And that made the ultimate sacrifice that much more delicious. The admiral sacrificed her life so that the captain could persevere. That’s who I really was as Janeway, and I tried, always, to show that conflict. What better thing can I do as an actress, but to bring my own experience to something? But I think what happened to Janeway absolutely reflected what would happen to a woman in her situation. I was very proud of “Endgame,” partly because I had a hand in the choices, the story. I loved it. There’s no way you’re going to satisfy everyone after a seven-year investment. How can you? There’s no way. You can’t do it. It’s heartbreaking, an ending of any kind. But I thought our finale was a pretty good way to say goodbye.
Have you seen the recent Star Trek movie directed by J.J. Abrams?
Mulgrew: No, I have not, to be honest with you.
Was that on purpose or do you just not see many movies?
Mulgrew: I think both. I think both. I think I just kept saying, “I will, I will,” and I didn’t. And there’s a reason why. I guess I just didn’t want to. Everyone said it was great and I’m sure it was. But… it’s a huge thing to be the captain in the Star Trek franchise. You get saturated. There’s a part of me that just wants to hold that in my memory, and it’s enough.
If somehow the Star Trek writers were to tap out one more Janeway story, with an assist from you, what story would you want to see told? Would you want her back on a ship and in command? Maybe you’d like to see her now that she’s been home for a while…
Mulgrew? I don’t want to see her at home. I can say that succinctly and summarily. I would like to see her go back into space. That sounds right. And I would like to see her continue what I thought would happen with our Leonardo Da Vinci stories, which is to use science and the imagination in concert and in an altogether new way. I think that it’s true that the creative spirit combined with scientific acumen can actually really open things up, which is what Da Vinci stood for in life and certainly on our show. So I would like to do that, and I think that would be doable. And I do think of Janeway. I know this sounds silly, because it’s ridiculous, but I think of her quite fondly. I really liked her. I’m with Patrick Stewart. The first week we were doing Voyager, Patrick said to me, “If you get through this show” – I guess that was debatable, my getting through it – “you will be very proud.” I said, “Are you?” He said, “Enormously.”
And I must say, I am proud, enormously proud. It was hard work. Nobody sees how hard that work was. I don’t know that most people can grasp that. We had the technobabble, pages of it, every episode. I was getting revisions at three o’clock in the morning on five hours of sleep. I was driving myself to Paramount every day and coming home to two little kids every night, kids I was raising alone, as a single parent. And I’d learn my lines for two, two-and-a-half hours every night before going to bed. Believe me, it’s a discipline. Your mind just goes into the trenches. It has to. You have to. Patrick and I talked about that, and I think that’s the thing I’ll always carry, my pride at having done it.
Tomorrow, in part two of our interview, Mulgrew talks about the impact of Jeri Ryan’s arrival on Voyager and her desire to meet Genevieve Bujold, who briefly preceded her as Janeway. She also discusses her charity work and previews her upcoming projects.