“What anniversary is this for Voyager?” Kate Mulgrew asks aloud. “Truly, you lose track of time. It’s the…” 16th anniversary of the show’s debut, she’s informed. “It’s funny,” she says, “but I don’t remember the technobabble. I don’t remember the episodes, really. I remember the experience and the people, and I love that the fans, many of them, love what we did. It’s fun to revisit the experience.” With that, Mulgrew sticks a fork in her eggs and, during breakfast at a New York City diner not far from her apartment, carries on with a typically candid and entertaining conversation about her days aboard the U.S.S. Voyager, followed by a discussion about her latest personal and professional endeavors.
How overlooked and/or underestimated did you feel Voyager was back when it was on the air?
Mulgrew: When we were doing it? That’s a hard one to answer, honestly. I was so busy and I was just so immersed in the show. But I know what you’re asking. There’s a perception about Voyager. I guess, comparatively speaking, we didn’t get the same attention that Next Gen got. But I thought that was just a product of the beginning of what might be called saturation (of the Star Trek franchise). In terms of quality comparisons? Who cares? I did the best I could. We all did the best we could.
Mulgrew: I found that that was hard, Jeri notwithstanding. Certainly, I could see with my own eyes that she was a va-va-va-voom and beautiful-beautiful bombshell of a girl. Sexuality was brought into Voyager, and that’s what I resented. I chose not to use sexuality. I thought that if Paramount and UPN and Rick (Berman) were being exceptionally prescient and brave, they would give a woman a shot at commanding without sex. “Can we do this without sex?” There are always other ways. So I resented that and I was hurt by the immediate, extraordinary attention given to this character. The numbers went up. And I thought, “Ah, you can’t argue with a business decision and you can’t argue with sex.” That’s just part of life, but all of that is very difficult for a woman, particularly an actress like me. But it had nothing to do with Jeri.
You stepped into the captain’s chair following the departure of Genevieve Bujold, who bowed out after just a couple of days of production. Have you ever met or spoken to her?
Mulgrew: No. Regrettably. I’d have loved to have met her, and I’d still love to, mainly because I hold her in such high regard as an actress. She went somewhere with grace, because we don’t see her. I think she just went to live her life. Kate Nelligan is another one. These are exceptional actresses and I think sometimes they just say to themselves, “It’s time.”
You recently finished up a production of Antony and Cleopatra. How did that go and, since it had long been a dream of yours to play Cleopatra, how fulfilling was the experience?
Mulgrew: I remember that I was doing the final soliloquy, “Noblest of men, woo’t die…,” and I was there, in a way, on three levels. I was completely present as Cleopatra and I was completely present as myself, and I then I was watching those two women. And, in the moment, I thought, “This is the happiest I will ever be in the world as I know it.” I remember asking myself why I felt that. And I answered it, even as I was acting there on the stage, and the answer was, “Because it’s one of the greatest-written roles of all time.” Cleopatra lived. She lived, right? What I love, and I’ve learned this slowly, is the research. I love the work of the part, of any great part.
It’s why Hepburn (in the show Tea at Five, in which she played Katharine Hepburn) was so much fun and I why I did so well with it. It’s why I did so well with Cleopatra. When it’s true and I can mine it, I’m a very, very good student of that. That’s why I’m going after Stella Adler (as the subject of a play she’s developing; see below), because I can find her. But I’m not very good in supporting roles. I have a size and a dimension that doesn’t adjust well to that. It’s a circumscription. I’m best when it’s this (Mulgrew holds her hands three feet apart), and there are fewer and fewer of those as I age. I will continue to pursue them, of course, but I think I am now going to introduce a difficult grace note into my life as a middle-aged actress, and that is there comes a moment where you have to say, “I have to find other ways to deepen the process of living for myself, and it can’t be just about acting anymore.” I don’t know how that will manifest itself, but it is where I am right now.
What else are you working on at the moment?
Mulgrew: I closed Antony and Cleopatra and then went to the Bahamas for a few weeks to collect myself. Now I’m back here in New York and I’m working on a project that I’m developing, based on the life of Stella Adler. She was not only my mentor, but my great teacher and an extraordinary person and personality in the theater. I think she defined, certainly, the Yiddish theater in the 30s and 40s in New York. So I’m looking for the central conflict of her life, which is how acting betrayed her, because she didn’t become the great actress she wanted to become, but became a great teacher instead. So it is a life of sacrifice, and in the sacrifice lay the gift. I am working on my own book, a memoir. That has been slow going because I am, constitutionally, an actress and I think to be an actor is not only a different kind of discipline, but it’s completely introspective. So the solitude which is absolutely mandatory to write well is, I think, is hard for me. It’s training muscles I haven’t used very much. I love to write. I can write. But I’ve done nothing like this before and it will be a challenge. I continue to work on behalf of Alzheimer’s causes, and there are a couple of plays in the wind. But they’re floating. They haven’t landed yet. And I’ve done a film.
That film is The Best and the Brightest. Give us a quick synopsis and a feeling for your character in that…
Mulgrew: It’s by Josh Shelov. I play a very funny part in that. She’s called The Player’s Wife, because I don’t actually have a name. Chris McDonald is my husband. He’s wonderfully funny and we became great friends. Josh wrote this very amusing movie about this New York City couple trying to get their rather middle-class kid into an Upper East Side school, and all the people involved in the situation. I’m a politician. I’m Hillary Clinton gone crazy.
You mentioned your work on behalf of Alzheimer’s. You got involved with the cause during your mother’s battle with the disease and now, five years after she passed away, you’re still deeply committed to the cause…
Mulgrew: I think I’m more committed now. Some things are just serendipitous. My mother had the disease and I got involved with the organization, and then I met this splinter group out of the University of Minnesota Hospital, Dr. Karen Ashe and the team at the Grossman Center (for Memory Research and Care). I became sort of their spokesperson and then I got published. I published a first essay and a second essay and I’m up to my sixth essay. I speak all over the country and sometimes all over the world. It’s grown and blossomed into something that feels right. I’ve had a really good life and a wonderful career. I’ve been comfortable and I’ve been healthy. And I adored my mother. So this is my way to give back.
To keep track of Mulgrew, her latest stage and film work, her upcoming conventions, and more, visit her official site at www.TotallyKate.com.
To read part one of this interview, click here.