Femme Fatales
Volume 7 Number 10
January 22, 1999

Sci-Fi's Sexist

KATE MULGREW, #15

TRAGIC LOVE & REFLECTIONS ON HER "VOYAGER" VENUE

BY DALE KUTZERA

STAR TREK'S executive producing brain trust—Rick Berman, Michael Filler, and Jeri Taylor—had always wanted to develop a stellar female role. A captain. Their ST: VOYAGER spin-off, in preparation, was afforded such a vacancy. The only problem was finding the right woman for the job. They had a wish list of major stars but realized each of the prospects was out of their grip. In the meantime, hundreds of lesser-known actresses, auditioning for the plum role, were taped while reciting dialogue from "The Caretaker" pilot.

"We wanted the character to be a more accessible captain," said writer/producer Brannon Braga, "—a captain who wasn't afraid to show emotions, a captain who was actively trying to be warmer, more outwardly compassionate and more in tune with her crew."

Merritt Blake, an agent, pitched Genevieve Bujold as the series' central character, Captain Kathryn Janeway. The producers were elated: the Oscar nominee's track record (OBSESSION, MURDER BY DECREE, DEAD RINGERS, etc.) qualified her as A-list. But, within one week, Bujold dropped out.

"You never know what fate is going to do," said Jeri Taylor. "[Kate Mulgrew] had read in New York and was put on tape and, by her own admission, did not read particularly well that day.

Knowing she hadn't hit her stride, when Kate got back out to Los Angeles she asked to read for us in person. She did that about the same time Genevieve was dancing in front of us. So we read Kate and she really was good, but our eyes were dazzled by star power."

When Bujold resigned, the trio of producers were stuck with an $8 million project in progress—without a star. Four semi-finalists, including Mulgrew, were assembled for reconsideration. "By that time the die was cast," Taylor continued, "because if we were going to go with a male captain, we would have gone with a female first officer. It had to be a woman captain, at least in our minds, so we went in with these four women and Kate was simply wonderful. There was so much passion and integrity coming from her; Kate spun lines, which sounded corny coming from other people, into gold. We breathed a sigh of relief and said, 'You've got the job.' That same day, she was in hair and makeup for a TV Guide spread."

Mulgrew, whose previous featured role in a series was a single season as KATE COLUMBO (1979), had not been a Trek aficionado, despite her close friendship with John DeLancie. "John forced me on pain of death to watch his [STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION] episodes and I thought that the level of writing, the performances—the whole patina!—was excellent. And the standards for VOYAGER have been are very high from every level. I am very vigilant about what Janeway means, especially to young women, and that responsibility is enormous and deeply gratifying.

"Hillary Clinton told me herself that [the First Lady's] job is so profoundly important: if she can do even one day of it well, she may have altered the history of our tenure. That is probably true of Janeway. We were at the White House, honoring eminent female scientists from around the world. A young girl, 17, came up to me and said, 'I'm going to M.I.T. because of you, Ms. Mulgrew, and, one day, I will be a chief engineer at NASA.' And I thought, 'Katy, you've got a lot of work to do.'

"Janeway is very strong. She never sits down. She's a mover. I'm not going to sit in a chair as an actress, and Janeway doesn't sit in her chair as a commander or a scientist. The directors try to put me in the chair and I say, 'No chair for me.' It's a marriage between writing staff and actress and it's been, so far, a real bliss because we are evolving. They know more about STAR TREK than I do, but I know more about Janeway."

Mulgrew would prefer that Janeway, unlike Captain Kirk on the original series and Riker on TNG, refrain from galactic affairs: "I've talked to the executive producers at length about this, it's a delicate issue. The men—and this smacks a bit of a double standard—could get away with a little more of that. Janeway may be a commander, but she is a lady nonetheless, and my understanding is that [a love affair] won't happen until she has very carefully resolved her connections on Earth—until enough time has transpired so a relationship could evolve, one of integrity and depth. It will be true love and, therefore, my suspicion is that it will be tragic love because, as we all know, love is tragic.

"I've never been so completely and utterly happy in a role. We work very long hours but it's so continually challenging. It's a love affair. I love this group of people and I think, if nothing else, that's what radiates. If we were to lose any one person, I think would be devastating to future of the show. I'm very blessed to play this role, to find Janeway at this time in my life. I love her."