Kate Mulgrew--a.k.a. Kathryn the Great on Voyager--talks candidly about taking command, raising kids, and living in the material world
BY MICHAEL LOGANA super-pert gal Friday answers the door of Kate Mulgrews surprisingly suburban--almost Leave it to Beaver-ish--home in Brentwood, Cal., and leads us to the study where there await more of the stars entourage: a smiley Voyager publicist, a nervous-looking housekeeper who is laying out a tray of and cookies, and an elephantine labrador named Gracie who is eyeing the cookies with slobbery delight.
And there--in the center of it all with a half-read biography of Catherine the Great by her side---is the no-nonsense, tough talkin, cigarette smokin actress who plays Capt. Kathryn Janeway.
"Im Kate Mulgrew," she says, as if there could possibly be some confusion. She exhales out the side of her mouth, offers a warm, hefty handshake (if truth be told, shes got a grip her like a Teamster), and instructs the housekeeper to start pouring. Mulgrew is frequently likened to Katharine Hepburn, for both are bossy, live life by an iron-clad code of ethics: guts, decency, honor--the kind of stuff that hasnt been in vogue since the Truman administration.
And she is so effortlessly captain-like in real life that its eerie: After days work, the 39-year-old single mom goes home and spends hours--often in front of the mirror--rehearsing the next days scenes are perfect to the letter. "When Janeway speaks, it has to be like water of a ducks back--every technical phrase must be like liquid," says Mulgrew. "Her authority, her intelligence, must be complete. Her command of science must be unquestionable. And I do not go to sleep until that has been achieved."
Nothing, she says, suits her better than hard labor. "I love getting up at 3:30 in the morning and driving to the studio in absolute pitch darkness. I love being the first on the set and the last to leave. I love being a captain. I love being responsible for it all. I love protocol."
And, right now, her dog--who sits glued to the coffee table with her nose a quarter inch from the cookie dish--is busting protocol big time.
"Gracie?" bellows Mulgrew, with no trace of Starfleet decorum. Feigning temporary deafness, Gracie refuses to budge. "Im...warning...you,...girl!!!" Mulgrew raises a hand to her hip and flashes an evil eye. The chocolate-brown beast slumps to the floor in total humiliation. Mulgrew lights up another smoke.
"My career didnt go at all the way I thought it would...which no career does, I suppose," says the former star of Mrs. Columbo. "Im really ready to value Voyager--but when I was young and successful in this town, I was far too arrogant to understand how important it is to value what you get when you get it."
Indeed, Mulgrew used to be quite mouthy: When asked about her penchant for publicly blasting the execs in charge of the Columbo spin-off, Mulgrew once told the Toronto Star: "What am I supposed to do---sacrifice my character? Keep my mouth shut forever so I can work for NBC?...Im embittered because they are all tough, manipulative people. All scared to death and walking on eggshells, as afraid of losing their jobs as I am."
Today, the kinder, gentler Mulgrew even has media ground rules of her own: Voyager's publicity arm has warned us that there are certain verboten topics--among them, her recent (and, reportedly, very stressful) split from her husband, theater director Robert Egan, and her roller-coaster finances (she was on the verge of being forced to sell her home when the original Janeway, Genevieve Bujold, took a hike from Voyager--a twist of fate that changed Mulgrews life, and bank account, forever). Still, the star alludes to these personal dramas, anyway.
"The relationship between a mother and her children is almost telepathic. They feel what I feel and vice versa," says Mulgrew of her sons, Ian, 11, and Alec, 10. "Its the only relationship in the world that works that way. This doesnt happen between men and women...I know because Ive tried. Even when youre deeply in love you dont feel what the other ones feeling. Youre so selfish when youre in love." She reaches for a cookie and continues.
"Ive had some bad years, bad months. Bad stuff has happened in my life. Ive been really broken, you know? But not one moment during any of it have I ever wanted to do anything but act. That passion has kept me going and never waned--not even for a second." She is deeply quiet for a moment.
"My parents were tough on me, real tough. I went to work when I was 13. Ive been on my own financially since I was 16. I worked in diners to put myself through school. When my career came at 18---well, 19; I always try to shave a little off my age--it came precisely on time, according to my plans. It came in a guise that was not expected--I thought I was going to be a big movie star or a big stage star--but I definitely had the whole thing laid out."
That "guise" was the role of Irish-Catholic fireball Mary Ryan on the landmark soap Ryans Hope---but when the subject is brought up, the Irish-Catholic Mulgrew gets downright testy. "I only did Ryans Hope for one year when I was 18. Er, 19. I was a baby! Jimmy Smits started in soaps, but you wouldnt bring that up to him"
Yikes, whats the big deal?
'As an actress, I have never, ever worried about being pretty--I worry about being interesting.'
"The big deal is that Ive had 20 years in this business and people always want to talk about the soap thing I did! I mean, could we just talk about my Hedda Gabler for a second?!" Her jaw juts in defiance, then quickly softens. "I dont mean to pounce," she says with a noticeably sexy purr. "I guess I should be grateful for [the soap] but, you see, that harkens back to my arrogance. I just want to be applauded for the real work that I did. As marvelous as Ryans Hope was and as much of a launching pad as it was---if Fred Silverman had not seen me on that show, he wouldnt have offered me Mrs. Columbo--it is not the real body of my work. The substantive stuff that Im really proud of came much later." This includes: spouting Shakespeare in Central Park for producer Joe Papp, the short-lived hospital series Heartbeat, and her many guest stints on Cheers as Sams lady love, council-woman Janet Eldridge.
But Mulgrew--the queen of contradictions--also worries that, as an actress, she is just too grounded, too reliable, to be among the truly brilliant, wild, on-the-edge talents the world so admires. "What I really want to do is...electrify. Marion Brando is the finest actor who has lived but he is an absolutely impossible human being. Geraldine Page was insane. But they are indisputably great. And I dont think of myself that way. I want to break through all that stability and responsibility. Until I can, I wont even begin to touch my potential. Then again, you cant be on-the-edge and play a part like Kathryn Janeway. It wouldnt work."
She prides herself on being a low-maintenance actress and cant stand Hollywoods love affair with cosmetics: "When I joined [ Voyager] at the eleventh hour, we had nothing but hair problems. Short? Long? With a hairpiece? Without a hairpiece? All the concerns were about my hair--the hair being the trademark of the woman, right?" She rolls her eyes heavenward. "Finally, we got all that settled but I think there was really something else going on. I think they were nervous about having a woman as captain but they couldnt be as general as to say, Were just nervous about her. So its best to pick something--like hair! I am very impatient with that sort of thing--to which they will attest on the set."
The stubborn, Iowa-born Mulgrew raises an open hand in the air as if shes about to make a proclamation. And, indeed, she is: "First of all--and I do not want anybody to say anything when I say this--I am not...a... beautiful...woman. And thats not a problem. As an actress, I have never, ever worried about being pretty--I worry about being interesting. My body has come and my body has gone. To me, its al-
ways been about heart." She reaches for a cookie. "Until, that is, I see myself onscreen and say, My God, Kate, why did you have to have that third Big Mac?!"
Taped on her bedroom mirror is a quotation by Carl Jung --sent to Mulgrew by her moth-er--which offers an insight into the stars psyche. "I just love Jung so much," she says, paraphrasing the great psychologists words with almost teenybopper enthusiasm. "He said: Conflict in the artist is ever present. You want to be a real person in the real world but youre totally and constantly torn because the deeper longing is to be an artist." She takes a deep drag on her cigarette and continues--though its difficult to tell where Jung leaves off and Mulgrew begins. "And you will risk everything the world has to offer you--including your happiness--to fulfill yourself as an artist. So when thats not happening, no matter what else is going on, theres a darkness. Have you noticed how much Im smoking?"
'I have not brought my children up to ask the profound questions about God and love because I have not pursued them myself.'
In her youth, Mulgrew gave many an interview touting her arch-Catholicism--something shes no longer likely to do. "That was another part of my early arrogance. Im not deeply religious. I used to tell everybody I was a big Catholic--but Ive always been a spiritually fractured person. My children have been raised as Roman Catholics, but superficially so. I have not brought them up to ask the profound question about God and love because I have not pursued them myself. Its a dangerous thing "
In Mulgrews mind, a true quest for spirituality necessitates relinquishing everything worldly. "And as you can see," she says, gesturing--like Vanna White---toward several of her fine belongings, "I am not remotely prepared to do that. To leave my nice house in Brentwood and go into the darkness of my soul? Not me. Im a middle-class lady and, at this point in my life, I have to call a spade a spade. Oh, if the conversation at my dinner table should turn to religion, I can drag it on till dawn --and people will walk away saying, My, shes sooooo interested in what St. John did. But then Ill go up to bed and have an Absolut martini, and then get up in the morning, put on my $2,000 suit and go to work. Gracie!"
Gracie, who has gradually inched her way back to the refreshments, is led out of the room by the gal Friday.
"So," continues Mulgrew, "I have to be really harsh with myself when it comes to religion. I certainly dont know if God exists if Im worrying about which bakery Im going to buy the cookies at, or whether or not my guests have remembered to park their $35,000 cars in the driveway or whether my nice Mexican maid discovered where I left her bonus. I mean, cmon. You have to strip it all away and then you can consider yourself able to begin your crawl on the path to spirituality. Ive spent a lot of time talking to very enlightened religious people--Trappist monks and hermits who have been in the hermitage for 35 -years--and were talking about abject poverty, chastity, obedience, and silence. People who really practice religion would renounce all of this bull--."
She points at the classy knick knacks on the coffee table, at her cushy throw pillows, at her dog-eared copy of this weeks Voyager script.
"Well, I do not renounce these things," says Mulgrew. "I embrace them." And, with that, she bites into another cookie.
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