Kate Mulgrew captained "Star Trek: Voyager" for seven seasons, but it is a leader of a different sort — Galina "Red" Reznikov, the Russian den mother who runs the prison kitchen in Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" — that gave the 59-year-old actress her first Emmy nomination on Thursday morning.
We spoke with Mulgrew early Thursday from New York, where the series is now shooting its third season.
Not a bad way to start the day, right?
I was shaken out of a dead sleep. I burned my left hand last night cooking a pasta sauce, and I took an Advil PM, and it knocked me right out. I wasn’t anticipating this.
Really? Red seemed to become an iconic character almost from the first episode.
[“Orange Is the New Black” creator] Jenji Kohan is an unorthodox, irreverent, astute genius. And this show has sprung from a pen unlike any other writing for television today. And out of this pen emanated this character Red, and she just is a magical fit with an actress at a certain time in her life when vanity is no longer important but freedom as an actress is everything.
Was it difficult to let go of that vanity?
If you look at me in my career, you say, “That’s a pretty actress for a long, long time.” Red is not pretty. Nor does she care about being pretty. It’s not about her looks. It’s about who she is transforming herself into that’s compelling.
I don’t know … you say she’s not pretty, but I kind of love that spiky, magenta hair.
That’s Jenji putting her foot down when she met me. I had very lovely, long brown hair. And she said, “We’re going to cut it, and we’re going to color it eggplant.” And I said, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute.” So we did it in increments until finally she said to me, “Will you just do it?” So I told the hairdresser, “Just cut it all off,” and I threw that [stuff] on myself, and it came out spiked magenta, and she said, “That’s it, baby.”
It’s Red’s personal statement to everyone in the prison.
The red hair, the red nails, the lipstick. It’s emblematic of who she is. “I’m going to survive this with vividness. I am going to survive this with a heart, if I can.”
That heart makes her and the other inmates relatable. Do you think that’s why viewers have embraced the show?
Yes. We’re all only a fraction, a scintilla, a soupcon, if you will, from messing up. It resides in the human condition to be perilously close to the dark while walking in the light. And when you watch these women in the bleak, monochromatic confines of this prison, you say to yourself, “That could be me if just for this.” We’re just a banana peel away from falling on our ass.
Any idea on what’s next for Red?
Yes. [Mulgrew slips into Red’s Russian accent] But that would be a spoiler, wouldn’t it? Telling you, I would get myself in a lot of trouble. [She returns to her own voice] I think she’s going to head down a very unexpected and very moving road. You’ve seen her survive, you’ve seen her [messed with], you’ve seen her hurt and now you’re going to see her feeling. [Once more speaking as Red] But beyond that I can say nothing.