KATE MULGREW CHANGES THE COORDINATES
“Let’s see what you have, Mr. Kim,” says a trim Kate Mulgrew, emerging from the Turbolift and striding across the main bridge while filming “Star Trek: Voyager.” Mulgrew’s husky voice instantly commands attention--which is vital for her role as Capt. Kathryn Janeway, “Star Trek’s” first female captain.
Peering into her communication officer’s console, she says, “Verteron emanations ... tunneling secondary particles ... it certainly looks like a wormhole.”
Mulgrew steps over to her captain’s chair, crosses her arms and stands erect, staring out at the stars. She’s wearing a tailored black uniform with maroon shoulders and her hair is pulled tightly back in a bun.
“Lieutenant, input the coordinates and change course.”
Later in her trailer on the Paramount lot, Mulgrew lights a cigarette and sits back on her couch. She’s been averaging 18-hour work days. When asked if her trailer is her home away from home, she says with a wry smile, “No, it is my home.”
Bridge days are particularly grueling, Mulgrew says, because they involve complex scenes. And then there’s all that “Star Trek” techno-babble.
“It’s a huge challenge,” she says, comparing it to the medical language she used as a doctor on the ABC drama “Heartbeat” in 1988. “The same kind of fidelity applies here. We’re in the operating room. Just because you and I don’t really understand it doesn’t take me off the hook. I have to endow the words. I have to know what they mean. Or I have to make it up in my brain so that I understand it, and then it has to be like water off a duck’s back.”
Such are the challenges of playing a Starfleet captain. Mulgrew, 39, is not complaining. She attributes her natural presence on set to being the oldest, bossy girl in a family of eight from Dubuque, Iowa. Her entire career, she believes, has led to this role, one that she considers a triumph.
“The captain has to have very clearly delineated characteristics that perhaps I wouldn’t have had even three or four years ago,” she says thoughtfully. “She has to have an emotional center, an intellectual center, a power, a presence, a calm. Full thrusters, you know? This is a great woman.”
A veteran television actress, Mulgrew has had two short-lived TV series (“Kate Columbo” and “Heartbeat”), in addition to countless guest-starring roles (she was Sam’s senatorial fling on “Cheers”) and a handful of feature films (“Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins,” “Throw Momma From the Train”).
But the last two years have been difficult. There are not many quality TV roles for smart, mature, sexy women. “There were weeks of tremendous rejection,” says Mulgrew, who has two young boys. “I’ve never awakened one day in my life, from the time I was 12 years old, that I didn’t love acting. So it was the deprivation of it, more than anything, that I considered the loss.”
Unhappy with her original “Voyager” audition, which was videotaped in New York last August, Mulgrew wanted another chance when she was in town a few weeks later. She auditioned in person on the same day Genevieve Bujold was signed for the role. When Bujold backed out after only two days shooting, Mulgrew was chosen from among a pool of contenders that included Helen Shaver, Chelsea Field and Karen Austin.
“Kate simply had an ineffable quality that put her ahead of the pack,” says executive producer Jeri Taylor. “She has proven to be a remarkably accurate choice.”
Rather than risk another defection, the executive producers debriefed Mulgrew on what was ahead. Unlike Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, who stayed on the Enterprise during away expeditions on “Next Generation,” Capt. Janeway will lead expeditions in the same way Capt. James T. Kirk did. She must be physically equipped to handle herself.
“I know it sounds a little cute of me, even Pollyannaish, when I refer to (Bujold’s) courage in having defected in two days,” Mulgrew said. “But it was courageous, because she understood that there is a physical necessity here. You’ve got to have the stamina for it.”