Kate Mulgrew is beloved by millions of Star Trek fans as the steely Captain Janeway in Voyager. But her career has extended back for almost forty years, and includes soap operas, voice-over work and one very evil ex-wife in Throw Momma From the Train. Her latest endeavor is something very different: a slapstick comedy called NTSF: SD: SUV that parodies CSI and its ilk. Mulgrew plays another tough-as-nails team leader… this one sporting an eye patch and a predilection for sex. In an exclusive interview with Mania, she talked about her new show, and the upcoming 45th Anniversary of Trek, in which she is an enthusiastic participant.
Question: What’s the best experience you’ve ever had with a fan, Star Trek or otherwise?
Kate Mulgrew: I got seriously involved in Alzheimer’s causes after my mother’s death many years ago. I met a young woman from the Isle of Jersey. She raised almost $25,000 to that cause to fly out to New York City to have lunch with me. That supersedes allegiance or fandom, and goes somewhere else. I see such generosity of spirit with the fans, and it’s because they loved whatever character they loved, whether it’s Captain Janeway or someone else.
Q: It’s the 45th anniversary of Star Trek. How are you celebrating that?
KM: I’m attending nothing but conventions for the next six weeks, all over the world. I go to Vegas and Australia and Germany and Prague and Atlanta. I’m everywhere! It’s still hard to believe it’s been 15 years since Voyager and 45 since the whole thing began.
Q: You’re taking on new territory – comedy – with this show, NTSF: SD: SUV. What attracted you to the role and why did you take the part?
KM: Madness. Sheer madness! I lost my mind and found myself with a bunch of other people who lost their minds together! [Series creator] Paul Scheer was astute enough to sense that at this point in my life, I needed a departure and I needed to laugh. So he called me up and he said, “Will you play the head of this strike force?” And I said, “Sure!” He said, “You have to wear an eye patch and you’re obsessed with sex and we’ve been married and divorced twice, and we have two little kids and they don’t talk.” I said, “You’re on!” I went to work for four weeks, maybe it was five, and all I did was laugh. All day and all night long. I think he’s a bit of a genius, Paul Scheer. Comedians of his stripe are really smart guys.
Q: So he told you right away that you had to wear an eye patch? You didn’t show up to work with a surprise from the costume department?
KM: He dictated nothing; that’s not his nature. But he said, “What do you think of the eye patch?” and I said, “I adore it.” Most of these guys – Scheer and his partners – came out of improv. That’s the way they approach it. That’s not been my school and therefore it was a wonderfully liberating experience for me. I’m usually handed a script and told in no uncertain terms to honor every single syllable. These guys want us to loosen it up and see what we can find.
Q: Was that something you’d wanted to do before now? Something looser and more improvisational?
KM: People don’t think girls are funny… least of all girls who have been leading ladies. We’re all funny: everyone. It’s tapping into it that and allowing it to be that’s the talent.
Q: The cliché among actors is that you’ve got to find the humanity in every character. With material this over-the-top, is that still a consideration?
KM: You can never try to be funny. Trying to be funny is a big failure. I took myself deadly seriously in this part. I have to be serious with this character. I have to be the boss, I have to be in control of my emotions at all times. Otherwise, the humor doesn’t work.
Q: What was the best thing they’ve given you so far?
KM: I had a scene with Paul, a break-up/make-up scene in the car. Sometimes I had to literally bite the inside of my cheek I was laughing so hard. I also had a sex scene with somebody on the floor; not actual sex, but talking about sex. We were painting pictures of having sex. I got to cut off John Cho’s thumb. And I got drunk with a dolphin, though I don’t remember why. That was a scream.
Q: You’ve done a lot of voice-over work in your career, and people may actually be surprised to learn that this is live action, considering that and considering that it’s on Cartoon Network. What’s the difference in the approach between voice-over and live action?
KM: A voice-over is a disembodied thing. The engagement is altogether different. I approached this the way I would any other live-action shoot. A voice-over is a solitary affair. You’re all alone with an engineer and your voice. And with an ensemble work, you have a different kind of energy. You have to have an intellectual vigor, to keep it creatively alive. The core group on this show all has that, that feeling of elasticity. You’ve got to be on point all the time, especially with comedy. What if your partner does something totally unexpected? You have to really know where that character could go and stay on point.
Q: You’ve been working for many years and have enjoyed some real success in that time. Is there a secret to that kind of longevity as an actor?
KM: I hate to sound cliché about this; I’m not the first person to say this and I won’t be the last. I think that having found this passion as young as I did made it work. I was twelve years old when I recognized that this was what I wanted to do, and sixteen when I started to do it. It is the oldest happiest in my DNA. It is the oldest feeling of liberty, security and joy in the history of my being. It makes me the happiest that I will ever be on this Earth… and that’s a rather tough thing to say because I have children. But this is a familiar happiness: it never, ever lets me down. It’s a relationship of equals. It is a craft that will respond to me if I address it with complete devotion. Longevity is honored in this business when you have respect for acting. I don’t just like it, I love it. I’ve loved it for a long time.