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STAR TREK: VOYAGER - Kate Mulgrew and Ken Biller Interview
The actress and producer discuss "Flesh and Blood" and Voyager's final season.
By Anna L. Kaplan
November 27, 2000
The cast of Star Trek: Voyager
is midway through filming the show's seventh and last season, and is currently working on 'Prophecy,' an episode featuring hundreds of Klingons. Pulling herself away from her hectic shooting schedule for a few minutes, a very busy Kate Mulgrew takes a break to share her thoughts about the show as it heads into the final stretch.
'It's going well,' says Mulgrew. 'I've got a million things going on, and shooting away. It's also going very quickly. It won't be long and we'll be finished, about which I have very mixed feelings. It's been a long run and a very important time in my life. I am very connected to these people, so that part of it will be bittersweet.'
Captain Janeway is always in the thick of things, and this season has been no exception. Executive producer Ken Biller has said that as the crew gets closer to home, Janeway will have to deal with the consequences of her actions in the Delta Quadrant. 'She gave away technology,' notes Biller. 'That technology is now killing people. She is faced with that.'
Janeway meets this problem head on during the two-hour Voyager
event entitled 'Flesh and Blood,' which is scheduled to air on Nov. 29. 'Flesh and Blood' follows up the fourth season, two-part episode called 'The Killing Game,' in which Janeway gave holographic technology to Hirogen Hunters. 'The Hirogen Hunter aliens had taken over our ship, and were running scenarios on our holodeck,' explains Biller. 'At the end of the episode, Janeway gave them the database of Voyager
's holographic technology hoping that they would begin to use it to hunt holograms and do it as a game, and not kill flesh and blood people.
'What we discover in 'Flesh and Blood' is a training center full of dead Hirogen. It seems that they have been killed by Starfleet people that we have never seen before. The Hirogen have taken the technology that Voyager
gave them, and the database, and they have created prey for themselves to hunt. In their efforts to create more and more sophisticated prey, and more and more challenging huntsmore realistic huntsthey have continued to tweak and refine these holograms, giving them the ability to feel pain, and a certain amount of self awareness.
'They've made them smarter and smarter, and more sophisticated, to the point where the prey, the holograms, have revolted, and said, 'We are not going to be hunted down and killed and slaughtered anymore.' They are fighting back. The Doctor is a kind of seminal figure to them, because they know that a lot of their programming is based on his programming. They end up trying to recruit him into their cause. In the process, he betrays the Captain.'
The Captain then has to decide on appropriate punishment for him at the end. 'I did suffer a huge dilemma in that,' says Mulgrew, 'and they resolved it in a rather controversial way, I think. I am not sure that would have been my choice. It was provocative. In the end, Janeway understood it. I'm not sure Mulgrew did. I think I probably would have reamed him. But they tried to take it to another level, and I committed myself to it. I think how the Captain really feels is left up to the audience. I played it very deep and very quietly, and I just didn't take my eyes off his face. I did not punish him in any kind of predictable way. It was great fun to play the scene, but I am not sure that I agree with that resolution.'
Mulgrew thought that the consequences actually should have been greater for the Doctor. 'I certainly thought that after the first reading,' recalls Mulgrew. 'I made a phone call about it, and had a good talk with Ken Biller about it. You know, in the end, we have no power at all, so it's like shooting in the dark. Once I realized that this is the way it was going to be, I just threw myself into it. Then you have the playing, which is after all what I am there for anyway. It will be pretty clear to you what I am doing, I think. It is after all an interpretive art. It's the subtleties that are rewarding in a way, more than anything else, to play.'
Mulgrew insists that she, as an actor, is there to interpret what the writer-producers put on paper. She does not know how the last season of Voyager
is going to end yet. 'I've heard what you've heard,' says Mulgrew. ''Somebody is going to die.' 'Somebody is going to sacrifice themself.' 'The Captain is going to face a huge dilemma.' I've heard any number of things. 'We are going to get home, and then things are going to ensue.' I really don't know. You know what I have come to learn in all the interviews I've done in the last seven years? No journalist believes me when I say that. It's like whistling in the dark. I have no idea what they are going to do.'
Why don't journalists believe her when she says she doesn't know? 'I think they think I have a power that I do not have,' answers Mulgrew. 'I think they think that this is a far more collaborative effort than in fact it is. The writers write the story, and I shoot it. That's the way it goes.'
In fact, decisions about Voyager
's end get particularly complicated because it is part of the Star Trek
franchise. Notes Mulgrew, 'The studio gets involved; the producers get involved; the company gets involved. Then we are told to do what we've been hired to do, which is to interpret it. I am very happy to do that. I won't be told until the bitter end. I just won't be. They literally do not share this with us. I think they themselves at this point do not know.
As Mulgrew herself admits, though, there are many different possibilities. 'Do we get the ship home safely?' asks Mulgrew rhetorically. 'Does that open up endless opportunities for other poignant stories? Does somebody sacrifice himself or herself? I really don't know. There is always the outside chance that we may shoot it two or three ways. The studio is very involved in this, and if they are not in full concert with the producers, we may have to shoot it a couple of ways, which I always think is fun, anyway. I have done it with other shows, and really done it in wildly opposite directions, which forces you to look at it quite sternly from the creative point of view. It's very wrong for an actor to get their heart set, I think, on any particular story ending, because they will inevitably, invariably be disappointed. I think it is the actor's job to fully commit to whatever that ending is in its final written form.'
Mulgrew has been asked repeatedly about what ending she would chose if she could. After giving an interview in which she apparently said that she might like her character to go down with the shipremarks that have proven the fuel for much fan and media discussion of lateshe has re-evaluated that position. Killing off the only female captain, after all, might not sit well with the viewers.
'I've been told by my advisors that it would be very bad if Janeway died,' says Mulgrew. 'They pointed out to me why it would be so. I had to ruminate on those reasons, and then I came full circle again. I don't quite know how I feel about that anymore. Now I am thinking I should get the ship home. Of course, every actor wants something extraordinarily dramatic, but that may not be what is best for the story. Since her constant refrain is to get her crew and her ship home, perhaps that would be the way to do it, but at some considerable cost to herself. I have been all over the place with this one emotionally myself. Should somebody die? I suppose somebody must go down.
'But the other part of me wants to say, and feels quite strongly that we've had such a ride, that it would be interesting to get home, and get home in time to look at the other stories which would unfold as the natural by-product of us getting home. What does this do to Chakotay and the Maquis? What does this do to Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres, who is now pregnant? Certainly what does this do to Seven of Nine? I think it's pretty intriguing, those possibilities.
'On the other hand, I want an epic ending. It's been an epic run. It's had its ups and its downs, but it certainly has been an extraordinary idea, and I think it needs an extraordinary finish. It deserves one. I want what is best, most appropriate and most thrilling to this particular story. That's the ending that I want: the most provocative and poignant. It should be a tough ending. It was a very tough beginning. It should not be wrapped up in a pink bow.'
Biller, who as executive producer runs the writing staff this season, has no doubt been thinking about the end all along. Biller wants to keep his ideas about that private for now, because he is struggling with the idea of how to both satisfy and surprise fans of the series. He asks, 'How do we not disappoint the audience? How do we let the audience feel like the characters they have followed all these years have succeeded? And yet, how to we still manage to surprise them, so that what they see is not predictable and exactly what they expect?'
Of course Biller will be working with executive producer Rick Berman, as well as Brannon Braga, who is still very involved with Voyager
. It has been difficult for the cast going through different executive producers and writing staff leaders over its seven years. There have been many, from Michael Piller to Jeri Taylor to Braga, and now Biller. 'It's been a revolving door,' says Mulgrew. 'It is hard, particularly now. In the last season, you want to have the old guard around. I miss Brannon's immediate presence. He's there, but he is working on other stuff. He's an integral part of this process.'
Mulgrew hopes that Braga may help write the final episode or episodes. She says, 'Who knows? They may convince him to do that. Ken Biller, he and Mr. Berman will, I am sure, be in full concert upon it. These decisions have to be made with great clarity and intelligence. There can't be any confusion about them. But always remember, and bear in mind that the studio has the ultimate power here. There are so many people involved in these decisions, all the time. It's quite amazing that any episode gets made, but they do.'