by Ian Spelling
What a difference a few months can make! It was just this past spring, during a break from production on "Hope and Fear," Star Trek: Voyager's fourth season finale, that Kate Mulgrew sat in a director's chair situated a few feet from the Voyager set, sounding a bit cranky and looking rather drained. Today, nearly a dozen episodes into Voyager's new year, she's chatty and upbeat, alert and re-energized. "I was feeling many things about what transpired last season," the actress explains. "I was very tired at the end of last season. I was, frankly, exhausted. It was an odyssey. Of course, the addition of Seven of Nine [Jeri Ryan] was difficult. It impacted not only on me, but on the whole company. We had to welcome Jeri, assimilate her--for lack of a better phrase--into the cast and into the storylines. I had to find my own adjustment to this new dynamic.
"What I needed and what I wanted--and what I got, thankfully--was a rest. It was a wonderful rest, my kind of rest--I did a TV movie that I'm very proud of, Riddler's Moon. I played a character that was very, very far removed from Janeway. I also took my mother to Europe, and I spent time with my children. All of my angst simply dropped away.
Back on the set, my lack of angst has only been enhanced by the leadership of Brannon Braga, who's now running the show [as executive producer, in the wake of Jeri Taylor's retirement]. Under this new regime, more attention is being paid. I feel galvanized. The writing has reached an entirely new level of intelligence. Brannon is very smart and very talented, as is [co-producer/writer] Joe Menosky. They're willing to take risks and we're all feeling that, all reaping its benefits. I've had more fun doing the first 10 shows of this season than I've had in years. I'm completely relaxed and as confident in our writers as I've ever been. It's nice to feel that way again....what's different about the fifth year of Voyager? "You're seeing a new and, I think, interesting Janeway. The voice that Brannon has found for her is really much more my voice than it had been before. And he has fashioned around that voice a wonderful, commanding and confident presence. But it is a presence of ease. It is the Captain in a deeply relaxed and authoritative stance. She speaks not in a measured way, but freely and with conviction, and with wit and heart. She's not as verbose now but more direct and simple, and that is very much reflected in her interaction with her crew, these people who've been with her in the trenches for five years. Why would she be verbose with them? Now we'll see that shorthand, that unspoken conversation that happens between people who know each other well, who are around each other so much and work so closely together.
"Our first episode of the season, 'Night,' was very interesting. The first time you saw Janeway she was actually quite depressed. Not only was she lonely, but she felt very strongly that were it not for her 'mistake' of five years earlier [as depicted in the pilot, "The Caretaker"], none of this would have happened. She felt that she deprived her entire crew of a future, of any kind of real happiness. She was what you would have to call clinically depressed. I loved exploring that aspect of Janeway. A couple of episodes after that, in 'Extreme Risk'you saw B'Elanna [Roxann Dawson] deal with a different level of depression. What Brannon's doing--and I think it is remarkably good for Voyager--is letting you know where these characters are at, deep inside, at the season's beginning. It's setting the stage for anything else that may or can happen later on in subsequent episodes."
Indeed, and it looks like Janeway is getting intimately more involved with her Voyager crew as well. "This year, you're going to see more between Janeway and everybody. Let me put it this way: Brannon has taken the first nine episodes and given everybody their own show, an hour of their own. Within each of those hours, you see Janeway involved with the episode's principal characters. I asked Brannon to reintegrate Janeway into her crew's lives and that is precisely what he has done. It's exactly what I thought we needed after last season. After the first nine air, we'll go into some very interesting waters. You'll see Janeway's other sides, and some of it won't have anything at all to do with her crew but will be intensely personal. She still has some great skeletons in her closet. She has laughter that nobody has heard yet and a capacity for love that nobody has really seen. Before this journey is over, it's my hope we'll have seen that laughter and that love, and other colors of this woman as well."
Part of that journey involves some old Trek friends.
"You will also see our 100th episode, 'Timeless.' LeVar Burton directed it and I thought that was somehow appropriate because he has been through the experience himself on Star Trek: The Next Generation and he knows our show so intimately," Mulgrew observes. "The work that we've done has been so hard, but because the attention to the work has always been so complete, the time has flown by for me. This is the longest I've ever played any one character, and that has been a fascinating experience. I know Kathryn Janeway very well indeed, but still not as well as I intend to get to know her. I just find Janeway endlessly fascinating. She's a great character for an actress to play."
What viewers will not see now or, quite likely, ever, is a romantic liaison between Janeway and Chakotay (Robert Beltran). Yes, Mulgrew sighs, she did see the fan poll that cited Janeway and Chakotay as the Voyager characters they most wished to see hook up. Yes, she saw the poll that suggested Mulgrew and Beltran should appear as paramours on UPN's newfangled version of The Love Boat "I'm sorry to say I don't think The Love Boat is going to happen," Mulgrew chuckles "Clearly, if our writers on Voyager wanted to go in a romantic direction with Janeway and Chakotay, they would have gone that way already. I think we're at a point now where we'll strive to maintain and complicate this very intimate relationship that Janeway has with Chakotay, which is already more intimate [than any relationship] I have with any of the others. There are nuances to the relationship between Janeway and Chakotay that I love, that will certainly be enhanced, but I do not think we will ever get romantic."
Going off in a different direction, Mulgrew comments on year four of Voyager. It was a solid season for the series. There were several outstanding episodes and few clinkers. The departure of Jennifer Lien as Kes and the arrival of Ryan as Seven of Nine opened up the story possibilities tremendously. Of course, so many episodes were devoted to the sultry Borg newcomer that some Trekkers took to calling Voyager "The Seven of Nine Show." While Janeway had her own moments to shine in "Concerning Flight," "Scientific Method" and the "The Omega Directive," she also figured prominently in several Seven-heavy hours, as she played mother hen/mentor to the the fledgling Borg-human, who struggled to understand herself, her body and the concepts of individuality, freedom of choice and teamwork. Cases in point, "Retrospect" and "Hope and Fear."
"There was a lot going on in season four, story-wise," says Mulgrew. "'The Killing Game' two-parter was very strong, very exciting. That was excellent. I fondly remember 'Scientific Method.' That was the episode that I stopped smoking--and it showed in my performance. I just let go. Actually, I allowed my feelings to play, I think very nicely, into Janeway's personality most of last season. Janeway was under a lot of pressure last season, as was I. The changes were coming fast and furious for both Janeway and me. 'The Gift' was very hard, but it was also well done. What you saw in Janeway's scenes with Kes was me fighting to keep it within the confines of Janeway saying goodbye. I must say that I felt Janeway would be quite shattered by this dear and loved member of her crew leaving for good. Playing those scenes as I did, with genuine feeling, was also my way of saying goodbye to Jen in the best possible way.
"What else? I love the relationship I have with Leonardo da Vinci [John Rhys-Davies], so I enjoyed 'Concerning Flight.' I would like to see that relationship deepened even further, if possible. I have to be honest and say I don't know how Brannon and Joe feel about that. They've never cared much about the Holodeck program, at least for Janeway. And my own vote on it isn't in yet. But I do love John and hope he comes back for more.
"I also liked 'Hope and Fear,' our season finale. I felt that was a mild but very effective ending to a traumatic and seminal year for Voyager," she continues. "Going back to what we were talking about earlier, how last year was very trying for me and how I was exhausted by the time you saw me on the set of 'Hope and Fear,' I can tell you, one by one, about last year's traumas. I felt the loss of Jennifer Lien very keenly. Jeri Ryan came in at exactly the moment Jennifer left. They even worked together on 'The Gift,' and that was very difficult for me. I don't need to go into more detail about that than I already have. Anybody with a heart can understand why that was difficult. I don't think that Jennifer was, in any way, remotely happy or pleased with what was going on, although she had agreed to it. Poor Jeri Ryan was shot out of the cannon. Jeri Taylor was on her way out. It was just an emotionally rocky time for me and, I think, all of us."
Back now to the happy Mulgrew.
As she noted, before returning to Paramount for Voyager's fifth season, the actress wrapped production on Riddler's Moon, a UPN movie that aired in November and co-starred LA Law's Corbin Bernsen. "That was an excellent movie, a lovely production. The chemistry between Corbin and myself was wonderful. My character was essentially a farmer from Indiana, a very austere woman, stripped down to the bone,"Mulgrew asserts. "I put on 10 pounds to play her and it showed. She looked very real. It was extremely liberating to do that before coming back to Voyager. It was really a relationship story with an SF twist at the end. I thought of it as several stories in one. It was the story of one boy's faith and his great desire to share that with his mother and his friend. It was the story of two peopIe falling in love. It was also the story of a mother's devotion to her son. There was humor and great heart to it, and I quite liked it."
Returning at last to Voyager, Mulgrew contemplates her futuristic future. More precisely, she's pondering the rumors that Voyager and her crew may at long last reach the Alpha Quadrant this season, and she's considering the idea that Voyager will be the only Trek game in town during the 1999-2000 season, once Deep Space Nine bids adieu for good next summer. Then, thinking speculatively, Mulgrew addresses where she thinks both Janeway and Mulgrew will end up post-Voyager. Would Mulgrew ever consider another ride in the science fiction universe? "I'm holding back on offering my reaction to the possibility that we'll return to the Alpha Quadrant this year. I don't want to lie to you. I'm just not sure how I feel about it yet," she explains. "I'm not at all sure what the repercussions of returning to the Alpha Quadrant would be. What happens to the Maquis aboard the ship? Why would the crew stay together? How could they stay together? Would the show become a legal drama, with everybody being court-martialed? I haven't actually discussed any of it with Brannon because I've been so focused on the episodes that we've been doing, but it's there in the back of my head. We could meet interesting new aliens on the way back, encounter new problems with old enemies. It could be very interesting. I guess we'll just have to cross that bridge when we get there.
"As far as Voyager being the only Star Trek show on the air once Deep Space Nine is over," adds Kate Mulgrew, "I would welcome it. Its like children, isn't it? It's always nice when the mother takes one child on a trip. To have our year in the Sun, will be good for all of us and for the show itself. And life after Voyager for Janeway? Of course, Janeway will want to go back out into space again, probably as soon as she can. She's like the scorpion; it's her nature. As for me doing more SF, 'I've learned one or two things in my old age: Never say never and never say die. Voyager has been such a remarkable experience. My guess is that after we've done our last show I'll need to refuel, to take a little time off. Maybe I'll throw myself on the stage, and then I'll see. Five years ago, I said I never understood nor was particularly fond of SF. Now I love science fiction, and I find it curiously enchanting. That only reinforces one of those two things I know: Never say never."