Kate Mulgrew Interview: Admiral Janeway and STAR TREK: PRODIGY

Actress Kate Mulgrew shares her thoughts on returning to the Star Trek franchise to voice Admiral Janeway on the animated series Star Trek: Prodigy.

TOONADO: How would you describe the difference between Voyager and Prodigy?

KATE MULGREW: Well, for starters, this is animation as opposed to live action [laughs]. So, rigor number one removed: I’m not getting up at 3:45 in the morning to get to Paramount by 5. It’s much easier to do voice acting and in that way, I would say it’s probably more freeing. There’s a great confidence about going into a recording booth with just my headset; I do it all by myself, I don’t have anybody acting with me. It’s terrific to almost close my eyes, but not quite, and doing things with my voice to convey ideas and emotions and fears in very subtle ways that you can’t do in life, because you don’t have the time. You know that somebody’s going to say, “Cut. Print. We’re done. We’re moving on.” And you’re, like, “No,, no, no, just give me one more.” In the booth, I say I need another one and then we’ll do four in a row. Or 10 in a row if I need to and they’ll choose the one they like. So the possibilities are really endless and therefore endlessly exciting.

TOONADO: Are you able to turn the character of Janeway off, or does she live on?

KATE MULGREW: Oh, she lives. At this point she has to. It’s pretty crazy how significant she is to so many people. I’m very surprised by the dialogue of the fans, which never seems to get dull or bored with it. It’s never reduced, it’s never mediocre. These are people who are really very helpful, and most of them are very smart about science. So the conversation is truly about space in the future and what we have yet to do and why we are so really behind the the eight ball on this.

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TOONADO: In essence, you’re playing two Janeways on this show, the actual character and the holographic version on Prodigy. How do you differentiate the two?

KATE MULGREW: They’re different. They have to be. And that’s the job, to establish this distinction. So with hologram Janeway, I would say that there is a modulation. In Admiral Janeway and Captain Janeway, I couldn’t do anything like that. The voice then has a real power; I try to give it a real texture. I mean, the admiral is agitated. You know: what the hell is going on? And it's red alert and so on. Hologram Janeway has to just maintain a sense of real groundedness and empathy. Kids have to listen, and she doesn’t come across too strongly, because as you know, if you’re a father and I’m a mother of three, it doesn’t work. Kids don’t like that. So I’m negotiating with the kids as hologram Janeway with a certain voice that the admiral and captain doesn’t need to use.

And that's the fun of it. Also with Admiral Janeway, in this whole arc involving the search for Chakotay, I've allowed myself to be incredibly vulnerable vocally. Something I didn't even do as Captain Janeway, because I may be responsible for what happened and may have consigned him to oblivion forever. That underlying emotion was not something I could do on the bridge of Voyager. All of that is fun.

TOONADO: Was there any hesitation about reprising the role of Janeway?

KATE MULGREW: Alex Kurtzman approached me and as we all know, he is the man of the hour. I mean, a little bit of a wonderkid here. He's very smart and has assumed the full mantle of the franchise. So I got that phone call and I was momentarily on my back foot about it, because I thought, “God, my investment in Janeway was so complete. To revisit this in an animated form is going to be less than satisfying.” I said, “I'm delighted that you've asked me, and of course I'm honored and flattered, but let me think about it.” So I went to some of my friends whose opinions I value and they said, “Are you out of your mind? This is a no brainer. This is the one demographic they should have approached 50 years ago. And you get to be the one.” Then I thought, “Oh my god, of course!”

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TOONADO: In 2005 with the end of Enterprise and the box office failure of Nemesis, Star Trek was pretty moribund. Yes, there were J.J. Abrams movies that Alex co-wrote, but that was it. But now we’re in this period where it’s come roaring back, and the question is whether or not that’s surprising to you.

KATE MULGREW: I'm fascinated by it. I mean there's a lot of Star Trek content, but it seems to be very good, doesn't it? By and large. There also seems to be, and I don't know if this is apropos of the relative bleakness in the global landscape or not, but it raises one's hopes. It introduces promise. It once again introduces those prime directive protocols, which are irreplaceable. So I think it's reflective of where we are. Not since the Cold War have we been this deeply troubled. I mean, we've got three nations on the verge of something major. I think that's why there's this resurgence. There are also so many wonderful actors and writers and creators. You could say what you want about Kurtzman or leadership, but he's reinvigorated it and he’s willing to try to take risks. And it’s brilliant, because he knew enough to make the shows very different from each other, which has brought a new audience to the franchise.

TOONADO: Like the original animated series of the 1970s, this show doesn’t talk down to kids.

KATE MULGREW: It lets them know that they can understand these concepts. Some of them might be difficult — there are some heavy scientific concepts in this show and I don’t doubt for a moment that it will be confusing. But the beauty of learning is just that. I just came back from Europe and I encountered children in Vienna who speak five languages. And they’re 5-years-old! They just seem to assimilate everything, and then they sleep on it. It’s the same thing with children watching Prodigy. And then, of course, they always have a mother or a father to ask, “Why did that happen? What did that mean?” And if the is a good parent, it will be properly explained and they’ll get it. And then they’ll get to the next level and, pretty soon, we’ve got scientists on our hands. So a show like this one can stir all of that up. What could be better? It doesn’t pander, it says, “Come forward.”

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