Star Trek: Voyager’s Kate Mulgrew was at Denver Comic Con this weekend and during her nearly hour-long panel on Saturday she had a lot to say about the challenges of being the first woman to captain a starship, the reasons for bringing on Jeri Ryan, and she even took time to reveal some behind-the-scenes hijinks. We have summarized some of the highlights along with the full video below.
How refusing to sexualize Janeway led to the casting of Jeri Ryan
Mulgrew was asked by a young woman in the audience dressed as Seven of Nine what the moments were in Voyager that really stood out. This prompted a fairly unfiltered and honest line of thought.
That moment stands out for me when Jeri Ryan arrived. That was an interesting moment because – there’s been a lot of controversy about it generated by me – again unfortunate. When you’re the first female captain you hope against hope that that’s going to be sufficient until the day it wasn’t. Because men like – as they should, as all of you should and I love and adore every one of you – they love sex. And they need it. And I said “No” to all of that going in.
I said I’m not going to sleep with Chakotay, it’s not going to happen … lending a whole new meaning to the “ready room.” I said you’re just going to have to go somewhere else for it, so they got this very beautiful girl to come in. She played a wonderful character. And yes, I was unsettled by it because I had hoped – as I’m sure Hillary Clinton hoped. We all hope. Hope springs eternal that we can do it by ourselves but we still need sex. So that one stands out.
First season obsession over Janeway’s hair and look
When later prompted on what was the most difficult episode to shoot, Mulgrew called out the pilot and again discussed the issues that came with being the first female captain in the franchise.
Most difficult? Probably the first two, “Caretaker.” Indoctrination, tough. That bloody thing with my hair. Endlessly stupid hijinks with my hair! Not only my hair. My hair, my breasts, my feet, my waist. There was a woman in the captain’s chair and they didn’t know what to do. So it was all physicalized. How many times did they change my hairdo in the first six months? Ten? Who has a hairdo like that [mimics high hair bun] in outer space? I used to touch the nub for good luck.
I finally said to them at the end of the first season. Take this [mocks removing corset] thing they had in here. Take that. Take bobby pins. Take the boots off. Give me some shoes I can walk in and let me be Janeway. I can’t be Captain Picard.
Of course I know it was a numbers game and their demographic was men from 20 to 35. I get all of that. But men are not stupid. The last thing they want is a false captain, an impersonator. They want the real deal. So once they let me be me, the men came on board as they are wont to do.
Facing scrutiny as the first female captain
When asked about how she was underestimated, Mulgrew gave more detail on the kind of scrutiny she was under at the beginning.
First of all you do know it went to another actress first – Genevieve Bujold – the wonderful French-Canadian actress. She lasted one day!
As a result of that strange dance for the first six months at least ten guys from administration – Paramount, UPN – stood on the lip of the stage arms crossed like this and just watched me. They just watched. It was sort of unbelievably unnerving. But I took it as the gauntlet that it was. And I said to myself, “You want to play that game? Then I am going to play it with you and we will see wins this. And it’s going to be me.”
Something in me rose up at the very thought that after Miss Bujold defected, that I would fail and then they would bring back another man. I thought, “No, no, no we can’t have this. We simply cannot, we must go forward.” And so we did. And guess who had me to the White House after the end of the first season? A woman by the name of Hillary Clinton.
Janeway’s passion and arc
Responding to a question about how she related to Janeway’s passion for science, Mulgrew tied it to her own passion.
I could relate to her passion. Not that I was passionate about science, but that Janeway had a singular passion. And it was probably neck and neck with command in her list of priorities. But it was science that was constantly compelling her to explore, to try, to transcend.
Going deeper, she revealed that it was her idea to bring in the recurring character of holodeck Leonardo da Vinci.
It was my idea to get [Leonardo] da Vinci in there because I said “I think she is getting a little stiff.” She is not dry, Janeway. This is a woman that is full of life. She is full of that kind of wonderful texture and we have to make sure that we layer her. So give me somebody that will round her out. Give me somebody creative, unexpected. Give me an artist. How about Leonardo da Vinci? I thought that was great. I thought that was a terrific thing to do to humanize her and also her loneliness, I wanted that to humanize.
When asked about her favorite episode, at first she said it was difficult to pick, then noted that she was impressed with how “Death Wish” impacted the arc of Janeway.
That is hard…we did that for seven years, we did 26 a year, so it is very hard to distinguish. I know I have favorites that have resonated over the years, “Death Wish” being one of them. That was a terrific philosophical conundrum for Janeway who loves life as a scientist, but certainly as a captain I love life. And Q’s nephew comes to me and says “I am going to inherit the Continuum and I don’t want to live forever. Is it not my right to end this cycle? It is it not my right to come to an end?” So it was so elegantly posed that Janeway changes her entire philosophy in the course of those two episodes and I vote for him to end his life. Because eternity would be too hard.
Friendships and spitballs on the Voyager set
Mulgrew also took some time to reminisce about the warmer and more fun moments on stage. When talking about standout moments, she highlighted her friendships with the other actors.
Every scene I did with John de Lancie, whom I adore. And the friendships that grew. Bob Picardo became my great, great friend and I cherish him to this day. Robbie McNeill the same. Loved all of my scenes with Tuvok. Loved all of my scenes with all of those boys. Of course they are all completely naughty. I think there is very little of that seven years I didn’t love, very little.
And later when asked if it was true, Mulgrew confirmed reports that the ‘boys’ in the cast would go out of their way to try to trip her up.
Yes. [the Voyager boys would] drop trou, spit ball, hurl the combadge. [sarcastic] Oh it was a ball at three o’clock in the morning. You know invariably they left it to me because they knew that I would deliver. So I would say we are easily in our 20th hour and I am telling some alien about some vortex or some black hole and it has to be impeccable and it’s five straight minutes and “ffffft” [mimics being hit in the head with spit ball] “who did that?” Not only did they not answer, they were stark naked.
Watch the video
You can see her full panel online below (courtesy of Denver Comic Con):