Interview: Kate Mulgrew On How Hologram Janeway Is “Fully Alive” In ‘Star Trek: Prodigy’

The series premiere of the animated kids series Star Trek: Prodigy arrives next week, which will include the return of Star Trek: Voyager’s Kate Mulgrew, voicing Hologram Kathryn Janeway. Speaking to TrekMovie and a handful of other outlets in a group interview during New York Comic Con, Mulgrew talked about returning to the character and gave us some insights into what’s different and what’s not so different about Hologram Janeway.

This interview has been edited for clarity.  

Ella Purnell [Gwyn] has said each of the characters learns something in their arc from Hologram Janeway, but does Hologram Janeway have her own arc?

Very good question, thank you. Initially, she’s there for purposes of mentorship and guidance. But you soon come to understand that she is leading them in an unexpected way. I don’t think I am allowed to tell you how that is, that is a spoiler. Suffice it to say that the hologram is very much like Captain Janeway and has many of her traits, and all of her sort of better qualities. And the kids respond to those qualities accordingly. So it’s not as if they’re responding to some sort of machine.

It’s very much a collaboration. And it’s a very felt relationship she has with these kids. Otherwise, they wouldn’t listen, right? What kid listens to an adult who’s shouting at them, or sternly reprimanding them or simply telling them what to do? A kid listens when the adult is interested in the kid. And that’s what Hologram Janeway is with all of these kids.

How much of Captain Janeway’s personality will we see with Hologram Janeway? Or is she just like educational software?

As I said a moment ago, that would be futile. To use a good Star Trek expression: she must be fully alive. She must be endowed with vitality, with heart, and with a capacity for great warmth and affection. Also discernment. She likes some better than she likes others. She responds to some more positively than she does to others, and vice versa. So there’s nothing clinical about this hologram, nor would it work if it were. It has to be alive. And she is very, very alive. It wouldn’t be interesting to me as a voice actor. Why would I do it? It has to resonate. It has to have all of our human qualities, of course.

The Captain Janeway hologram aboard the USS Protostar

The Captain Janeway hologram aboard the USS Protostar (CBS/Paramount+)

How different will Janeway be on Prodigy, given she is a hologram?

Well, she’s animated [laughs]. It’s a distinct difference. I’m not REAL in this one. But all of the characteristics, and all of the virtues, and some of the flaws are much in evidence. The essential Janeway is there. That’s the whole point. That’s what’s so provocative, and what will prove to be so evocative about this Janeway. She embodies what was real, and she’s giving this demographic something through a genre that is not real. So it’s kind of an extraordinary sleight of hand, If you will.

You have done animation voice work before, but what is it like performing a character that you previously played in live-action?

Easy. Delightfully and refreshing easy. Which is a wonderful gift after having worked so hard for seven years to create the real Captain Janeway. To have her in my pocket like that and to have her spring out with such alacrity and such vivacity, pleases me very much. It’s a pleasure. And at this point in time—26 years later—it should be nothing short of a pleasure.

Did you have any input on the animated design of Hologram Janeway?

A wonderful question. We were in VERY close collaboration because it’s important to me that my physical features be exaggerated in just the right way. It’s easy to get that wrong. But these animators did it beautifully. So that the eyes are a little enhanced, the face itself is a little shortened, a little square, the mouth is more facile. Children need to respond to the eyes, the mouth. Every inch and step of the way, from the hair, which you know, was diabolically difficult for real Janeway. And these guys–Kevin and Dan Hageman–are just terrific to work with.

There is a genius to animation that I hadn’t given enough thought to, myself. And being a part of this is teaching me that it’s a very rare and very excellent form of art. It’s  craftsmanship that I have to stand back and sort of say, “Wow.” These are men who are not only incredibly smart and very, very gifted, but who can somehow enter into the imagination of a six-year-old kid and produce the dialogue that would be in accordance to that personality. It’s wonderful to be a part of it. I’m learning.

Janeway in Star Trek: Prodigy

How did it feel when they approached you about returning to the role?  

I gave it a minute, even though the phone call came directly from Alex Kurtzman. And he is someone I admire very much. I like his intelligence. I like the way he thinks. I love his love of Star Trek. Because often in a producer/creator, those two things are not necessarily compatible. In him they are, very much so. But I had to sit on it for a minute because my creation of Kathryn Janeway was not only wholly invested, but I have to tell you, very defining. That was a decade of my life that never ended. It just keeps going on and on. So the significance of Janeway is very apparent to me. If I’m going to step into some recording booth and bring her to life again, I’d better understand that. So after considering that for about two days, I said, “I’d love to do it.” And it’s been great.

With Star Trek: Prodigy Captain Janeway is going to be the captain and an inspiration for a whole new young generation of fans. What does that mean to you personally?

It means the world to me, which is why I agreed to do it. And especially because it is children. In my experience with Star Trek, the targeted audience has always been sort of twenty to whatever [laughs]. To go into the minds of the young will be thrilling. And I’m so surprised Star Trek didn’t do this earlier. And I’m absolutely delighted and honored to be the one to take it in. Because who would absorb this more readily than a young mind? This kind of philosophy. The idea of Prime Directive is Kid Stuff 101. Let me be noble. Let me be fine. Let me be happy at being great. That’s what children aspire to. And that’s what we’re going to give them.

How do you feel kids are going to react to the episodes following the two-part premiere?  

I think it’s only going to get better and better. It’s one thing in the booth, I don’t see all of the animatics. I watched the entire thing today for the first time–the first two episodes. And I could see distinctly the development of it. As the characters are introduced, you’ve got to hang in. You’ve got to really pay attention. That requires a certain concentration. This is this character, this is what this character will represent. And then Janeway appears at the end, suddenly, and you know that something terrific is going to happen. And indeed it does, because she is going to help them motivate that starship into life and into its proper direction. Thrilling!

(L-R) Dee Bradley Baker, Kevin Hageman, Ben Hibon, Kate Mulgrew, Dan Hageman, Brett Gray and Rylee Alazraqui at New York Comic Con 2021 (Paramount+)

ICYMI: Hologram Janeway clip

The following clip of Hologram Janeway was revealed at NYCC.

Prodigy arrives next week

The Prodigy debut will be available to stream on Paramount+ in the United States on October 28. The series is also coming to Paramount+ in Latin America, the Nordics, and Australia, and  CTV Sci-Fi in Canada. It will debut in 2022 in parts of Europe with the launch of the Paramouint+ Sky partnership.


Keep up with the Star Trek Universe at TrekMovie.com.

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Great interview as always TM!

I’m so happy to see Janeway back! She’s one of my favorite characters of all time. It was such a smart idea to bring her back and have a new generation of fans get to have her be the gateway to both Voyager and Star Trek as a whole!

I do wish you asked her will we ever see Admiral Janeway now that it sounds like we will see the Alpha Quadrant on the show but she would probably just avoid the question.

Getting very excited for this show!

I wonder if the Janeway hologram will end up with a mobile emitter. The animation looks great.

I would have to think so. The tech is very advanced (for 29th century, that’s now old school stuff for Discovery ;)) but I think Starfleet would have figured out a way to reverse engineer it by now.

And what Mulgrew is saying is true and this version of Janeway is very much ‘alive’ like old Janeway then I hope that means we can see her do everything the other characters do like be part of away missions and etc.

I never thought I’d say this but I am looking forward to seeing Janeway!!
I really love the concept of Janeway teaching these youth about Starfleet, Star Trek, etc. and then the interaction with them when they listen (and when they don’t!).
I thought she was always a good character, just with bad writers on VOY. Hopefully she gets good writers this time.
My only concern is the glaring over silicon AI being real life forms. If this is true why don’t the Borg just build more Borg? Why doesn’t everyone upload themselves into Picard-bots? Can everyone live forever?
Why would Picard have semi-functional slaves vs. robots then building his evacuation fleet? Or were they slaves forced on his watch to build the Romulan evacuation fleet?
Why would V’ger think it needs Decker and a human imagination to complete itself given it is way WAY more advanced than hologram utilizing Starfleet?
It is my hope that in the grand scheme of things, they stick to the old Trek concept that AI is in someforms limited over organic life forms; not to downplay how great it will be these kids get to learn about Starfleet from the database.

You kind of hit on a question I have had about DISCO.

900 years into the far flung future… why is Starfleet / The Federation still sending out actual fleets of “real” ships with corporeal crews to explore or protect anything?

They have advance AI. They have advanced holographic tech that allows them to create advanced EMH style crews that are mostly indistinguishable from corporeal life forms.

In which case, they should be sending out AI and mobile emitter hologram based probes and drones to do research / exploration / protection of the final frontier while physical beings are safe at home on a planet drinking big gulps from Buy N Large while sitting in hovering chairs.

Assuming that 900 years into the future, you can finally build a compliant AI that won’t turn into a murder-bot (ie: control /lore/ ultron/ cylons / skynet/ westworld/ borg / the matrix / decepticons/ HAL / etc), why would any government be spending a bazillion credits to build ships that waste so many natural resources, and risk psyionic children blowing up dilithium?

Just send out cheap tiny warp capable drones with mobile emitter based AI “crews”. The AI crews could be fully independent and intelligent or they could be projected holographic images of real people back on the home planet.

Just a thought.

Because people actually want to go out exploring the galaxy? Not everybody wants to spend their days just sipping drinks while sitting in hovering chairs.

Yes of course.

I understand that. I want to travel to space just like Bill Shatner, and I want to own 15 McDonald’s franchises. But it is not economically possible for me.

Want does not always translate to economically feasible.

The one thing Star Trek has never done (at least not in TV or movie format) is show the economics of The Federation. There is an inconceivably vast amount of wealth needed to source raw materials for and build these large vessels. How does the The Fed afford it?

At some point, the Fed’s / Starfleet’s OMB (Office of Management & Budget), or The Fed’s Federal Reserve Chairperson or The Fed’s Secretary of the Treasury will do the math and say: “We can’t print enough money to afford these 100 Trillion dollar ships and bases! There’s a galaxy wide covid pandemic and all sources of revenue (tax, member dues, business revenue) are down 25% across the galaxy. And the Ferengi are calling in the last 100 years of our Latinum-based debt. Scale down Starfleet to a force that uses AI, drones, and mobile emitters. Now.”

That is a conversation that has to have happened at least once within The Fed / Starfleet. And that is a scenario that would be great to cover within the context of a “West Wing” style political drama from Star Trek. I would love to see the legislative and funding process within The Fed. Would it look like – and be as impotent as – the Imperial Senate in Star Wars? I’d love to see that!

LOL It would be a more valid point if they didn’t spend their days on the starships just sipping tea while playing holodeck talking to AI.
Really, ask that question about the Borg though. Why don’t they just replicate themselves a bunch of superior AI life?
Also why doesn’t everyone upload themselves? Then everyone can live forever, breath in space, never get sick, all be super Datas.
Or is the plan for these super AI to rule over the petty organics?

I’m surprised that Mulgrew said that Star Trek was pitched to age twenty on up, given that so MANY people have talked about falling in love with Star Trek as children.

I first saw TOS at the age of eleven (back when TOS was all the Star Trek there was), and I adored it right away. An awful lot of the people I’ve talked to in TOS fan fiction circles say that they found Star Trek sometime between the ages of 10 and 12; it seems to be an age where people are old enough to understand it and young enough for it to have a big impact on them. So while a show targeted specifically to kids is fine, kids have always been part of the Star Trek family.

I remember watching TOS I was maybe 7… I remember being terrified by the salt vampire!

In my case it was the eel worm in STII when I saw this around 1983 on VHS at the same age.
My earliest memories of seeing Star Trek.
When it comes to TOS, this was always seen as a show for children (!) on german tv and only aired on afternoons in the 70s. The german dub often changed the serious tone and Amok Time was cut and changed heavily (Not forget to mention that only 39 episodes were shown at that time). In the case of Space Seed they put the eugenic wars wisely in the 2090s.

“In the case of Space Seed they put the eugenic wars wisely in the 2090s.”

Yeah, that may be the only change in German dubbing that actually made a lot of sense. Amok Time was changed into a dream, the warp drive became the Sol drive and Gary Seven was rebranded Felix Sevenrock :-)

But even though it was on in the afternoon, I wasn’t able to watch it as a child. We only had ARD, ZDF and ORF before I turned 13 and at that time TOS was already on SAT 1 :-) My Star Trek premiere was with TNG Season 1 on ZDF. I must have been 11 or 12 and I was hardly able to deal with the spooky stuff. Armus, the aging Admiral… Thank god Conspiracy was cut in the afternoon :-) I regularly watched Trek when we got satellite TV in 1993. And that only happened because soccer moved from ARD to SAT 1 :-)

“I remember being terrified by the salt vampire!”

Me too… and I was 13! I freaked out when the thing reappeared in that booth on Trelane’s staircase!

I didn’t watch live-action TV and movies at the age of 7. My parents made sure I only watched animated kids stuff that was up in the afternoon. Only around 12-13 I was finally able to watch actual live-action TV shows and movies. Apart from TNG and TOS, I vividly remember watching Back to the Future, the Star Wars OT and the old Planet of the Apes movies. Once again I freaked out when the bomb shippers in POTA 2 removed their masks!

My very late introduction to live-action movies may have a lot to do with me feeling uneasy with the “gross stuff” even at a legal age 16-18… It took me years as a young adult to be able to watch horror without freaking out. It’s so incredible loads of kids watch that stuff at an age much younger than I was when first watching The Man Trap!

The local tv station played Star Trek after the 11:00 news on Friday night (my god that’s a very dated statement) and that was the start of my weekend as an 8 year old. You’re never too young for Star Trek.

I also started watching Star Trek TOS reruns as a kid. Saturday morning if I remember correctly. Also Adam West Batman and WWF wrestling (Maple Leaf Wrestling show) .

Yep I was watching TOS at the age of 6 when I first found it and became a huge fan from there.

THAT said though, I understand what Mulgrew is saying and that it’s not a franchise that most kids gravitate to the way bigger franchises like Star Wars, Marvel, Transformers, Harry Potter etc. Yes many watched Star Trek as kids but many didn’t either. Even when I was kid nearly EVERYONE I knew watched and loved Star Wars, even if just casually. Star Trek I didn’t have any friends watching it until I got to middle and high school and found more. This was when TNG was running. And Star Trek always had the ‘nerdy’ vibe that kept a lot of kids away…unless you were a nerd yourself lol. And I’m going to guess most of us here were nerds, right? Everyone’s experience is different though but Star Trek does pull in more older people compared to other ‘cooler’ franchises.

And sadly I would say the new era of Star Trek less so because it is much more mature. This is talked about almost weekly here. Some parents feel they can’t sit down and watch an episode of Picard or Discovery with their kids due to the language or something the way people can watch TOS, TNG or VOY.

Prodigy will probably be the first Kurtzman show that will feel completely family orientated.

I think maybe not TOS but after TNG the median age might be going up. Personally I actually got into Trek in my university days as I was a much bigger Star Wars fan in my youth. But as I started to understand the more philosophical aspects of science-fiction that is when Trek appealed to me more. And the interesting bit here is that I was actually introduced to Trek with Voyager, so at least with me Mulgrew has a point here.

Yes exactly! I think your experience is more in line when most people started watching Star Trek. Yes you COULD watch Star Trek at a younger age and get it, but I don’t think that was really very common. I think most people got into it when they were in their high school to college years.

Star Trek was never intended to primarily be a kids show – that’s all she’s saying, and she’s right. She’s not saying kids couldn’t— or didn’t — watch it.

Sure, kids watched it. I started watching TOS reruns when I was 5, I think.

This show, though, is specifically a kids show – like TAS – although hopefully one adults can enjoy.

Ha ha I actually started ironically enough with TAS on CBC at like 8AM Saturday morning back in 1984-1986 so I was 4 to 6. Must have been 5-6 because my Dad saw I liked it and took me to see Star Trek IV in theatres in 86.
TAS was great because it was real Star Trek but with more colorful scenes for kids and ironically enough a lot more outer space scenes of the Enterprise, Klingon ships, etc.

I was 5 when TOS premiered.

Minor quibble but I wish they hadn’t changed the comm badge.

Yeah I don’t get that at all. But then again they are also wearing different badges in LDS as well ALTHOUGH the non California class ships seems to still be wearing the older badges so it’s all confusing lol.

Very true!

Nerdy nitpicking: but why is she in a Voyager uniform (with a different comm badge, as others here have noticed)?

In universe, this ship would have been built after Voyager came home, no? By then uniforms had changed.

I guess when they designed her, they used Voyager-era holos?

“I like this ship! USS Exciting!!”