The Many Faces of Kate Mulgrew
Who is Kate Mulgrew?
Some of you know her as Galina “Red” Reznikov, the tough-love, no-nonsense Russian inmate in Orange Is the New Black. Others may know her as Captain Janeway, the dedicated and daring commanding officer in Star Trek Voyager. You may also know her as Ms. Columbo, Katharine Hepburn, Dr. Joanne Springsteen, Kove, or Mary Ryan. Reflecting on an acting career spanning 40 years, with over 75 roles in theatre, film and television, Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Kate Mulgrew shed her many faces to reveal the character she was born with – herself.
Entering the room to a standing ovation and enthusiastic cheers, Mulgrew waved and beamed at an animated audience of aficionados, devotees, and trekkies on May 1 in the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon. In Toronto for the finale of her book tour, she participated in an uproarious and heartfelt conversation filled with comical anecdotes, moving life experiences, and words of wisdom with interviewer and host Liz Renzetti of The Globe and Mail.
Born with Teeth, now on the New York Times Best Sellers list, is a lyrically written memoir in which Mulgrew shares anecdotes of personal triumphs and tragedies. After giving up a child for adoption, enduring the untimely death of two siblings, encountering love and loss, living with an unconventional mother, and playing two of the most formidable female TV characters in history, it is clear why Mulgrew defines herself as a born survivor.
Taking the stage with authority and grace, Mulgrew read from a chapter in her memoir ‘You Can See the Moon, But the Moon Can’t See You’ with theatrical flair dedicating a hilarious and touching passage to her late mother.
Mulgrew’s mother, Joan Virginia Mulgrew, an artist, was clearly the defining influence of her daughter’s life. From her eccentric advice to ten-year-old Kate: “If you ever call a man, you will get cancer of the hand,” to her description of a jar of pickled ovaries: “from whence you sprang,” Mulgrew’s reminiscences about her mother add a level of whimsy to the book and provide insight into her flair for acting. Mulgrew described her mother as having “the eccentricity of a nightingale,” as being “utterly original” and the “central love of my life.”
Mulgrew spoke candidly about giving up her daughter for adoption just after birth when she was just 22. Commenting on the fact that mother and daughter were reunited 20 years later, a quietly listening Renzetti suggested that the interim period was “an open wound” that culminated in a happy ending. When Renzetti asked Mulgrew if she was able to write her book because of this happy ending, Mulgrew responded that two things had to happen in order for her to write her stories:
“Both my parents had to be dead because I write very honestly about their flaws … And the other thing was that my relationship with my daughter was ever deepening and developing, but I needed it to be extremely solid before even thinking about [writing the book].”
Describing her own ambition as knowing no bounds, Mulgrew speculated that had she achieved the same overnight success today, her name would without a doubt be all over the various celebrity gossip platforms the Internet serves up. She feels, in hindsight, that the media was very respectful of her personal life especially during the earlier stages of her career.
Renzetti asked: “Are you a social media person?”
“Oh no! I don’t understand it at all!” exclaimed Mulgrew, adding cheekily, “But I know Captain Janeway was brilliant. She was brilliant at it!”
At 60, Mulgrew is owning life, love and a still burgeoning career, with an enviable range of options. With a long time love for poetry, she thoroughly enjoyed the writing process and intends to make time for more literary projects, though never with the intention of excluding acting. An audience member asked if Mulgrew would consider doing something on stage with William Shatner.
She shot back: “I adore Bill Shatner and I would love to work with him, but in a movie starring William Shatner, Patrick Stewert, and Kate Mulgrew as the admiral of the ship!”
View the on-stage conversation with Kate Mulgrew and Liz Renzetti at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon on the Toronto Public Library’s YouTube channel.