Kate Con '98

Dreamwerks Con, Bellevue, WA

July 25, 1998

My report hasn't been fact-checked yet; the final version to be posted on the web page should be a bit more complete and accurate.

For a more succinct, somewhat more journalistic (read: accurate) take on the convention, click here.

* * *

I got to meet Kate. I did totally wimp out and got all tongue-tied and stuff. I could barely say, "I'm in your fan club." She responded quetly to my quiet comments, and the moment passed quickly. But even that fleeting encounter was a thrill.

Silly me. Kate had said during her hour on stage, "be bold," "practice your passion," and a few other words of advice that are often easier said than done. But I noticed that many folks WERE bold with her, and she responded in kind. It was great fun to watch her with the fans, and to see how much it meant to them that she was so personable.

I got to stand right behind her after the autograph session, when she posed for pictures with the fan club. But it was still easier to talk *about* her than *to* her, since she doesn't share our obsession with her. :)

[Ironically, I had no trouble talking to Claudia Christian--thanks in large part to Kate's advice. I thought, "what the heck, I know I'll never see this woman again," so I talked to Claudia without thinking much about it. It helped that Claudia has that personality type that I respond to really well--she's a total smart aleck, with a wickedly funny Mulgrew impression and the sort of hair you could get lost in for weeks. I may need to join the Straight Guys Hot For Claudia club, as long as it doesn't jeopardize my membership in the Mulgrew Testosterone Brigade.

I didn't get too bold, though. Claudia was signing body parts, but I settled for her signature on a photo and one of her CDs.

But I digress. Back to Kate.]

Kate was wearing a cream-colored outfit, matching three-inch heels (not stiletto), some tasteful jewelry, and (said the consensus) "Clairol 352" hair. I don't care what anyone says, Kate is a dang redhead. Any inclinations to auburn are simply attributable to a conspiracy of lighting technicians.

Kate came in from stage right, smiling and waving, and immediately launched into her appearance by sucking up to the crowd--"I love Seattle--I fell in love here, both my children were conceived here..." mentioned plays she was in, and said that though she turns down many appearances each year, "I will never turn Seattle down." She also mentioned the absolutely gorgeous (hot, sunny, rain-free) weather.

Surprisingly, given Captain Janeway's coffee predilections, she never once mentioned the Seattle/Starbucks connection.

[The rest of this is not even close to being chronological.]

Kate gave her personal spin on season 4. She misses Jennifer Lien terribly, and considers it a bad thing thing to break up a cast. She says she likes Jeri Ryan, but was more than ready for season 4's heavy emphasis on Seven of Nine to be taken out back and shot like 101 Old Yellers. (Not in those words.) The crowd enthusiastically agreed. She hinted at, but did not elaborate on, the tensions between herself and Jeri during the season, but hastens to add that Jeri herself is looking forward to having her role scaled back; Kate says the poor girl was under enormous pressure last season.

For Season 5: There will be some funky aliens, with not so many "weird foreheads" as in years past. She also said the Lost-in-space, far-from-home, woe-is-us feel of season 4 will likely yield to the more adventurous, optimistic, Tony Robbins feel that the odd-numbered seasons are famous for. Kate said she will miss Jeri Taylor terribly--Janeway has a lot of Jeri Taylor in her--but that Jeri's going to get what she hasn't had for a while--time with her family, time away from the crunch of backstage insanity. She had some strongly optimistic words about Brannon Braga; she "loves the words he puts into Janeway's mouth". She sounds genuinely excited about Year Five--and since she didn't seem at all shy about saying what she didn't like about season 4, I take that as a good sign.

Some tidbits: Janeway/Chakotay relationship could intensify. she said she told the Powers that Be, "what's up with these two?" She wants answers to that question, and she wants it onscreen. (Maybe Patrick Stewart talked some sense into her about the healthy expression of Captainly Lust at this year's Grand Slam. ) She expects great things from and for the Neelix character, who Kate considers the heart and soul of Voyager.

Another possibility: the ship could make it home in season 5. The crowd didn't seem to like that one so much; Kate argued for it, mentioning the dramatic possibilities of the homecoming, the Maquis trials, the adjustment to the turbulent Alpha Quadrant circumstances...but I don't know how many opinions were swayed.

There was some Seven of Nine sniping...but Kate's a sweetie, so the jabs were fairly mild compared to Claudia Christian's pantomimed "rack from hell" impression of the Buxom One the next day. Kate says she understands that Seven appeals to the adolescent male set, while she does not--your average kid (male, anyway) doesn't want to see "Mom" sitting in the Big Chair. And TPTB wanted to pull in more YAMs. She did have some kind words for Jeri, mentioned that Jeri will be happy to have her role scaled back next season, and the whole cast is looking forward to a more ensemble approach in season 5. "Enough is enough," she said of Season 4's imbalanced, topheavy storylines.

She spent the bulk of her time fielding questions. I was surprised how few asked really Treknical questions (I can't remember any, really). Most asked her personal or professional questions more than Trekkish questions, or made personal comments.

Lots of those, actually. This is only my second Con; my first was with Shatner in Portland last year. Nobody was getting up and telling his Kirkness that he changed their lives for the better--and if they did, he might have sicced Security on them. Here, Kate welcomed any and all comers, and treated all questions and comments with respect.

A whole lot of people--mostly, but not all, wimmenfolk--told Kate how much she meant to them, and it was clear that their moment at the mic, mere feet away from Mulgrew, was a high point in their lives. This was a revelation to me, and it was the high point of my trip to see these exchanges between Kate and those fans. (As someone remarked to me this week: "I can't picture Genvieve Bujold reacting so well to her admirers...") Kate was supportive, encouraging, downright huggy a time or two. (A member of kate's fan club enjoyed a big ole hug after she and some other Katesters brought out the gorgeous flowers and the donation to ICC, an organizatin that lets dying children spend their last days in a caring, loving, comfortable environment.)

The two more memorable audience members were a twelve year-old girl who explained that Kate had encouraged her at a con months before to "be bold," and she was reporting back that she was following that advice. The fascinating thing was to watch Kate focus in on the girl, speak to her as though they were the only two in the room--and the crowd hushed during the exchange. "How have you been bold?" Kate asked her; she said she struggled with shyness, and Kate complimented her on being bold enough to get up and talk with her.

The other girl was late teens to early twenties, and could barely talk for emotion. She thanked Kate for the influence in her life--and presented her with a handmade gift of a quilt built for two. Kate called her up on stage and gave her a wraparound hug inside the blanket--and I doubt the girl will ever be the same. An hour later, she was still walking on air. I felt lucky just to be there to witness it. (A UPN cameraman out of L.A. got right in the poor girl's face while she was talking--how she managed to keep talking, I'll never know.)

These were just two of the more pronounced examples. There were many people, men and women, young and old, who praised Kate for her work, her example, her character. And Kate was at all times gracious--and free with her praise for those of certain professions (such as nurse, schoolteacher, librarian) she considers so important but so underappreciated.

As previously mentioned, the Kate fan club presented Kate with two huge buckets of gorgeous multivaried Washington wildflowers and the check for her favorite charity. Kate hugged and shook hands and personally thanked those who brought out the flowers, and choked up a bit over the gift. She then explained the charity, and what it does, for those who weren't aware. She added out that her biggest fan, Rosie O'Donnell, and Geraldo Rivera (!!!) have both donated over a million dollars to the cause.

Let's see, what else...She had nice things to say avout DS9's Avery Brooks, and some cheeky things to say about William Shatner [as though any other sort of comment about Shatner would do...] who, she said, "is very comfortable with himself." She said at the recent "grand slam" convention in Pasadena, where all the captains sat together, she enjoyed tossing her hair around (she's the only non-bald one.) Someone naturally said "so was Shatner's," and she gave the guy a stern but wildly amused "shame on you" as the crowd roared.

The person who had asked about Brooks noted that he didn't look all that comfortable at the Grand Slam, and Mulgrew suggested that it's because he's a very intense, passionate guy, political and activist, and he's also very private by nature. Shatner is born to schmooze; Stewart has a natural, easygoing stage presence; Mulgrew mingles effortlessly. Brooks' passions, however, lie elsewhere--a commitment to education and excellence for his fellow African Americans. She pointed out that the questioner (who sat next to me) was a white male, and that we have a distinct advantage in this society, one that Brooks has not enjoyed. She admires him a lot, and pointed out the efforts that he and his parents have made to benefit the American community.

She also feels a bit of that herself, as a woman in a man's profession. She didn't always see herself as a role model, but the more kids she met who said they got into the sciences and engineering because of Captain Janeway, she began taking the role model part of her life a lot more seriously. (She mentioned "Roots the Gift" at some point, where she had some great scenes with Brooks, as Brooks' character discusses the plight of the blacks, and Mulgrew counters with the challenges to women, in 19th-century America.)

She fielded several questions from children, and handled them very well--patient, attentive, a bit schoolmarmish. She told every kid who got up to ask her questions about the importance of reading as a character building tool. If you want to act--heck, if you want to enjoy a full life--you need to read, she said. By the third kid, the audience was joining in on the advice: "READ!"

They don't call her Cap'n for nothing...

Kate mentioned that she does all her own stunts--all but the most dangerous ("you know when it's a stunt double, right?" she said, and we all nodded) and she commented on the new Zorro movie and the patently obvious stunt doubles used there. [She also took a moment to drool over Antony Hopkins and Antonio "ay carumba!" Banderas. (We laughed as she got this ecstatic look on her face at the mere mention of his name.)] She said the role has made her incredibly fit--she can do things she wouldn't have dreamed of doing four years ago, because she's in such good shape now. She said "when you're passionate about something, it tends to make you fit." [She obviously hasn't made her living at a desk job...]

Apparently, her vacations are much more physically active than in years past; she spent this last break in Israel, Turkey, Eastern Europe with her kids and her Mom. She said she told her mom she loved her, something she may not have many more opportunities to do. (she didn't elaborate.)

What else...

I seem to recall that she said she'd write a book one day, but not until after the series is over, and likely not much about Trek.

She thinks Neelix (Ethan Phillips) is "the heart and soul of Voyager," and expects that he'll have a bigger role in Season 5. I think she likes the character more than most fans, but I agree with her--he is the show's secret weapon.

She talked about her son Alex's skateboarding injury--he apparently broke the heck out of it coming off a staircase railing, and was carried into her house. She told kids in the audience to never skateboard in her presence [laughter], and to wear the proper equipment at all times. Apparently it was a pretty nasty accident; the kid will be skateless for several months at least.

Mulgrew sounds a lot like Janeway when i comes to her crew--"the family," she calls it. She said Season 4 was frustrating for a lot of them, but that season 5 will be more of an ensemble show again, and thinks that the cast is as relieved by this news as the audience.

When asked by a young boy how long she's been acting, she laughed and said "men are always trying to find out how old we are!" and everyone laughed as she gave the kid a scolding look (to his credit, he didn't budge, or even fidget).

She said she was "pierced by the [throbbing?] arrow of passion" at age twelve, then looked properly (but not convincingly) horrified as the crowd decided to take that in a completely different way from what she intended. She explained that she was in Catholic school at the time, referred to the surly bunch of stereotypically intimidating, mirthless, stony, dour nuns, whom she reduced to tears by reading from some story or another, and from that moment she was hooked by the power of drama. She went to New York at the tender age of seventeen, and got the role as Mary Ryan on Ryan's Hope eighteen months later. The rest is history.

She laughed at the suggestion of a Columbo/Mrs. Columbo reunion show. She pointed out the folly of her role as Mrs. Columbo, a 23 year old playing a 37 year old. She said Peter Falk never went on the show for fear of coming off as a pedophile for marrying such a youngster. Mulgrew said that though it was some of the best writing she ever had on a series, it was a concept that really didn't fly and is best left in the past.

A couple of girls with a thing for cars ('59 pink cadillacs with chandelier headlights?) asked Kate about the car she drives; she said a Jeep, but that she's "not really passionate about material objects" ("except shoes," she says, and pretended to order 52 pair of shoes...

Her heroes: Mother Theresa, the Pope (though more for his person than for some of his "dogma," as she put it), mostly non-actors. She said most of her acting heroes, if one could call them that, are not Americans--Vanessa Redgrave, Dame Judy something. On a related note, she said her favorite authors tend to be the Russians--Tolstoi, Dostoevski, Chekov. she also likes Dickens. She laments the lack of appreciation for Russian authors these days. She also likes the heck out of Shakespeare, and anything where Michael Nouri appears naked. (This may be a typo.) She said she hates it when people say "the bible" when asked what one book they would take if they were stranded on a desert island ("have you read it? A lot of it's boring!" she said, and even the bible lovers like me had to concur with that.)

She complained about someone on the Internet who called her voice "a cross between a [chipmunk?] and Katharine Hepburn." I checked my web page and was glad to learn it wasn't me.

She said they're going to do something about her hair in season 5 to make it look less high-maintenance; she thinks it's ridiculous how well-coiffed Janeway is in a crisis. "Chakotay, you handle the red alert; I'm still moussing." Apparently it will be her own hair, and a bit more practical.

Sigh; I miss the ponytail.

One of Kate's fan club boys asked, "what's the wierdest thing you've ever been asked to sign?" which she declined to answer (got a mischievous look on her face and said something like, "oooh, the *naughty* questions..."), but she looked like she wanted to. (Mischievous is a *really* good look for her. Schwing!) He asked, because another fan club member [a police detective] brought a pair of handcuffs for her to sign.

Nurturing is a good word for Kate. She treated everyone with respect. She said she taught elementary kids for a while (acting workshop?), and said she had to drag herself home on hands and knees, it took so much out of her. She says those professions are far too underappreciated in society, and thanked them.

Someone asked her how she's handling her sons' puberty. She said, "I won't even talk about THAT after drinks!" I'm guessing it's a challenge. :) I think she said something about grounding her kids for a year for not being all that into Voyager until season four and the newest cast member....

She said the crew will be getting some new outfits, but not the DS9 outfits. T-shirts, "toreador pants," something a bit more casual and sporty. They'll have a new super-shuttle that can't be destroyed--and of course it will. They've got some funky plots, it sounds like.

She said she loves John de Lancie to death--he's the only person she's willing to spend any amount of time on the phone with. He can keep her entertained for hours. She said we're not likely to see Q again unless they can find a really compelling story to bring him back. She says he's an adorable father to his kids, with energy and passion to burn. She mentioned that she did some work on Alien Voices, but probably won't do many of them until she has more time available. But she liked working on them.

She said she wasn't an avid Trek watcher before she landed the role, but she wanted the part desperately. She did three auditions--the first in New York, which she said was terrible, and at the end of it she said, "so sorry to waste your time." But after Bujold quit after a couple of tense days, she told her agent to do whatever it took to get her back in for another audition. In the end, she says, it was down to four women, doing an audition "at Network," in a sudden death playoff. She didn't name names, but said all the women were excellent, and all wanted it very, very badly, and that one had as many as seven interviews for this part.

Kate said she heard the first woman go in and heard laughter in the room and figured the game was over, but she went in, nice and serious and all Captain Janeway, did the reading, and then took off. She didn't expect to get it. She went shopping, chatted with friends, tossed back a gallon of Guinness, got home hours later--and said that her housekeeper of long standing told her to "check your phone messages." Mulgrew said the housekeeper (whom she named, but I didn't write it down) ALWAYS got the messages, and she wondered what the big deal was this time. But the woman was insistent, and when she checked the messages, she got the official "welcome aboard." [wild applause]

She pointed out that the decision to go with a woman captain was revolutionary, and very risky. Berman and Taylor knew they wanted a female captain, but Paramount was skittish about it, and with good reason--a lot of money and jobs were at stake. So when Bujold quit, there was some panic--and they did open it up to audition men as well as women for the role. Kate said that her first day on the set was nervewracking, but that she stepped up tossed off a joke that got everyone to relax a bit. She said the tension was thick enough to slice, because those hundreds of jobs were at stake, all resting on her. She says she still gets a lump when she looks at the Big Chair and feels like asking at the beginning of each day if it's okay for her to sit in it.

When asked if she worries about being typecast, she gave the guy a stern look. "NEVER use that word in an actor's presence!" she wailed, and we chuckled. She said that she doesn't mind being known as Captain Janeway, as long as folks remember her as a darn GOOD Captain Janeway. She doesn't think it'll hurt her in the long run, as long as she brings her all to the roles.

Someone asked if she's still studying science as diligently as she said a few years ago that she did. Mulgrew admitted that the first season, she was terrified of the technobabble, and says if you look closely you can see the fear in her eyes whenever she spouted off about Tachyons, etc. But that she did study diligently and now she can spout the jargon with confidence, because she understands the underlying concepts (she says there is an internal logic to it all, even the Trek-invented stuff.)

All in all, Kate was terrific. Funny, charming, warm, compassionate, attentive, she seemed as smitten with us as we were with her. I heard that Bruce Campbell was the favorite performer of the weekend, but Kate really had a special rapport with the crowd that went beyond entertainment and ventured into "family." I think she won out for most influential guest. She said more than once to "practice your passion" and to "be bold" and basically to take on life with relish, to find what you care about and go for it.

She mentioned that her career has been a sacrifice for her family, but she told her kids "I can stay home and be with you constantly, but it would kill me, or I can go out and do what I love, and come home and be alive with you."

Some folks were a bit miffed that she agreed to sign autographs for everyone, rather than just for those with reserved seating, but the miffed were mostly those who'd paid extra for the reserved seats. The folks in general seating were understandably thrilled.

One funny moment: there was a transvestite Xena floating around the con, and when he/she sat next to her at the autograph table, her reaction was priceless. As the line progressed, folks began asking to have their picture taken with her, and she obliged; a seat was placed next to her, and quite a few got the coveted snapshots (a few have been posted already).

Anyway...that's about it, going from memory. I have some notes, but it will probably take a transcript of the sort that those who taped it (hint hint) to give an accurate picture of the afternoon. Hopefully, I haven't distorted things too much.

(Report by Jim Wright, 7/30/98)