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The Only Female Captain Of 'Star Trek' Speaks Out

Published by Huffington Post on Tue, 08 Dec 2015

Though overshadowed by "Star Wars" hype, the recent announcement that a new Star Trek series is in the works caught the attention of lite sci-fi geeks, and thrilled series devotees. The first question on fans minds -- after for real'! and when'! (yes, in 2017) -- was who will helm the latest edition as its Captain. Its a role with a certain stigma attached to it, and a storied history. The Captain must be self-assured, old enough to have had the experience to man a large crew, well-versed in techno-babble, and possessive of an air of grandeur typically reserved for Shakespearean stage actors. Its too early for any surfacing rumors to carry much weight, but a few science-fiction sites and forums have cast their votes for who theyd prefer to see seated in the Captains chair. Whispers about the overdue casting of an LGBT Captain are among the most promising -- or at least the most interesting. Entertainment site Inquisitr notes that the series has a track record of inclusiveness, casting both a black Captain and a female Captain in the '90s. Said female Captain, played by Kate Mulgrew on Star Trek: Voyager, spoke with The Huffington Post about her seven-year tenure on the show, and what she hopes to see from the newest installment. There has not been an LGBT Captain. There are an infinity of things they havent had, Mulgrew said. But Ill be curious to see if they choose a man or a woman. I think I wouldnt mind a bit if I -- well, Im not even going to tell you that, thats selfish. Im eating my words, eating them! Its just kind of nice being the only female Captain to date. Its easy to see why Mulgrew -- who now plays Russian immigrant Red on Netflixs Orange Is the New Black -- feels possessive of the role. On air from 1995 to 2001, Star Trek: Voyager was a show that asked much of its Captain, who often worked 16 to 18 hour days, delivering scientifically dense lines with finesse. Themes recurring throughout the series centered on the importance of individuality, upheld by Mulgrews Captain Janeway, a robot-turned-sentient being named the Doctor, and a Borg-turned-free-thinking-human Seven of Nine. But Captain Janeway wasnt the only Star Trek leader to advocate for diversity. In fact, Mulgrew sees her character as fitting into a long tradition rather than standing out as a singular role. Like Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks before her, she came to the show with experience as a stage actress, having played in productions of "Othello" and "Titus Andronicus." Because of the Shakespearean quality the shows creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned for the initial take on Star Trek, Mulgrew says the role of the Captain should be a timeless one, unmarried to imagined trends of the era. The Captains speech should be theatrical, she says, granting even hokey lines gravitas. Because of the parts almost royal air, Mulgrew doesnt think a female Captain would be played differently today than in the '90s, even though tides have changed significantly in terms of womens rights. The beauty of Star Trek is that Roddenberry was very far-seeing, Mulgrew said. Gender regarding the Captains seat was a unilateral thing. It transcended all of those classifications. I think that I played Janeway as I would play her today. Another enduring quality of Star Trek Captains: they have to memorize a lot of scientific jargon. How else are they supposed to make quips about coffee -- the finest organic suspension ever devised -- while retaining the image of being a die-hard science nerd' The expectations are so outside of the norm that the woman originally cast as Captain Janeway, film actress Genevive Bujold, quit while filming the first episode.Mulgrew suspects that the required devotion to physics-speak, coupled with the shows long hours, are what drove her away. When she caught word of the opening,Mulgrew swooped in and snagged the role, and she has her studious habits to thank for it. When asked whether she uses any tricks to memorize the language of Star Trek, she said, Yeah, and its a hard trick. Its nothing you can get away with easily. I read Richard Feynman, I revisited Einstein, and I listened to scientists talk at length about not only the magnitude of space, but almost the theology of space. I had to study physics -- on a very fundamental level, mind you -- but I understood enough so that I could endow the words, endow the language with meaning. The reason for her intense studies' Trekkies are like hawks, Mulgrew said. They see everything. They know if youre making it up. They know and they dont like it. So I didnt make it up. The choices that I was forced to make as that Captain were very strong, very bold, very powerful choices, Mulgrew said. I forewent motherhood, I forewent intimate love. That was the ultimate sacrifice, and I think that was a necessary component for great leadership: that essential loneliness. At this point in Mulgrews musings, its unclear whether shes talking about the sacrifices her character had to make, or the sacrifices she had to make as a woman playing that character. So, I asked her bluntly whether, during her years on Star Trek, she felt as empowered as her character seemed to be. No, she said. Of course not. I had two little children at home, so I was in a constant state of conflict. How do I get to them' Whats going on' How do I assuage their fears' How do I balance all of this' I need to be as every good a mother as I am an actress. It was very difficult. This sentiment is reiterated in the actress recently published memoir, Born with Teeth, in which she writes, I played Captain Janeway in the era that had not resolved the conflicts surrounding mothers and work. She writes about jetting from home to work and back again -- unfortunately without the benefit of warp speed -- and of her sons tendency to act out when things got especially busy. To this day, she said, they havent seen an episode of the show she worked on during their adolescence. Not that theres a hostile thing about it, but why would you watch the thing that took your mother away from you' Mulgrew said. Itd be a reminder to them. And I think if they did see it, theyd just laugh now. But at that time, it was their formative, impressionable years. It was tough, but weve all come through the other end, and Im very glad I did it. And Im glad I did it the way I did it. Today, on the set of Orange Is the New Black, Mulgrew says shes noticed a vital shift in how her co-stars perceive motherhood, and the elusive work-life balance. She credits the shows creator, a mother herself, for recognizing that her casts private and professional lives feed one another. There are children on the shows set -- unheard of even in the Voyager days. Its a new day in television, Mulgrew said. Its slow-going, she adds. Im not gonna be foolish about it. Its still a boys club. But this must change, out of necessity. She says this boldly and bluntly, like shes uncovering a self-evident new truth. Her words are measured but hopeful. She speaks, quite simply, like a Captain.Also on HuffPost: -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
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