Kate Mulgrew spent over 30 years in serious dramatic roles like Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager and Mary Ryan on daytime soap Ryan’s Hope, before making a Leslie Nielsen-esque leap to comedy in Paul Scheer’s crime procedural parody, NTSF:SD:SUV. On the 11-minute Adult Swim show, Mulgrew has discovered a natural gift for comedic acting, playing Kove, the badass, eyepatched head of San Diego’s anti-terrorism division. I recently had the chance to participate in a roundtable interview with Kate Mulgrew, where she discussed what it’s like to do comedy after so many years of drama, revealed why she considers herself to be one of two real Star Trek captains, and nominated Paul Scheer for the title of Nicest Person in Show Business.
Journalist: What’s it like getting used to the eye patch?
It’s an interesting thing isn’t it? It’s a little disorienting, I have to admit. Of course, you lose your perspective, not to say that I ever had great perspective. But it’s all out of my left eye now, which is not my strong eye. But I think it lends itself to the absolute categorical absurdity of Kove. Not to mention NTSF.
Journalist: Did you get to choose the eye?
Did I get to choose it? No I think the patch was all we had in the buckets. [laughter] So, it’s fine, and it’s really defining and it’s great. And I haven’t been allowed to do things that I really want to do like, [lifts eyepatch] “Trent, come back to me.” [laughter] I have to keep it on.
Journalist: So they haven’t revealed the secret under the eye patch?
No, not yet. If there’s a season three, you’ve got it.
Journalist: Do you know what the secret is?
I do, and to you, I’m not going to tell it.
Journalist: No I wouldn’t expect it….
It’s romantic. It’s always about my love for Trent. I was married to him twice, although I’ve been married now 11 times, so clearly, I was married nine times between last season and this season. [laughter] But we have two children together. My only two children: Cherokee and Jericho, and I just adore Trent.
Journalist: Is this refreshing to you? You’ve done so much great film and TV.
You can say what you’re really thinking. I’ve done so much heavy stuff, right? From the very beginning, it was legit drama. From Mary Ryan to Mrs. Columbo to Star Trek to blah blah blah blah blah, which I’ve loved and will do more of, I think. At this point in my life this is the perfect antidote to any kind of sadness, any kind of pain, any kind of anxiety, because it just alleviates the seriousness of life. Life’s too short, we’re all going to die. Why not have a few laughs when you go to work? And these people make me laugh. Paul Scheer, I have to say this, and I want you all to blog this please, is probably the nicest guy I’ve ever met in this business. And certainly the funniest. And it is a great pleasure to work with him, as well as under him.
Journalist: Well he has a great deal of respect for you, you can tell that…He said that you’ve only really asked for one change, from “eat me” to “bite me.”
I couldn’t say, “Eat me.” [laughter] I thought that Captain Janeway would roll over in her grave and phaser me on that one. So, bite me. Better anyway isn’t it? Bite me. Yes. Kove is disintegrating but in a very nice way.
Journalist: Talking to Paul [Scheer], he seems like a pretty big geek. A big fan. Is this the first time you’ve worked with someone where it’s obvious that they might have some toys of you at home?
Did you know that devil conceals his fandom from me? I’m going to have to provoke this now. [laughter] No no, he always acts like we’re hell-fellow-well-met. Just two colleagues on the set. Now, I know that he adores me secretly, privately, as Captain Janeway.
Journalist: How is it being a podcaster in the series?
Oh, I love that, but they took out stuff I really wanted. I had a cat at one point. But I am smoking. And they took out the detective thing. I really wanted to do that. “It was a cold chilly night.” But I’m doing all the other stuff. It’s great.
Journalist: Did they have you listen to some podcasts to get to know it? Because obviously Scheer had a reference point.
He showed me - is it Marc Maron?
Yes. He showed me that. He does, he helps me because I’m out of it. Do you know that I’m out of it?
Journalist: I wouldn’t say you’re out of it at all.
But I mean, I read books. [laughter] I don’t have a Kindle. While everybody else was becoming unbelievably advanced, technologically, I was starting Star Trek: Voyager. I didn’t have any time to learn it!
Journalist: It seems that sort of the template for your role in this was in Airplane! and those movies where’d you’d have Leslie Nielsen and Robert Stack…
“Ever seen a grown man naked?” Yeah. [laughter]
Journalist: “You like gladiator movies, Timmy?”
To this day, that’s the movie my whole family watches. I’m one of eight children, right? …. Yes, it’s like that. Very Leslie Nielsen. Very straight, very straight… A little bit, that’s what I’m doing. Kove takes herself very seriously, very seriously, indeed.
Journalist: And that’s where the humor really comes from. She’s so more serious….
I should hope so, right? Otherwise, we’re screwed. [laughter]
Journalist: Paul was telling us that you made a comment that there were only two real captains, yourself and Mr. [Patrick] Stewart.
No, this is gonna go viral.
Journalist: Mr. Shatner, not necessarily.
Well, there are only two captains who were lost in space who did seven years, okay? Deep Space Nine was a space station. Shatner only did three seasons. [Scott] Bakula was cancelled after four.
Journalist: Avery Brooks was only a commander.
That’s what I’m saying, it was a space station. He wasn’t in space, lost in space. Patrick Stewart and I - Picard and Janeway - were the only two intrepid, lost-in-space captains. I really think that’s true, right?
Journalist: I agree.
Who here agrees?
[Everyone raises their hands, intimidated].
Journalist: The nice thing about your technology illiteracy is, hopefully, you’ve avoided the darker side of fandom. I hope that’s the case.
I haven’t avoided it altogether. There is one side that doesn’t intrigue me as much as it appalls me. Because [Star Trek fans] a libidinous group, as well as a very smart group. The sex can get kind of out there.
Journalist: You’ve probably - on the internet - at least in fictional cases, had sex with pretty much everyone….
Well, I had a book put on my dressing room, my trailer step. It must have been this thick. [indicates three inches with her fingers]. It was all about Janeway as a dominatrix. Absolutely schtupping my way through space. [laughter]
Journalist: Is the fandom and everything sort of surrounds you with that part of your career. Is that endearing at this point or is it annoying?
No, I have to be honest. I think for others, it may be different. For me, it has been systematically and categorically respectful, pleasurable, and a privilege. I would say the fans have treated me nothing short of beautifully. I have never had a problem, I have never been insulted, I have never been assaulted. I’ve always felt like it was a dialogue and an important dialogue. And I’ve continued that and I want to continue it. The women in particular. The women in science. The young girls who went through MIT and who then became big fans. It’s very, very important that that is developed and encouraged, from my point of view, and I don’t think I’m ever going to change my mind about that.
Journalist: Do you feel like they follow you to other projects, like when you’re on Broadway, maybe some Trek people come see you?
They follow me with great fidelity. They all come. They all stand outside. And they have done it for years. They come many, many, many times. That encourages in me a great fondness. I’m nothing if not loyal to begin with. And I’ve also learned, through experience, that the level of real intelligence is perhaps considerably higher than average. So, that what we refer to now culturally as a geek is really an incredibly smart person who is used to thinking on a much higher level. So once you adjust yourself to that reality, those conversations are fantastic. The average human being can’t really think on that level. They don’t understand about the string theory. They haven’t studied space. They certainly don’t know what’s going on at NASA. And all of these people have. So you know, I can have that to a point, they’re much smarter than I am. But that’s what’s going on. The idea of the nerd is the common man’s way of saying, “I can’t get to where you’re getting, so I think I’m just going to call you a nerd. Bring you down to my level.” It doesn’t work like that.
Journalist: From what Scheer was saying, I think you’re kind of a nerd because he was saying that you never look at your script while you’re on set. It sounds like you have everything memorized before you get there.
Other Journalist: He told us you have the whole season memorized.
Oh, he’s sweet. I think that that’s slightly exaggerated, but I’ve learned that over the years of my life because I like to prepare the night before. The fun is to come in and toss it up.
Journalist: Does that come from your theater background?
It comes from the theater, and it comes from doing television so early on. I mean, I did both simultaneously. I was only 19, and I thought the last thing I’m going to worry about is, “What is the line?” when I’m walking on the set because I want to be able to throw that away and really engage. Which I think has really stood me in good stead. It’s great.
Journalist: With improvising, and working against talented improvisers as you’re doing here, do you have a favorite volley as it were? Do you have a favorite comeback that came to you in the moment?
They’re endless, they’re endless. [laughs] I’m sort of the straight man. So I get to just stand there while Paul Scheer throws pie after pie in my face, which he does well.
Splitsider: Had you ever done comedy prior to this?
Yes, in the theater I’ve done it a couple of times. But not quite like this. I mean this is really, really funny.
New episodes of NTSF: SD: SUV’s second season airs Thursday nights (Friday mornings) at 12:15 am on Adult Swim.